Benoit & Sergio Don't Bring the Hits (But Do Bring a Purple Dashiki) to Monarch
Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014
About a year ago, a promoter friend of mine made a very astute observation: "If we're paying some artist, like, $5,000, you better believe I expect them to play the hits that they're known for." Granted, he was kind of on one at the time, but those words have remained with me ever since. To be honest, though, I never really understood what he meant until recently; most DJs and producers working at the international level operate from a standpoint of consistency and crowd-pleasing (unless they're known for being erratic, in which case, well, that's their thing ). Never have his comments been more in my mind than they were Saturday at Monarch, while I listened to a set by Washington D.C./Berlin tech-house duo Benoit & Sergio.
My night started early, with burgers at Citizen's Band on Folsom Street. We were shooting the shit, and one of my friends began talking about Benoit & Sergio's "Walk & Talk," the duo's infamous K-hole anthem from 2011. "My baby does K all day," one mock sang, "do you think they'll play it?" This became something of a theme. The song was a breakout hit for the group -- arguably the biggest and most noteworthy track of its four-year run. Much of Benoit & Sergio's subsequent work has been colored by the song's lyrical delivery and laid-on-thick bassline. But one also gets the sense that it's become something of a burden for Benoit & Sergio, pigeonholing their aesthetic as a very specific drugged-out, tech-house sound. Much of the anticipation of the night came in wondering how they'd handle this issue.
Then I was in in the basement at Monarch, drink in hand. I stood among the packed dancefloor, wiping sweat off my forehead but not even moving. Cartoonish floor-to-ceiling projections blanketed the walls, while flashes of neon strobe lit up the I-beams flanking the dancefloor. It was the latest iteration of Lights Down Low, a long-time local party that's gone through a number of stylistic makeovers before finding success at the intersection of upmarket weekend warriors and the more seasoned post-hipster club-kid scene. A large, inflated smiley face hung above the bottle service area, watching the proceedings from a removed distance.
Our DJ for the moment was Corey Sleazemore, one of the Lights Down Low residents and co-founders. He selected from the booth, eyeing his laptop while serving up monstrous bassline-led tech-house tracks that offered commandments like, "All you need is kick and snare!" It was driving, and though much of it was over-the-top, it set the tone for the party by warming up the geared-up crowd with some mid-evening bangers. But it wasn't all heavy; he also smoothed things out with Larry Heard's comparatively muted deep house classic "The Sun Can't Compare feat. Mr. White."
The moment of truth arrived shortly after, when Benoit & Sergio took the reigns from a stage in a far corner of the room. They used an elaborate setup that included two computers running the popular music software Ableton Live, a bank of digital synthesizers, and an assortment of MIDI controllers. It sounded good -- almost flawless -- prompting a friend of mine to state, "This has to be a pre-recording or something, it's so clean." Yet, as the set wore on, it became clear that at least some aspects were made in the moment. The two artists were polar opposites on stage, assuming a variation of the age old comedy double act -- Benoit Simon was all business on the electronics, while Benjamin "Sergio" Myers swiveled around and provided high-fives and lyrics in a purple dashiki. Overheard in bottle service: "I'm pretty sure that guy is high as shit, I kind of want to go up there and get one of those high fives off him."
It started with an homage to Daft Punk's ""Revolution 909," and from there it took a sustained, professional vibe. Myers continued to feel it, while Simon stayed stoic. They played "Adjustments," the single off their latest EP, and touched on "Principles," their 2011 hit on James Murphy's DFA imprint. They also debuted some new material, which had Myers parodying the self-referentiality of house music with a chant that ran something like, "My house is bigger than your house." As each track began, you could feel the anticipation in the room as the dancefloor held out for "Walk and Talk." This effect was intensified by the fact that most of their material sounds strikingly similar to that work.
Of course, the climax never came -- they never played "Walk & Talk" -- which, in retrospect, turned out pretty well: the lack of encore caused the energy to bleed back into the party, forcing dancers to get their rocks off in other ways. Perhaps this proves a counterpoint to my friend's comments. After all, one of the oldest adages in show business is "always leave them wanting more." Though, then again, I can't help but think that some of those ticket sales were motivated by that song. Los Angeles spinner Cooper Saver quickly got on the decks, pulled some 12-inches from his bag, and placed the ambiance back into an uptempo house mood with Motor City Drum Ensemble's "Raw Cuts 3" and Shit Robot's "Simple Things (Work it Out) (Todd Terje Version)." He kept going 'til the lights turned on at 4 a.m.