Now that he’s graduated from high school, 2020 Beatbox Israel champion Maxim Mirel, aka Max, has a message for competitors in the 2021 Grand Beatbox Battle: “The underdog is coming.”
With a menacing bassline and a snare that cuts right through speakers, Mirel has taken the beatbox community by storm and put the Israeli beatbox community firmly on the map, securing a wild card spot in the Grand Beatbox Battle (GBB), the world’s premier annual beatbox competition. (For the uninitiated, beatboxing is the singlehanded acapella rendition of rap or techno music, often performed at spitfire speeds.)
Despite his imposing on-mic presence, Mirel is actually quite down-to-earth. Though he was awarded the GBB wildcard spot in May, he only agreed to be interviewed in August, after he completed his Israeli high school matriculation exams. “I prefer to let my music speak for itself,” explains the 18-year-old Ashkelon resident, with characteristic understatement.
Mirel’s social media accounts are nearly bereft of personal details, and his peers in the Israeli beatboxing scene go so far as to call him shy. And while many beatboxers curate their image, releasing highly-produced videos staged in front of green screens, Mirel eschews pizzazz for a spartan commitment to solid crewneck t-shirts.
Breaking his musical style down into two main components, Mirel says that he has “the crazy drops that get the crowd going,” but that he tries to keep his sound “as close to [produced] music as possible” for the remainder of the time. He’s earned accolades from the best in the game: No less a personage than 2015 Beatbox World Champion, Alem, described Mirel’s wildcard video as “incredible” and praised his “atmosphere and presence.”
Next month, Mirel will take the GBB stage in Warsaw, Poland, alongside 23 other beatboxers representing 12 countries on four continents. The competitors were selected from a total pool of 1,000 candidates either by way of an online wildcard audition or by winning a major international competition. With the Beatbox Battle World Championships on an indefinite hiatus since 2018, the winner of the GBB will have a strong claim to the title of top beatboxer in the world. Mirel is the first Israeli to vie for that title.
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Beatbox Israel — the largest forum for fans and performers of the genre — has been around since 2012. Until recently, though, there was not much justification for promoting the organization outside of Israel, says founder Alon Dabushka.
“The talent simply wasn’t high enough” to even submit a wildcard audition, let alone publicize battle videos, says Dabushka.
Initially, the Israeli beatbox community flew so far under the radar that the organizers of the Beatbox Battle World Championship didn’t think to invite Israeli champions to their contest.
“We were so small,” Dabushka says. “I used to search people on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube and message them my cell phone number and personally invite them to events.”
A recent injection of talent and energy in the form of Mirel, 2018 and 2019 Israeli champion Itamar Barry, aka DeMellow, and Ori Abada, aka H1PPY (pronounced Hippy) — Mirel’s opponent in the 2020 Israeli Beatbox Championship final — has given Dabushka plenty to showcase internationally.
The GBB was founded in 2011 by Swissbeatbox, then the national beatbox organization of Switzerland. In the years since, Swissbeatbox has grown to become the most important beatboxing organization in the world, with the GBB serving as its flagship event. Its worldwide following numbers in the millions.
With such a large viewership, beatboxers covet the opportunity to appear on Swissbeatbox’s YouTube channel, and the GBB wildcards have become more competitive over the years as prospective champs vie to have their wildcard videos featured there.
This year’s wildcard auditions attracted hundreds of entry videos competing for just seven spots on the Grand Beatbox Battle stage. But Mirel didn’t just beat out fellow hopefuls — he also outperformed two world champions, 15 national champions, 13 previous GBB contestants, and two former GBB judges.
With the beatbox Battle World Championship on hold (it is not held every year) and last year’s GBB held online due to pandemic restrictions, many of the beatboxing world’s biggest stars craved stage time and submitted wildcard entries in hopes of a triumphant return.
Swissbeatbox CEO Andreas “Pepouni” Fraefel acknowledges that Mirel’s successful wildcard bid is a huge statement about the quality of beatbox in Israel.
“If it is the first time for a country to make it in, it is of course very special,” Fraefel says. “It is not an easy thing to do, so it shows that a participant really showed great results.”
While the beatboxing celebrities looked to recapture past glories, DeMellow says that he and Mirel strategized in hopes of getting a foot in the door to the international stage.
“When we uploaded our wildcards, our goal was to get a lot of views, get a lot of hype. Probably not pass, but get highly ranked,” DeMellow says.
Mirel has a different narrative: “I entered to win.”
Watching the emerging talent in the Israeli scene, Dabushka is proud — and willingly admits that the new trio is of a different caliber. Beatbox Community owner David Tverskoy, aka D-Koy, agrees. Beatbox Community, formerly Beatbox Talk, is an online platform where new beatboxers can train together, battle, jam, and cut their teeth before they are ready to start competing at the highest level.
Though the US-based D-Koy was at the forefront of international beatboxing, he wasn’t aware of the Israeli beatbox community until 2018. By chance, he and his family went to Israel on vacation, where he discovered that “there clearly was a group that was making efforts to build a community there.”
Max, H1ppy and DeMellow were not at an ensuing meetup in 2018 but have been fixtures at Beatbox Community since, and D-Koy has been watching their progress.
“I got to see [the Israeli beatbox scene] in its very early stages, and I’d even say it’s in its early stages now,” says D-Koy. “But [it’s] starting to make some big strides with the first Israeli in GBB.”
Beatbox Israel will host its 2021 Israeli championship on September 23 in Petah Tikva. This year, instead of Dabushka, the new generation will be running the event. Daniel Mantzur, aka monT, is hosting the championship, Mirel is judging the wildcards, and DeMellow is heavily involved in managing the Beatbox Israel YouTube channel.
For the first time in recent memory, the Beatbox Israel founder is free to enjoy his national championship from the crowd. A month later, he’s set to watch one of Israel’s young stars ascend to the international stage at the Grand Beatbox Battle.
Going into the GBB, Mirel is confident. “I didn’t submit a wildcard just to make a name for myself or Israeli beatboxing,” he says. “My goal is to make it to the battles and advance as far as I can.”
In July, Mirel placed second in Beatbox International’s International Throwdown. In August, he swept through a private battle in Austria with some of Europe’s best beatboxers. Come October, he plans to do the same in Warsaw at the GBB.
D-Koy will also be competing there. Asked if he is nervous at the prospect of battling Mirel after his recent string of successes, D-Koy laughs: “If he performs well live and has that confidence in himself, then I think he’ll put up an amazing fight.”
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