Beast
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Beast

Montreal-based Beast began as something of an experiment. Drummer/composer Jean-Phi Goncalves, leader of his own cutting edge electro band Plaster and also an established platinum level producer (Ariane Moffat, Pierre Lapointe, Daniel Bélanger, Lauryn Hill), asked acclaimed chanteuse Betty Bonifassi (DJ Champion, The Triplets of Belleville soundtrack) to lay down vocals on a work-in-progress track. Something clicked during that first recording session, and Beast was born.

With Jean-Phi as engineer/producer, the tracks came together at various locations, including Betty’s house and Jean-Phi’s home studio. The process, says Jean-Phi, was akin to that of a scientist, one who is searching for something, uncertain of what exactly it is he’s hunting for. “But he just keeps looking and looking until he finds it,” says Jean-Phi – and so it was with Beast.

What Betty and Jean-Phi uncovered was a sound unlike anything else. Beast’s self-titled debut (Pheromone Recordings/Vega Music) inhabits a place where Portishead meets Rage Against the Machine. Soul, rap, electro, rock and jazz (complete with a Charles Mingus bass sample on “Satan”) collide with a cinematic flair. “Trip rock,” Betty calls it, the phrase invoking the way haunting choirs and glitchy electronic bits run underneath saw-toothed bass and grinding guitars.

Musician and songwriter Simon Wilcox worked with Betty (whose first language is French) to polish her English lyrics, while maintaining the structure and strong imagery Betty had infused them with. Betty spits the resulting fiery stanzas with a delivery that melds the spirit of rap and slam poetry with bellowing soul. The recording of “Devil” marked her first foray into rapping and the words, she says, “came out in a rage flow.”

Jean-Phi ventured into unknown territory during the making of the album as well. “It was the first time I ever had a mic in front of my face,” he says. His vocal tracks were recorded with the intention of having someone else replace them later, but Betty pushed for them to stay. “I love the difference in texture,” she says.

The entire process spanned two years, a period filled with excitement and inspiration, but also self-doubt amid all of these new challenges Betty and Jean-Phi were taking on. In the end, the worry was for naught. In early 2008, Beast took to the stage for the first time, at an industry showcase in Montreal. It would be a daunting prospect for any new band, but Beast conquered the crowd and have since made quick work of becoming one of the most talked-about live acts in the Canadian music scene. At an inaugural Toronto performance, with only a handful of live shows under their belts, Beast scored a perfect 100% on their NXNE Report Card from ChartAttack. It was an accolade that was well deserved with Jean-Phi and Betty augmented live by guitarist Serge Nakauchi-Furrier and “keybassist” Jonathan Dauphinais, in a performance that has very quickly developed its own mythology.

That same passion is making Beast a critical and fan favourite. On the track “City,” Betty proclaims: “In a city called Heaven/I’ve decided to make it mine.” Heaven isn’t the only thing – with their debut album and gripping live act, Beast are capturing fans at every turn.