Reeps One, aka Harry Yeff, always had a unique imagination and tenacity to excel creatively. From beatboxer and musician to abstract-expressionist, his drive to understand and master his multitude of talents has taken him on an extraordinary journey recently reaching over 50 000 0000 views on YouTube. Reeps was voted Best Live act in The Bass Music Awards 2015, has a Harvard Residency and recently joined the judging panel for the World Beatbox Championships. He also recently opened doors to his latest exhibition ADO (Attention Deficit Order).
ALT-MU had the pleasure of meeting Reeps One to tell us about how his career’s developed and how he aims to redefine and challenge perceptions within the creative industry.
A lot of people may know you best as Reeps One the beatboxer but you’re also a brilliant artist. Can you tell us which came first?
The art. I remember seeing the walls covered in my dad’s paintings growing up and I always felt I had to leave my mark on things. If I wasn’t making stuff, I didn’t feel like I was real [laughs]. My dad said he would give me a pen, turn around and I would have drawn over half of the wall! I realised then you can leave your mark on things. He said there was always something in me wanting to leave marks and impact the space around me. I’ve had a really encouraging environment to be myself and find my own way.
How did this skill develop and when did you realise it was something you really wanted to pursue?
It was always cathartic; if I was stressed, angry or happy, I’d want to get it on paper. I was always listening to myself quite obsessively trying to progress, so I could be doing anything form a really simple, abstract line drawing to covering bigger spaces. In my school I was quite notorious for having the biggest final piece. It grew from it being like a personal catharsis, to really being my identity. I’d be inspired or learn from other people but it was always in me from the beginning that what I do has to be mine. I have to feel like I own it, otherwise I wouldn’t want to do it.
You were brought up in East-London. Would you say the graffiti scene played a large role in your journey into the art world?
I like to try and avoid certain obvious categories like “graff” just because I get put in a box enough already. What did appeal about graffiti was, again, leaving your mark and owning the space around you and feeling like you’re in control.
It really liberated me and made me trust my own ideas.
So, it sounds like art really dominated your head space. How then did beatboxing come about?
When I was about fourteen I played three different instruments, but got pissed off when I couldn’t play them, so I started speaking drum routines or singing a violin piece. I eventually realised that by humming and doing really light percussion sounds, I could do both at the same time. I felt more free with my voice than with the instruments.
With the voice you can do it all the time and in any place. I was always able to make music – a massive factor in the medium. The art form costs no money, you can start making music really quickly and on your terms. That’s a freedom that you don’t have with instruments.
Did you always intend combining your art and your music? If not, how did the two collide?
I guess they were side by side for a long time. I didn’t know or see a logical path. I’ve always said “I want to make my shows look as good as they sound” At that point, I didn’t know how it would happen so originally there was just these two very separate things that influenced each other but no direct way connecting them. That came later.
I started to think about how can I visualize my voice and I started experimenting with cymatics. I then started using technology and vibrations to create geometry and sounds; finding ways to create visuals with my voice. I started really enjoying physical phenomenon – things that I could physically manipulate with my voice. It didn’t involve a program, it all came from me. So while I was performing we had these unique, visual spectacles.
I think it makes you an artist in the truest sense of the word when you’re combining all your abilities to make something unique.
Your art style incorporates the use of non-linear patterns, balance, mood, space and fluidity – I would argue that this systematic formula is also applied in your music. Is this an insight into the mind of Reeps One?
Oh totally, that’s completely what I like to think is my realm – jumping between things always shifting and changing but still be consistent and tangible. I think that’s when we have the most fun as human beings and as creatives. It’s when we develop our abilities and then they’re defined but then a point comes when you can experiment and switch things around. That’s what I like to show in my work: you can have drawings where there’s hundreds of elements interlocking and shifting or do a performance where there may be no set structure so I’ll adapt and shift depending on how the crowds reacting.
My exhibition ADO (Attention Deficit Order) is a concept that I think is the underpinning of, not just me, but a lot of other creatives. When you’ve had this impulse to change, it means you’re listening to yourself. If you have an impulse to want to move on or change something, sometimes listening to that is what keeps you really excited. Whenever I do paintings I do three at a time, if I work on a song I’ll work on three and I’ll flip between them as I progress. That’s always the way I’ve done things.
Your visuals and your art come in all different mediums and styles. Where do you draw your inspiration?
All sorts. Marcel Duchamp who was a massively influential artist in the sixties. He was, the Godfather of conceptual art. Korz one, he’s a contemporary street artist who broke into the fine art realm. I feel like these individuals have really shared a corner of their mind and it’s really become revered on a large scale. Something that normally stays as a quiet thought, if communicated in a certain way, can really touch people and that’s what I think a good artist is.
I’ve heard it said that you prefer to stay away from loop pedals and effects for your voice, what’s your opinion on this?
What I’ve said is that I love virtuosity. Everything coming from one person in the moment but that doesn’t mean that I won’t progress. I mean, we’ve got this whole new set up where everything comes from me It’s all my voice but then there could be a collaboration with someone else or it could be an augmentation of production. These are some things I’m really proud of as well. So, it’s not so much about not using loops but more about exploring what one person can do in the moment on their own.
Well, thanks for clearing that up. You are certainly taking a step further towards technology in regards to the visual aspect of things. You just released the world’s first gyroscopic, virtual-reality music video ‘Does not exist’. Tell us about that…
So, were the music and the visuals created side by side?
Yeah, there were 11 locations in America and LA. It was nuts man, fucking bonkers. I can’t really put into words how amazing that experience was but the result was to create something abstract and to try and throw people into a strange zone. I think you can only really experience this when you have the right set up which is always the issue with new technology but we know in a year and a half this will still be a thing you can go to and be like “look this was the first time it was done” so I’m really proud of that.
Big stuff! What have you got in store for 2017?
I’m not really allowed to say much but can definitely say that we have some incredible projects which involve me exploring the human voice. I’ve been traveling the world just meeting incredible human beings. It started last year and I’m set to meet many more artists in the hope to inspire and develop the show. We’re going to be at Glastonbury. This project will be a showcase but the main thing is that I have no limitations now. I will be doing an installation one day or writing a piece of music, then I’m doing artwork, then I’m doing a tour – I don’t think that in 2017 anyone should have a roof over what they think they can do. They should always be out there experimenting.
I suppose your only possible hindrance now is be prioritising your projects – that’s a skill in itself…
We’ve noticed you’re singing a lot more in your music, what inspired this?
Yeah, it’s not stuff you’d exactly expect from me. A lot of harder, darker stuff is coming out soon but then there’s these elements of sharing a bit of the real me, beyond entertainment. You can have something very beautiful and serene and then it can go super dark. I stopped thinking about what people think. I only have time to think about the best I can be for myself and then everything should come from that. I mean, someone sending you a message saying that something you’ve made has changed their life. It’s great but it’s…I don’t know. For me, I want my creations to come from somewhere more than just me thinking I’m going start a mosh pit, I’m going to make 5000 people dance – as much as that’s amazing. I’ve done that a lot but it’s exciting as an artist when you start thinking alright well what else can I share? How will people react? Maybe some people will hate this and that’s great, it’s the fact I’m being honest with it.
That’s a very good ethos to have. What advice would you give to anyone thinking about pursuing a creative career?
Listen to yourself. Be willing to fail. The best ideas are the ones you’re afraid of.
If you didn’t know already, Reeps One is definitely someone you want to watch for 2017. As an advocate for multi-disciplinary creativity who knows where this path may take him. Follow him via Facebook or his Instagram to keep up to date and if he’s going to be on a stage near you.
Interview by Tuala Kiernan
Photography by Scott Chalmers