A graduate student’s passion for beatboxing has catapulted him both on a local and national platform.
Darren Yu, a first-year graduate student studying business administration, won the title of the 2018 Vice East Coast Beatbox Champion when he placed second at the regional competition held in Boston this past December. Going by his stage name “Ghost,” Yu also performs with Sofar Sounds, a music company that hosts shows in large cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, London and Tokyo in an intimate music venue. Although he has traveled across the country throughout his four-and-a-half-year beatboxing career, it all started here in Binghamton.
Yu first started beatboxing in his dorm room in Dickinson Community when he was an undergraduate student at Binghamton University. Making unique sounds with his voice was always an amusing pastime, but Yu seriously started working on beatboxing when he began watching tutorials and videos of prominent beatboxers. By mimicking the sounds and routines of distinguished beatboxers SkilleR and Reeps One, Yu quickly taught himself the art.
“I didn’t have any sounds to start off with, obviously,” he said. “But I [had] the 26 letters of the alphabet and there’s like, a bunch of consonants in it so I just use[d] the consonants and tried to say them as fast as possible in the same way [SkilleR] was doing it and eventually the sounds just got sharper and sharper and that’s how I learned relatively fast.”
Along with watching videos, Yu learned a lot about beatboxing through fellow students who shared his same enthusiasm for the art. Unfortunately, the beatboxing club did not exist when Yu was an undergraduate, so he and other students created a temporary beatboxing community where they could support and learn from each other.
“We made, technically, the first beatbox club to try to find the other beatboxers and eventually I started learning all of the little things about, you know, what it means to be a performer, what it means to be a beatboxer,” he said. “It seems that there is quite a legacy now that there’s another beatboxing club.”
Starting off with short performances for his dorm community, Yu worked his way to performing at some of Binghamton’s most prominent showcases such as Asian Night, China Night, Japan Night, Korean Night, the Men of Color Award Show and the Spring Fling Student Show. He now has four shows scheduled for this month alone including the Chinese American Student Union and Vietnamese Student Associations’ Lunar New Year Banquet and the Asian Creative Network Showcase in New York City. This summer he will be attending beatboxing competitions in Atlanta, Brooklyn, Boston, Chicago and Poland.
Despite his many accomplishments, Yu said he wasn’t the best when he first began beatboxing and owes his success to his experiences and overwhelming support in Binghamton.
“I had a privilege that many, many performers, not just beatboxers, just performers in general, don’t get, and it’s support even when I’m bad,” he said. “It’s just the accumulation of support and positive experiences that I think really brought me forward, because it’s not just about motivation or discipline. Support is actually more important than both of those things. When you see people who love and respect what you’re doing, it just completely changes your outlook on whatever you’re trying to pursue.”
When it comes to new, aspiring beatboxers, Yu said to always remember to cherish the reason why they started pursuing the art in the first place.
“Don’t burn out,” he said. “The thing about [the] art is when you don’t feel supported, when you’re not seeing yourself progress as fast as possible, or when you’re doing it for the wrong reasons … it’s easy for [it] to become something else that isn’t a fun, creative outlet or a competitive outlet. You always want to keep in touch with the reason why you’re beatboxing because burning out from something that you absolutely love to do is one of the most painful things.”
Although Yu was content performing at local shows, the turning point in his beatboxing career came when he started competing.
“It was the particularity and the skill element of competitive beatboxing that drew me to it, like seeing people do things that I didn’t realize were possible,” he said. “[Beatboxing is] not only just an art and a performance, it’s also a sport, and this is really where the sport element of it comes out is these competitions.”
Although the competitions can get fierce, Yu said he still loves meeting and forming relationships with the tight-knit beatboxing community.
“It’s not just about the competition. Like, of course, I love performing, but it’s also the fact that I’m meeting people who are so supportive and we all connect with each other,” he said. “Even though there’s such a fundamental difference in our lifestyle[s], like I look at someone and I try to understand who they are and they try to understand who I am, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.”
Throughout his experiences, Yu has developed his own style of beatboxing, which stemmed from his love for dubstep, a genre of electronic dance music. He says much of his progress comes from creating his own flair.
“[Dubstep artists] combine a lot of sounds and arrange it in a way that creates an effective power and entropy and I was just very attracted to that dark energy,” he said. “That’s why I’m twice as good as I am now from when I graduated because I feel like I’ve found my style of beatboxing, this dark electronic style.”
By pursuing his passion and connecting with people who share his sentiment for beatboxing, Yu said he has found a sense of belonging.
“We have this language in common,” he said. “The American beatbox community — it’s everything. It’s the best thing ever. I feel like I found a religious church to just be a part of or something like that.”