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Beta Frontiers Talks Being a Black Sheep in Toronto's Music Community and Why His New Album is Going to Sound Like 'I:Robot'

"I think it's kind of cool to be the odd one out."
March 4, 2015, 5:00pm

When Beta Frontiers was asked to be an attendee at this year's Red Bull Music Academy Bass Camp, one of twenty artists picked to attend a weekend conference in Montreal, the call came completely out of the blue.

"They got in contact with me, it was a pleasant surprise," says the producer/musician, whose real name is Michael Butler. "I just got a call from Ian [Chai, Buzz Records' co-founder], who said, 'You say no to everything, please say yes to this, otherwise you're an idiot.'"

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Like many of the camp's other attendees, he started getting interest in music when he started making hip-hop beats in high school with primitive, pirated software. He attended Toronto recording arts school Harris Institute for a semester, but didn't particularly care for the experience and ended up playing in various bands. Eventually he came back to writing and recording his own music in his bedroom, putting out a six song EP of palpitations-raising synth-pop in 2012, while working on a full-length release.

"I wanted it to be organic, but with a harsher, metallic sound, like a bionic man or Will Smith's character in I:Robot," says Butler of his debut album, which he hopes to have out later this year. While past tracks have seen him collaborating with vocalists, most notably Carmen Elle (of Toronto bands Army Girls and DIANA) on last summer's wistful, electro-pop single "So Cold", the yet-to-be-titled "90 per cent complete writing-wise" LP sees the artist flying largely solo.

"It gives me more freedom because I'm not stick in a verse-chorus-verse kind of structure, different parts of different songs can come in and I can manipulate them," he says of his process, which relies heavily on using samples as instrumentals and then playing traditional instruments over top. He adds that he's also taking his live show into account, which in the past has included the addition of VJ and music director Andrew Olivares to contribute visuals.

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In the meantime, he's turned out dance-friendly remixes for bands including fellow label mates Odonis Odonis and British shoegaze group Fear Of Men, and a 42 minute mix of original music and edits that serves as a crash course to the artist's influences, including Caribou ("I like the way he thinks" says Butler ), Japanese film composer J.A. Caesar, and Outkast.

While he describes himself as an outsider on a label that includes more pop and punk acts, he's embraced the position. "I feel like there's still a disconnect, too often you're playing little parties and no one cares or these great big venues for people who also don't really care," says the 32-year-old of Toronto's electronic music community.

"I'm very much the black sheep, but I think it's kind of cool to be the odd one out," Butler says. "Sometimes it's not the best when you're playing a label showcase with a bunch of sludgy punk bands and I'm there with my laptop like bloop, bloop, bloop. But then you win over people who you weren't expecting that."

Beta Frontiers is on Facebook // Twitter // SoundCloud

Max Mertens is a writer living in Toronto. He's on Twitter.