When I was told that Vauxhall were sponsoring a series of competitions to find the best undiscovered talent in the fields of UK urban dance and vocals, I was understandably sceptical. Since time immemorial (okay, maybe not that long but it’s been a while), old men in suits have been on a remorseless mission to associate mediocre products with all that’s hip, happening and street, with results that could politely be described as “mixed”.
Given that I don’t actually drive, I can’t comment on the quality and desirability of your average Vauxhall motor, but I did find their recent “C’Mon” advertising campaign more than a little annoying and when I heard that there was to be a £100 spot prize for anyone who could incorporate a reference to Vauxhall into their performance, I feared the worst – was this just another lifeless attempt to steal the street swagger of hip-hop in order to hock cars to middle-class 30-somethings desperate to recapture their youth?
Thankfully, it seems that Vauxhall had invested their corporate cash wisely and had consulted in depth with the right people to put together an event which was both entertaining and valuable in bringing through some genuine talent. The standard of the competitors was generally high throughout, and the best acts were absolutely breathtaking.
As I entered the venue somewhat behind schedule, tunes were already spinning away, cut and dropped by T-Breaks, resident at Leeds break-dancing night Fresh Jive. His partner-in-crime, MC/ breaker 10-Tonn, was hosting the event and built the energy of the crowd up before introducing the judges. Beatboxer Foz, dancer/ choreographer Andy Instone and b-girl Firefly each put on a brief performance, demonstrating the skills that clearly qualified them to pick the best of the acts who would follow them onto the dance-floor and / or the mic.
The first round saw each competitor being given two minutes to do their thing and try to make it through to the next stage. Dancers were alternated with vocalists wherever possible to provide variety and to speed the changeover between acts.
The first act on was b-boy Tranquil, rocking a Superman t-shirt and making moves to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”, then ending his set dramatically with a back-flip.
He was followed by R&B singer MarQus Romelle, who also touched on Jacko’s back catalogue by singing “She’s Out Of My Life”. The rules of the competition meant he had to sing acapella and his voice unfortunately fell far short of having the required body and personality to carry off an unsupported performance.
B-Boy Al was next and pulled off a strongly individual set, his body language lacking the studied machismo of many breakers. I learnt later that he is studying Dance and is trained in forms other than breaking, up to and including ballet, and in retrospect I’m sure an informed observer could have picked up on this straight away. Crowd reaction to his set was deservedly excellent.
The next vocal performer was MC Max Roper, still in his teens and clearly the youngest entrant of the Leeds leg. Despite his age, he put on an astounding performance, keeping almost perfectly on-beat and changing up his flow several times during the two-minute slot. On top of this, his lyrics were conscious and contained political content which from the delivery was obviously heartfelt.
B-boy Leefull made his usual flamboyant entrance, hair sticking out wildly and his face marked with war-paint. He made immediate eye-contact with the crowd, held their attention and twisted his way through a set of complex floor-moves which ended with his trademark spinning floats.
Beatboxer “Mr Crowe” AKA Larynx also laid claim to the venue from the moment he stepped on stage, demanding a higher level on the microphone and holding the judges off from starting the clock until he was absolutely ready. Once he started, his set was a flurry of complex drum-sounds backed up by an involving physical performance. Judge Andy Instone called time on him as he launched into a performance of Dawn Penn’s reggae classic “No, No, No”, but informed him that he was definitely through to the next round.
Lady T hit the floor to the sounds of a lively, guitar-driven R&B track and delivered a set that was more urban dance than breaking, although when she did make some b-girl moves they were well executed and fitted well with the rest of her set.
Nevo D was another beatboxer, delivering an entertaining set which included vocal-scratching in a Scouse accent and a rendition of New Order’s “Blue Monday”. His delivery was technically excellent, but crowd reaction to his set was muted, probably due to a lack of stage presence.
Simon Lewin delivered some smooth body-popping to Nas’ “Halftime” but never really got the crowd going.
Dancer Natalie performed a reasonable set that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a choreographed group performance but alone didn’t quite make the grade.
Breaker Zorro’s set was pretty much B-Boying 101, classic moves well executed but perhaps without the spark of originality that would make him an absolute top-rank contender.
Little Zee’s dance set to Beyonce’s “Ring The Alarm” was energetic and natural and she incorporated some breaking moves but in the end suffered somewhat due to a lack of variety in her performance.
After quite a run of dancers, we got another vocal performance in the form of Kaotic MC from DS Fam. Sadly I have to report that his rhymes were generic in subject matter and his delivery stumbled in places – an unremarkable MC and clearly under-prepared for the event.
Next up was Lock & Key, who had been waiting on the sidelines and watching the other dancers keenly. His set was aggressive and made up for a slight lack of finesse with energy and absolute commitment to his act, using every inch of available space on the floor.
The final performance was by Dazo, who did a decent set of breaks moves and then put on a crash helmet in preparation for a head-spin finale… which he fluffed unceremoniously. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained…
The judges were soon ready to announce the top 6, which came out as – “Mr Crowe” (Larynx), Max Roper, B-Boy Al, Lady T, Leeful and Zorro. Based upon crowd reaction to each name, these were then eliminated down to four, with semi-finals being Max Roper vs B-Boy Al and Leeful vs Larynx.
Both dancers performed decent sets and the make-up of the final was effectively decided by the vocalists they were competing against. Max Roper stumbled twice, giving B-Boy Al an easy through, while Larynx turned up the heat and delivered a performance so good that Leeful didn’t really stand a chance. For the second time he started “No, No, No” at the end of his set, only to be cut off by Andy… but there was no doubt who had won the round.
The final, between Al and Larynx, was all about the vocals. Al’s sets were excellent, but the rapt attention of the room was focussed solely on the sonic manipulations and comic muggings of the beatboxer. Over three 45-second rounds, Larynx put out the full range of beatbox noises, drum sounds and sly cover versions, chatted shit to the crowd and claimed the £100 spot prize with his impersonation of two Vauxhall drivers comparing motors, complete with engine noises et al. His banter with Andy Instone had by this point come to border on open flirtation and when he finally dropped into his Dawn Penn cover he prefaced it by saying “It’d be funny if I was shit, wouldn’t it?”
In fact, his rendition was anything but, being surprisingly sick and coming complete with dub echoes. The final trick up his sleeve was harmonica beat-boxing, which was pulled off perfectly. It was a mere formality after all this for the judges to announce him the winner, presenting him with two giant cheques and then opening the floor to all and sundry to get their groove on.
I managed to catch up with Larynx after the performance for an interview, which should be up soon.
The only other thing I need to do before I sign off is to reiterate just how good Max Roper was. In his first performance, he showed skills and passion that would be remarkable in MCs many years his senior. He did less well in the second set in that I don’t think he expected to get as far as he did and was hence less well prepared and more nervous, but young as he is there is time for him to develop and he surely has the potential to make a major mark on the scene in years to come.
Vauxhall Tribes Regional Tour – The Hi-Fi Club, Leeds – Saturday 25th November 2006