Benny Benassi at Echostage


Benny Benassi. (Ultra Records)
May 18

On Saturday night at Washington’s Echostage, the revelers could be broken down into groups like high school lunch-table cliques. There were spray-tanned model types, proudly keeping the Jersey Shore culture alive; rave kids with hula hoops and light gloves that turned the warehouse club into a neon circus; girls in cutoffs and bikini tops and guys in shorts and tanks who acted as if they were at a summer festival, and middle-aged men in blazers who mingled with lingerie-clad bottle-service hostesses. But while their ages and styles may have differed, everyone in attendance was united by their pursuit of the biggest party in town.

They certainly found it on Saturday, as a near-capacity crowd turned up for Italian electro house pioneer Benny Benassi. At 46, Benassi has a quarter-century of DJing experience, and his two-hour set was an EDM clinic, all metallic synth melodies, metronomic beats and rumbling bass lines. Mostly eschewing the big, vocal-driven hits dropped by openers Dzeko and Torres, Benassi favored adrenaline-pumping dance tunes as he built and released tension like a musical masseur.

At one point, a track looped the lyrics “old school sound with that new school bass,” which accurately describes his style these days: the familiar (to this crowd, anyway) sounds of electro house, with excursions into the gurgling cacophony of dubstep and the grinding breakdowns of trap. This stylistic passing-of-the-torch was typified by the night’s climax, when Benassi mixed his 2011 hit “Cinema” into Skrillex’s bombastic remix of the same — the sonic equivalent of singing around a campfire and then falling into it.

The EDM experience has become synonymous with large-scale visual accompaniment, and Echostage rolled out the usual laser lights, smoke cannons and confetti bombs, making the club feel like a vintage Jennifer Lopez video. The crowd was a visual element as well, arms waving like cilia and various LED toys looking like digital fireflies in the darkened room.

Sometime after 2 a.m., a track sampled a line from “Goodfellas,” the one about always wanting to be a gangster. It was an appropriate touch. In the same way that Henry Hill wanted to be like the thugs he saw around town, the crowd seemed to be reenacting their favorite big-screen rave scenes: play-acting transgression in a safe and predictable environment. When East & Young’s “Jupiter” asked “Don’t you know what’s about to happen?”, there was not one person in the crowd who didn’t know exactly what would follow: the frenzy of the night’s umpteenth drop.

Not that anyone was bothered by that. When Benassi closed with his forthcoming single, “Let This Last Forever,” the title could have served as the night’s motto.

Kelly is a freelance writer.

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