Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Laissez les Bonjay rouler

Bonjay photographed by Laurie Kang

In the normal order of things, I'd avoid making wild proclamations of the Next Big Thing variety altogether, much less be making them before October is done and dusted. But on this occasion, I'm going to stick my neck out (and I don't think I'm taking a huge risk here) by declaring that Bonjay are going to be one of the acts of 2011.

The Toronto duo of vocalist Alanna Stuart and producer/programmer/beatsmith Ian Swain (a/k/a DJ Pho) first turned up on my radar about four and a half years ago, when their superb electro-dancehall refix of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Maps began to get some blog love. At a time when there seemed to be an irritating trend amongst indie bands towards things like the slightly-too-pleased-with-itself ironic rap/r&b cover, Bonjay flipped it nicely and took the concept in a more original direction, but one that at the same time placed them firmly in the well-established Jamaican tradition of versioning pop, country or MOR hits - think Jimmy Cliff's Wild World, John Holt's Help Me Make It Through The Night or Ken Boothe's Everything I Own. They took it a step further a year or so later with their stunning take on TV On The Radio's Staring At The Sun; Alanna's vocal riding a speaker-punishing fidget-house riddim, punctuated by electronic whoops and growls flying all over the shop and a bottom-end that removed the option of standing still altogether. By this point, I'd begun to play games of Fantasy A&R in my mind and had already made Bonjay my first signing.

They continued to come correct with the covers, versioning Feist's Honey Honey on Emvee's UK funky bruiser Glitch Dub, and in late 2009 they dropped their first original material in the shape of the Gimmee Gimmee EP - the title track being more of their trademark mutant dancehall with Alanna channelling T-Boz, Tanya Stephens and Missy Elliott over Pho's twitching thump-and-clatter beats, while the non-EP cut Faat Gyal showcased their ability to switch effortlessly from bit-crunching intergalactic ragga to a sneaky hoist of the classic Primo beat from Paula Perry's Extra Extra. They've now gone four-for-four with the Broughtupsy EP, six original tunes that smartly distil everything they've developed over the last few years into an exhilarating blast - Alanna's assured, powerful, yet playful vocals, Pho's back-a-yard via the Mos Eisley Spaceport riddims, and a shared belief that the bottom-knocker rules all things. In a country like the UK, where the nurturing of hybrid mongrel fusions of bass music's many variants is now as natural as drawing breath, there should be a ready-made audience for an act so consistently capable of bringing something fresh with them every time they return to the table.

I have it on good authority that Pho and Alanna are to finally begin work on their debut album next year, and may even return to the UK for a few dates. I can just as easily see them going down a bomb with a festival audience next summer as turning out some dingy sweatbox in East London or wherever. Bonjay are the very definition of now, and they're only going to get better.

Download Stumble from Broughtupsy here.

1 comment:

Laurent - Clap Yo Handz said...

It's funny I just discover their music today on myspace and you wrote something the same time.
Nice blog.