Beatboxing champ doesn't want to play it safe

Dharni Ng has won international competitions, released music independently and garnered an impressive following on YouTube

PHOTOGRAPHED BY STEFAN KHOO; STYLED BY JEFFREY YAN

Dharni Ng knew he wanted to be different from a young age.

"I've always had an interest in music, but I've also always been a non-conformist," he says. "I took up the piano when I was four, but I quit because the teacher was too stringent, boring and classical."

At 13, he discovered beatboxing on music-sharing platforms, found a community of fellow enthusiasts on online forums and was hooked.

"I was listening to these MP3s and I was just so inspired. I started beatboxing, rapping, just playing and producing music - everything developed from there," says the 34-year-old, who won the Grand Beatbox Battle Championship twice in a row in 2013 and 2014.

Beatboxing has taken him halfway across the world and back.

"I left because I felt very trapped and sheltered here," says Ng, who started busking when he was 17. "Art is about expressing yourself and I couldn't really do that in Singapore then because I didn't really have experience in many things. It was comfortable, which was a good thing, but for an artiste, it can be quite suffocating. I wanted to step away from people who were thinking alike."

After travelling through the big cities and cultural capitals of the world, he found himself in Poland, competing in a televised talent competition in 2011. He stayed in Poland for a decade and returned to Singapore in January this year.

He has since won several international beatboxing competitions, released music independently and garnered an impressive following on YouTube. Many of his clips surpass three million views each.

"I really want to work on my EP now," says Ng, who has opened for music acts including Lady Gaga and Kanye West. "But things come up all the time. Brands want me to do the music and video for their campaigns. I do it because it's part of work. I'm not complaining, but it takes my creative energy to a different place. Real success is when I become financially free and can focus purely on my own expression of art."

He adds: "Right now, money is a barrier and I'm trying to work backwards. I want to be the music-maker for the brands - do crazy things for them, just from the mouth. Even if they're asking for just a jingle, I make that jingle a hit."

This relentless drive is at the heart of all of his work - it is why he is always pushing himself.

His strength, says Ng, is creativity.

"I won those competitions because of my creativity, not because of my skills, which are okay but not my greatest strength. My strength is being able to think differently. I always want to be on a different level, doing things my own way so I'm away from all the people trying to copy me. If you keep going on the same path, you get a lot of competitors and they all want to eat you up. But if you do something different all the time, they can't keep up with you."

Right now, Ng has found a new outlet for his creativity and it has nothing to do with music. "People think, 'Oh, you only beatbox', or 'you only do music', but they don't know all my interests," he says. "I'm really obsessive. When I get into one thing, I take it all the way. And then, I move on to the next thing."

His current passion is the cryptocurrency boom.

"I'm learning how to trade better, how to chart, how to do technical analysis," he says. "Part of it is because I want to be a millionaire in six months, but I'm also interested because it allows me to understand the psychology of human behaviour, how people think.

"I'm new to this, but I'm diligently doing my research. I've been burnt. I've gained and then been burnt again, but I think that's part and parcel of learning. You make a lot of mistakes, but you get better at it."

True to his personality of going full throttle on whatever path he has set his sights on, Dharni is launching an NFT (non-fungible token) platform.

Called Tezarekt, it specialises in NFTs that fuse audio and visual components, sold as individual works that will form part of a larger, interconnected whole - like the layers that make up a finished song.

The project is also inspired by gachapons, the capsule toy-vending machines in Japanese arcades, and therefore has a gaming element of randomness to it as well.

He admires people who are similarly boundary-breaking and genre-blurring.

"You have so many genres right now. Why not pick the best essence of each and put them into a message that is your own?" he asks.

"That can apply to anything in life. You don't have to be tied down to one genre, one style, one medium. I think Billie Eilish does that really well."

Another rule-bender he admires?

"Right now, I'm really inspired by fashion, especially with what Virgil Abloh is doing," he says, referring to the artistic director of Louis Vuitton's menswear.

"He came from a street background and took all that knowledge into luxury and revolutionised it. It's a bit like me moving out of Singapore, experiencing so much stuff, then coming back with all this knowledge and, hopefully, changing something."

Mindsets and attitudes are at the top of the list of what he wants to change.

He says: "When it comes to art, we shouldn't play it too safe. We should be more open to very new ideas and not just blindly follow what the West has already done. Take inspiration, but don't copy.

"There's a fine line between doing things just to be cool and actually being open to things because it's a part of you that you want to explore. That openness - that's the thing you need when you're doing art."

• This article first appeared in Harper's Bazaar Singapore, the leading fashionglossy on the best of style, beauty, design, travel and the arts. Go to www.harpersbazaar.com.sg and follow @harpersbazaarsg on Instagram; harpersbazaarsingapore on Facebook. The July 2021 issue is out on newsstands now.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2021, with the headline 'Beatboxing champ doesn't want to play it safe'. Subscribe