I may be able to boast about having listened live to INXS, the Chinese opera, the Dresden Dolls, and the TSO. However, my arrogant ears took a blow on Sunday night when I was confronted with an explosion of sounds in Tom Thum’s Festival of Voices gig.
While I sipped a warm mulled wine at a round table in City Hall, which had been intimately dressed up for the festival’s ‘Voicebox’ series, I experienced something entirely unexpected. Before me stood a 28 year old beat boxer, straight from Queensland, whose humble and gentle personality was completely counteracted with a flawless progression of dubstep, hip hop, jazz, and world music – all of which emerged from a single pair of lips.
Tom Thum opened the gig with a trip around the world, using his mouth and mic to play traditional instruments from a variety of nations. In my seat I was transported through China, the Middle East, and outback Australia – and even travelled back in time to 1930s New Orleans. Using DJ equipment to loop and layer his live sounds, Tom had me mentally cakewalking to his full-blown jazz band of double bass, percussion and brass.
The performance was as much visual as it was musical, and Tom’s lively conversation with the audience kept an energetic momentum flowing through the gig. Despite receiving bizarre requests from the audience (with folks asking him to beat box a range of sounds, from a “Stargate” to a “native Australian wattle bird”), the artist’s strangest act of the night was his rendition of a heart attack he had while on tour in Germany. Do not ask me to describe the way he managed to turn his near-death experience into a catchy hip hop hit. All I can say is that it involved the sounds of an ambulance, miscellaneous hospital beeps, and a hilarious impression of his German doctor.
Toward the end of the gig, Tom stepped behind the front line as he was joined on stage by singer-guitarist Jamie McDowall, who awkwardly fiddled with his shirt and mic as he pumped out some quality hip hop vocals. The duo closed the evening with a subtle advertisement of the album they had up for sale after the gig. I’m not sure listening to a beat box recording without watching it would have quite the same effect – but after seeing Tom Thum, I would not hesitate to witness his impossibly impressive skills live again, and again.
This article was featured in Aphra Magazine as part of the 2013 Festival of Voices coverage.