The Boxettes have a rare USP: they make music using only their mouths. But despite spending the last six years wowing audiences all over Europe, India and the US with their vocal prowess alone, the five-piece girl band from London are finally bringing in the machines.
“There’s a stigma attached to beatbox,” says Bellatrix, who as the undefeated World Female Beatboxing Champion, brings the bass to this powerful equation. “No beatboxer has ever made it commercial– Justin Timberlake is probably the closest thing. Over the past ten years, loads of beatboxers have been trying to break commercial and basically, it’s never happened. People don’t give it a minute.”
A cappella doesn’t cut it
Since they formed in 2008 after meeting at the Guildhall school of music, The Boxettes have produced two EPs, appeared on Guardian Music and grown a successful income out of their work. Unbelievably, they remain unsigned.
Neo explains: “We’re quite a risky group for record labels, because we do everything with voices. Bands have come before us and it just doesn’t work. They can’t see how it’ll sell records.”
The girls point out that Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t worry be happy is the only a cappella song that ever made it big.
“We’ve had people interested, but I guess the problem so far has been the recording side of things. Live, obviously it sounds really big and exciting. But recorded – the voices and beatbox just isn’t captured as well,” says Alyusha.
“That’s why we’ve started looking at using electronics, to mix the two sounds so it’s much more accessible. At the moment, if you put it on radio, it sounds so different that people can’t really accept it.
“Live might just stay voices, but recorded, we’re going in the direction of mixing it with electronics to enhance the sound. Maybe some synths or something. And then I think record labels will probably start going a little bit crazy for it, hopefully!
A journey, not a destination
Imagining the group’s lavish, honeyed vocals on top of radio-friendly synths, I can’t help feeling this could happen very quickly.
But far from being starry-eyed, the band are eager to emphasise that it’s about enjoying the present, not idolising future goals.
Bellatrix reasons: “Remember that it’s about having an amazing life. Getting where you’re going is amazing, but it’s actually the journey that counts. We’ve got goals but this is it!
“You can get so stressed about where you feel you should be, or you want to be. We’re all young women, working our asses off, travelling around the world, playing our own music for a living. We’re really lucky!
Alyusha agrees. “Whoever feels like they’re actually there?! I’m sure Beyoncé still feels like she’s got so far to go! The record deal isn’t the be all and end all – 95% of bands get dropped from their label anyway.
“Gratitude for whatever you have is such a simple thing but loads of us forget it. No matter how great a job is you can start resenting all sorts of things – you need to turn it round and see the flipside.
Female role models
All this wisdom, talent and beauty gives this diverse group of young women the ingredients to be great role models, in an industry often lacking thereof. Thinking of Rihanna and Miley Cyrus’ headline-spewing antics, is it fair that this burden is so quickly heaped upon young artists?
Neo thinks we need young female artists a break. “They’ve been put in that box of being role models. It must be a lot of pressure for them – they’re just doing what they do.
“Also growing up in the public eye [is hard] – we all make mistakes. Stuff we can get away with, like walking home at 4am after one too many gin and tonics – no one’s gonna care! But if Miley Cyrus does the same thing, people are like ‘Woah!’”
“It’s hard to know how much of it is down to them, or who’s behind them,” says Bellatrix. “Personally I get really frightened by what I think is misuse of the female body to sell stuff. Fuck being in that position!
Kate agrees. “Controversy is the thing that sells more records, gets more headlines and more money for the record company. Someone could say to her, ‘Stop gyrating around’, but they don’t.
“Annoyingly, part and parcel of being in that situation is you are a role model whether you like it or not. They’re obviously struggling to be themselves and are influencing all these young girls, perhaps without wanting to. It’s tough for them I think.
A feminist message?
Unsigned, unaccompanied and unmanaged – these five fiery females ooze independence. Their on-stage confidence and professionalism is striking, with seductive choreography that effortlessly echoes their rich, lavish vocals. In their latest video, Puppet On a String, The Boxettes begin as wooden puppets who break free. Is there a feminist message?
The song’s author, Neo, is strangely coy about this label. “The song could equally apply to a boyband – no one wants to be repressed. But it’s just as much about the typical relationship repression as it is about our sound.
“The lyrics are open to interpretation. It could be about a boy, it could be about the band, it could be about a family relationship. I guess that’s the beauty of pop songs – you interpret them however you want!”