2011 has already been huge for the extraordinary talent Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee. His debut EP produced by multi award winning turntablist DJ Tigerstyle, was released to widespread critical acclaim earlier this year. There is no doubting this former pirate radio jungle MC is a true 21st Century musical pioneer taking live acoustic performance to the next level and urban music into unchartered waters. DMC picks it up…
Nathan, welcome to the DMC world – we are all looking forward to seeing you at the World Finals at the weekend. You are one these people which makes Britain so unique. A wonderful talent that could only happen on these shores. First question I have to ask, you were working on a building site after school when a mate gave you an old flute which you quickly became fascinated with. Tell us, has this guy any idea what you have gone on to achieve – are you still mates?
“Yeah we’re still friends. He moved to Spain a few years back so we don’t see each other much but I know he’s really happy for me and glad to have played his part in my development.”
What on earth does your family think of your career?
“They’re happy that I’m doing something I love and that I’m off the building site and staying out of trouble. My parents don’t come to the gigs, but my cousins and uncle have been to a few.”
What were the first reactions in clubs and from your mates when you first started fluteboxing?
“Very positive. People were surprised and blown away although at first some people weren’t sure how to react. It’s not like they had seen anyone doing it before. It’s great when we do shows now and people come knowing the music because they’ve seen it on YouTube or have bought the EP. We just played in Manchester for the first time, I can’t believe how many people came to see me play.”
You were once a pirate radio jungle MC, what artists were you listening to as a kid that switched you onto urban music?
“When I was 13 my parents bought me a Sony Walkman (remember those?) which was massive compared to the technology now…the size of a large yam. I got a Salt ‘n Pepa tape from my sister and a Michael Jackson album from my parents. I then bought Ice T’s ‘Pwer’ album on cassette. That’s what got me started really.”
You have already flown out to China to shoot the Chinese/American movie ‘Americatown’ – what was all that about?
“The film title is a play on the word ‘Chinatown’ really, it’s about Chinese American expats who move to Shanghai. It’s actually a comedy, I wrote some music for the soundtrack with DJ Tigerstyle and I also play a small cameo part in it, I’m basically playing myself performing in the street during a hectic bike chase scene.”
And any developments on starring in the first Plan B flick?
“I can’t really say I’m starring in it, again it’s a small cameo role but I’m going to be on the soundtrack which will also get released so I’m boosted about that.”
Did you school have a music class – if so, did you play an instrument?
“We did have music classes at school but I have to say I feel massively let down by my school as we weren’t really encouraged to make music or generally aspire to create. The school was more about churning out robots. I strongly believe there should be more music taught in state schools.”
Your appearance on YouTube with Beardyman at the London Google offices has now received over 7 million hits. How did all that come about?
“I was on the same bill as Beardyman at the Hip Hop night ‘Scratch’ at The Jazz Café. We did a short improvised collaboration on the night which went down really well. I have a mate who works for Google who got me in there and I invited Beardyman to get involved. That video has been massive for us, I’m still getting gig requests from all over the world from people who have seen that video.”
Who would you say are your musical influences?
“I’m a big fan of jazz and particularly Miles Davis. Roland Kirk was alsa a big inspiration, he was blind but he could play flute and two saxophones at the same time…people say he could do it because he was blind and not inspite of it. He didn’t feel he had any limitations.”
Can you remember the moment when you suddenly realised that yes Nathan, you may just have a career on your hands here kid?!?
“Yes it was after I did the BBC Maida Vale session with The Prodigy. That was massive for my profile and the phone didn’t stop ringing after that.”
You have played at some incredible festivals over the years. What has been the best and what has been the biggest festival disaster you have had?
“Womad in Charlton Park was a great show, as was the Glastonbury Glade Stage this year and Larmer Tree a couple of years back. I narrowly avoided a disaster at Womad Las Palmas when I chucked my fake chunky gold chain into the audience during our set. It hit some woman straight in the face. I apologised to her later, luckily she was fine but she was a bit of a hustler and tried to get money out of me ! I said she could keep the chain…lol.”
You’ve had your fair bit of luck accompanying your undeniable talent, your mate handing you an old flute another mate getting you a pre-show party for The Prodigy – what was that night like?
“Yes I guess I’ve got some useful friends.The Prodigy pre-show was the launch pad for the actually playing with The Prodigy and then the Maida Vale sessions. I should thank my pal Amin Phillips for making that happen.”
The world of beatboxing just seems to be getting bigger and better. What do you think the next stage is?
“You’re right. It’s just going to keep getting more musical and more mainstream. Already it’s being seen as another instrument rather than a gimic.”
You have worked with the likes of The Roots, Nitin Sawhney, K.T. Tunstall, Beardyman, Asian Dub Foundation and the Foreign Beggars – who was a real honour to work with and who have you had the most fun in the studio with?
“It was an honour to work with all of them but ADF have become like family to me now and they’re great fun to record and perform live with. I guess the biggest honour was collaborating with Guru shortly before he passed away.”
Can you play any other instrument?
“A play a bit of tabla and other percussion but also some soprano sax and clarinet…although my nephew stuffed biscuits into that so I can’t play it at the moment.”
Have you played in front of any professional flautists – if so, what was there reaction?
“Yes and the reaction has always been surprisingly good. I have massive respect for classical flautists. I’ve not met one who can do what I do but then again I can’t do what they do although I listen to a lot of classical music and I’m studying Bach at the moment.”
A great first EP with DJ Tigerstyle went down a storm, incorporating jazz, hip hop and everything in between. What have you already got planned studio and tour wise for 2012?
“We’re touring India in November 2011 and I’m sure we’ll go back next year. I’m recording with DJ Krust at the moment which is very exciting and I’ll be back in the studio with Plan B. In terms of The Clinic, we’re writing new material at the moment but we’ll start recording the album soon.”
Who is the best beatboxer the world has ever seen?
“I’d say it’s Kenny Muhammed. He was one of the originals too. He gets less props than Rahzel but he does some really crazy stuff.”
What flute camp are you in?
“I like Pearl or Miyazawa. I would love to have a Haines flute too. They’re amazing.”
After appearing with Howard Marks, he remarked he hasn’t seen anyone like you in years – and that’s saying something! How did you get on with old pothead?
“We got on really well. We have many thing we liked and shared – he’s much more than just a pothead though. He’s a very intelligent man, a real scholar with a lot of life experience and always great company.”
He is that, we love him at DMC. Tell us about the whole spell as an Emerging Artist In Residence at London’s Southbank Centre, how was that?
“That was a real honour too. I got to work with Nitin Sawhney and build a relationship with the Southbank Centre. Since then I’ve done my own show in the Purcell Room and I headlined the Raj:Reload event in the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the Alchemy festival.”
And finally, have you any surprises in store for us at the DMC World Finals…?
“If I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise now would it ? Wait and find out you schmuck.”