BONJAY with DENISE BENSON, ANDREW ALLSGOOD at Andy Poolhall (489 College), Friday (February 23). Free before midnight, $5 after. www.bonjay.net. Rating: NNNNN
Bonjay's Alanna Stuart and DJ Pho (aka Ian Swain) are still getting used to their new home in Toronto, but the early signs are good that they won't have any problem transplanting their odd but infections indie-informed take on dancehall, which garnered them lots of attention back in Ottawa.
"It's not as though we came to the big city hoping to make it. Forget that - I love Ottawa," Stuart says emphatically. "That's where we came up, and there's crazy amount of support there. But I love the challenge here - people's attention spans are so short, and there's so much happening. I was ready to take on a bigger city."
"In Ottawa, you grow up around some cool people and you've got your core group, but the city itself is kind of hard to fall in love with," admits Swain. "Toronto has so much going on - repping Toronto is huge. There's so much potential for fresh sounds."
In Ottawa the pair built up a solid rep for performing live dancehall-reggae- and R&B-influenced covers of indie rock hits. Stuart sang songs by TV on the Radio and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs over top of aggressive urban rhythms provided by Swain. Much of this technique was honed live at Swain's monthly Disorganised parties. They've attempted to capture their vibe on a mixtape, for which Friday's gig is a release party.
Technically, this won't be the first Bonjay release. Diplo snagged them last year to contribute a remix of Brazilian funk carioca group Bonde do Role, and Bonjay will open for them on their Canadian dates in a couple of months.
As much as the live mashup idea has worked for them, both are eager to move away from that and toward proper songwriting. Although a mashup seems like the easy way out to slap a couple of songs together, according to Swain, it rarely turns out to be that simple.
"I would like to say that we'd have this moment of clarity and suddenly mix in something that was in the right key and was perfect, but it takes running through a lot of songs. It takes a while to find a tune that works."