Benoit & Sergio: Burning up the dance floor with left-field pop music

(Will Calcutt) - Benoit & Sergio’s Benoit Simon, left, and Benjamin Myers.

Memories can smudge easily in the tiny hours, but it’ll be hard for Benoit & Sergio to forget the secret warehouse rave they headlined in Los Angeles a few weeks back. The Washington-born pop duo had the dance floor on fire. For real.

“Everyone was going off,” says Benjamin Myers, a.k.a. Sergio. “Then the promoter rips the microphone out of my hand, stands up on the decks and says, ‘There’s a fire in the building, and everybody needs to evacuate now!’ Insane weekend.”

This year has been an insane-weekend domino chain for Benoit & Sergio. They have been discreetly making some of the finest left-field pop music to ever come out of the District — incredibly clever, impossibly cool dance tracks that have generated big excitement in micro-pockets of the Internet (which is how all promising musical careers start these days).

After clocking about 60 dates at sweaty nightspots around the globe, the twosome will begin to wrap up their 2011 at U Street Music Hall on Friday — their first local appearance since their first-ever gig at Comet Ping Pong a year and a half ago.

Speaking over the phone from a tour stop in Chicago, they sound pleased with how quickly the dance floors of the world have welcomed them. But Myers, 34, keeps it in check: “I’m not being falsely modest when I say that I still feel like only 100 people know who we are.”

They met on a dance floor in May 2008 — a birthday party downstairs at Napoleon in Adams Morgan. On a great night, this low-ceilinged lounge can feel like the most glamorous shoe box in all of Washington. And this was a great night.

At the time, Iowa-raised Myers was teaching literature and coaching baseball at the St. Albans School. French-born Benoit Simon (pronounced Ben-wah) was living in Dupont Circle, working on an Internet start-up with some friends. “Hip Hop Hooray” was blasting over the speakers, but Myers says other details are lost to alcohol. “All I remember is that I really liked him,” says Myers, “which is rare because I don’t like many people.”

Later, the two bonded over the song craft of the Talking Heads and Paul Simon, the ebullience of Daft Punk and the elegance of Ricardo Villalobos, the German techno giant whose sound Myers had fallen for during his annual summer vacations to Berlin. “I felt like we had the same taste, music-wise,” Simon, 33, says of the duo’s first encounters, “not only for electro or techno, but for pretty music.”

Every day after school, Myers would make a beeline down Massachusetts Avenue to spend hours working on tracks in Simon’s Dupont apartment, its living-room-turned-studio crammed with vintage synthesizers. The pair hit their stride in the 2009-10 school year, penning a series of singles that would eventually see release on various esteemed labels, including DFA Records, the imprint co-founded by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.

LCD fans still mourning that band’s breakup will love this stuff. The melodies are consistently sweet, the textures are warm and the rhythms are water-bed comfortable. Over plush pulses, Myers sings about fast women, being on drugs, being with fast women who are on drugs — all in that funny-sad-totally-serious-just-kidding deadpan that descends from Jonathan Richman.

On “What I’ve Lost,” he croons with practiced carelessness, “Little French girl, I wanna drive ’round these streets tonight / Show you where I’ve loved / Show you where I’ve lost / Show you where I thought I had the answers once.”

It didn’t take long for Myers’s students to latch on to other lyrics. “All the kids at St. Albans found out about the fact that I made music,” he says. “They were singing ‘Full Grown Man’ in the halls. I was stressed about it, singing about cocaine when you’re supposed to be a role model.”

So he left his job and moved to Berlin in summer 2010 to work on music full time, a decision he’s still surprised he made. “It’s career suicide, really,” Myers says. “Quitting a good job in the middle of a recession in your 30s to go work on dance music?”

Simon still resides here in Washington, but he and Myers reunite most weekends at far-flung airports. Lately, they’ve been showing up for gigs a few days early to work on the debut album they plan to drop next year. The chaotic schedule makes Myers nostalgic for those after-school recording sessions in Simon’s living room.

“I always feel so envious of Harry Nilsson, the great ’70s singer,” Myers says. “He never performed live in his whole life. Maybe once. . . . Back then you could just make music and get super paid. I’m so jealous that he only had to get rocked, get drunk, get high and work in a studio.”

But the more time they spend in the studio, the bigger the payoff in the club and beyond. Keeping bodies on the dance floor deep into the night is great, but the duo really want the hooks bouncing through our heads over brunch.

“It’s the morning after,” says Simon of when he’d like to be remembered. “That’s how you know you did the job.”

To read about how Benoit & Sergio composed the standout track “Everybody,” visit www.washingtonpost.com/clicktrack at noon Friday.

 
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