Irvine, the undiscovered beatbox capital?

Eric Liu, left, and Moonsoo Jo are students at University High School in Irvine who want to put the city on the beatbox map.
Eric Liu, left, and Moonsoo Jo are students at University High School in Irvine who want to put the city on the beatbox map.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

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For decades, young, urban African Americans dominated the vocal percussion known as beat boxing. Now, there’s a Hassidic Jewish beatboxer, beatboxing’s a hit on French television, and last year a British young woman took a top prize at an international competition. A group of high school students wants to put suburban Irvine on the beatbox map.

16-year-old Moonsoo Jo remembers his fascination with a beatboxer on television when he lived in Korea. Jo tapped into his classical piano training when he started beatboxing a couple of years ago.

"It’s like imitating real life noises like a trumpet, or like a trumpet, and then maybe incorporating into a beat, so that you make two sounds at the same time."

The sounds are produced by his throat, lips, and it’s taken over a lot of his time outside school. Too much, if you ask his parents.

"They noticed I’ve been doing it at night and then around the daytime and even stay up late to do it, even in the bathroom and stuff, and then get noisy. My parents would wake up sometimes and come down and personally tell me, get mad at me, tell me it was inappropriate to do it at night."

Jo’s made all his beatboxing discoveries online. So has his friend, Eric Liu. "I went on YouTube, found a video by Kenny Muhammad and he did beatboxing — there’s a symphony in the background and combined classical sounds and he made it, beatboxing like an art form."

Using the online program Ventrilo to talk to several people online at the same time, Moonsoo Jo has shared his beatboxing and culture with people around the world.

Still, the online connection wasn’t enough. He says it can be lonely to be a beatboxer at University High School in Irvine.

"You know Irvine has that kind of title, as a nickname, the bubble and it’s kind of shielded, and if you don’t have a car and you go out, unless you go out it’s kind of hard to connect. Internet is like a connection but it doesn’t really make up for personal touches that you can make with other people."

Moonsoo Jo, Eric Liu and the other two members of their crew approached the City of Irvine’s Youth Action Team to host a Beatbox Battle tonight at the city’s Fine Arts Center.

In the last several weeks as word of the battle went viral, Liu’s discovered that he’s part of a community of beatboxers in Orange County. "I guess it was sort of a good feeling in the beginning because it seemed really unique and I’ve found more and more. It’s also good to know there is a community, you can share with each other and then just build off each other and make beatboxing into more of a social scene, I guess."

He promises that his social scene won’t affect his grades. "I think my grades are up to par with the kind of Asian parent stereotype. No Cs, B pluses is the worst."

Moonsoo Jo didn’t think he’d be able to juggle his passion, school and chores at home. "I’ve been doing better than I expected. I got straight As last semester and I’ve been beatboxing, like average every day, like three hours."

So even if it’s for only one night, Jo and his friends hope to make Irvine hop with the beats of their vocal percussion.