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“There are very few positive female role models in my field. When I was younger, and even now sometimes, I find myself having minor identity crises, and facing a lot of issues that unfortunately come with being a female artist.” Describes the feisty Belle ‘Bellatrix’ Ehresmann, beatboxing world champion and founder of fresh and dynamic female vocal group ‘The Boxettes’. The creative 23-year-old is fronting the urban music scene for young women; personifying an exciting mix of a magnetic attitude, intelligence and original talent.

Born in Exeter, Belle Ehresmann recalls moving to Bristol when she was a teenager, “Bristol was a really nurturing city to start out my career.” Excited by the innovative music scene associated with the city, she was first exposed to beatboxing when she was 14-years-old. “My friends and I had a fake ID and used to sneak into nightclubs to watch live shows. The first beatboxer I heard perform was a family friend called DukeBox, who completely blew me away with what he was doing.” DukeBox became Belle’s mentor, “I made him repeatedly show me what he could do. He was very patient with me. It took many hours of bedroom beatbox geekery before I could actually call myself a beatboxer.”
At 18, Belle followed her passion for an alternative musical genre, classical. Moving to London to study Jazz, double bass guitar, at the renowned Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She admits, “as a rule, I’ve always been happier behind the bass than the mic. Really, playing the bass is my passion. The Boxettes however, are the one exception to that rule: the one context that I’m as happy beatboxing as I would be playing the bass.”
In 2008 she set up an all female beatbox and vocal group consisting of five “very passionate and fiery individuals,” appropriately named ‘The Boxettes.’ Together they experiment with their voices and sound, in order to create a unique genre which they describe as ‘dirty soulful groovin’ dancey sweet’. “The Boxettes came out of my wanting to be able to perform with other people. I knew that my main unique selling point as a solo artist was that I am female, and I’d never seen a female beatbox group before. I could see that there was a gap in the market in that respect, but I also felt that if I found the right people then we could create something musically outstanding as well. A new sound.”
“The Boxettes went through several different personnel before it arrived at the final line up we have today. It has been an adventure to say the least. The chemistry between us is unusually intense, and this same dynamic that makes us distinctive has, in the past, almost torn us apart. Amazingly, we have learned how to conduct this force and know that our baby ‘The Boxettes’ needs to come before any of our egos. Over the years we’ve learned how to work together as a democracy, where we take a vote on anything we disagree on. The outcome is final and we move on.”
Despite being immersed in both the urban and classical scenes, Belle is interested in music as a whole, never limiting her tastes. She lists to all kinds of different styles and genres as her inspirations, from Donny Hathaway, Bjork and Ravel to Fleetwood Mac, Charles Mingus, and The Pharcyde. “I love weird experimental music as much as I love song based music, or beats based dance music. I guess I have a pretty balanced musical diet.” By branching out her taste in order to allow such a juxtaposition of sound into her life, Belle has gained a unique musical understanding, which she utilises in order to strengthen her talents. “Jazz gave me so many tools that translate directly to both my proficiency as a beatboxer, and my freedom when writing music. The roles of a bass player and drummer (or beatboxer) draw on very similar, if not the same principles, and my working on one has always fed the other.”
Human beatboxing hip-hop originated in the 80‘s and is classed as the often forgotten fifth element of hip-hop. The vocal art is generally stereotyped as masculine, and the scene is dominated by men. This is something that this young lady has never allowed to intimidate her. Belle jokes that it is impossible to compare being a male to a female within the beatbox community because “I have never been a man, but jokes aside, I’ve mostly had a very positive experience on the beatboxing scene. All of my beatbox brothers are like family to me, and there is this amazing dynamic where my femininity is recognized but not made a point of. Different, but equal.”
Belle is not deterred by the competitive battle scene either, acknowledging her “habit of pushing myself and sometimes other people past the limit. I think that my addiction to the place just outside of my comfort zone has brought me many of the good things I have.” Despite it being a confidence building experience, generally any aggression associated with hip-hop battling is an illusion, and it is instead “an excuse to meet up with some other beatboxers and jam together or share sounds. It all gets gruelingly geeky.” Her beatbox-battling skills lead her to winning the World Female Beatboxing Championships in Berlin.
Although grateful for the title, she expresses mixed feeling in relation to the concept of mixing creative art forms with competition. “Winning a beatbox battle has absolutely nothing to do with being a good musician, and it will always make me cringe when somebody calls them self ‘The number one’ at an art form because they won a competition. A title is a title fair and square, but winning competitions is a technique in itself, so actually many great beatboxers come second to lesser beatboxers who are just good at battling.”
The recognition she has received since winning has opened up opportunities to perform across the globe, touring an array of cities including, America, China, India and most of Europe. An experience she enthusiastically describes as “just something else. It’s not necessarily glamorous and you rarely get to actually see any of the country you are visiting. It’s hard work, you don’t get enough sleep and are usually completely disorientated after just a few days in. But for the time you’re on stage you get to share your own personal expression with thousands of people, and the feeling of being received by a different audience every night; every night growing a little more tired but a little more strong. When the tour is over you are thoroughly worn out, and thoroughly satisfied.”
Touring has allowed Belle to explore beatboxing communities across the globe. Feeling that comparatively “in London the scene began to disintegrate around 2008. It was then that I began to clock the strength and variety of different communities in other countries. I’ve always really rated the French beatboxers. They’re all so supportive of one another, and seem to be great friends.”
However, Belle notes, “I believed that over the past few years the UK beatbox community has been slowly building itself up again; we started a collaborative performance project called ‘The Beatbox Collective’, encouraging us to meet more often and providing opportunities for us to perform together regularly. Some of my very nearest and dearest friends are other beatboxers whom I’ve grown close to through this movement.”
Belle’s extensive list of accomplishments includes playing at the London 2012 Olympic Stadium with The Boxettes, playing main stage at Glastonbury festival with Dizraeli and the Small Gods, and of course winning the female world beatboxing championship. But after all that and more, sometimes it is the smaller triumphs that have the biggest impact. “It’s filling up Camden Jazz Café and playing to our home fans that really gets me. Playing the Chai Wallahs tent on the UK festival circuit in the early days. And the delicious WOMAD festivals over the world. They’re some of the real highlights for me.”
So what does the future hold for this non-stop beatboxing bundle of energy? “I’m mostly pouring everything I’ve got into The Boxettes at the moment. The Boxettes are just about to release our second EP “No Strings”. At the beginning of 2013 we embarked on a new writing adventure together where we are experimenting with different special effects to enhance our sound. It has spun us into an exciting new direction, opening up these boundless new realms of aural possibility in which we’ve had a whole load of creative adventures. Now we’re beginning to reign in our new powers, and getting to work on our debut album. It’s a really exciting place to be, at the start of a project like writing an album. We’ve got quite a journey ahead of us. I dream about the day when its time to tour the new album.”

Words by Bianca Bridget Bonomi

Image by Grant Smith

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