Comprised of Joshua Idehen (vocals, spoken word), Shanaz Dorsett (vocals) and multi-instrumentalist Tom Leaper, the London-based trio Benin City have received both national and international attention for a sound that meshes Afro-pop, hip-hop, spoken word and electronica in a seamless, club banging fashion. The trio’s forthcoming sophomore effort Last Night is slated for a April 6, 2018 release through Moshi Moshi Records, and the album reportedly is an ode to London’s nightlife and club scenes with the trio commenting on what their hometown’s nightlife scene has meant to them while expressing anger, frustration and weariness over a rapidly disappearing scene.
For countless people across the world, especially those in a city like New York, the disappearance of beloved clubs, bars and music venues create much larger, universal questions: What does it mean for your town and its culture? What does it mean socioeconomically? With nightlife being both an escape from the soulsucking horrors of the daily grind and a way for weird kids passionate about dance, music, art and fashion to find a supportive loving alternate family, where do these kids go to find that kind of support and love? What happens to them if they never find the support and love they needed? Where do they find a sense of belonging and purpose? And if they have found all of that in a beloved club or bar, what happens when that spot closes?
Interestingly, each individual member of Benin City has spent the past decade in London’s nightlife scene in a variety of roles including artists, ravers, bartenders, bouncers, bar backs, scenesters, drinkers, partiers and weekend warriors, and as a result the album’s material emphasizes a deep, inconsolable sense of loss. As the trio’s Joshua Idehen explains, “London nightlife has been our way out, our release, our daily escape. We’ve been clubbers, barmen, part / full-time drinkers. We’ve served cocktails and downed shots. We’ve found ourselves on dancefloors and lost our dinners on nightbusses. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve engaged in dumb drunken squabbles and we’ve found ourselves in strangers’ houses. We’ve danced to songs we didn’t know the name of. We made landmarks out of hidden corners of London: Passing Clouds, Ghetto, Trash Palace, Plastic People, Vibe Bar, Cable, Crucifix Lane. Those places, and the stories they held are gone for good as London becomes pricier and ever more grey. On this album are some of those stories: this is an ode to London’s nightlife.”
Towards the end of last year, I wrote about album single “All Smoke, No Fire” a track that featured a minimalist yet propulsive and club rocking production consisting of stuttering beats, an eerily repetitive and chiming synth line and an enormous yet sinuous hook over which Idehen and Dorsett rhyme about prototypical club situations — while noting that those who engage in and love nightlife culture need it to survive with their dignity and sanity intact, even if the bouncer is a no-neck having asshole or if someone spilled their drink over that dope new outfit you brought just for that one night of freedom; but underneath it all is a subtle and undeniable sense of loss and unease over your personal headquarters disappearing — forever.
Last Night’s latest single “Final Form” is a thumping and sinuous house track production featuring arpeggiated synths, tweeter and woofer rocking beats, chiming percussion paired with a rousing and anthemic hook — and in some way, the song strikes me as a swaggering and modern synthesis of Snap!’s “Rhythm is a Dancer,” and Stardust’s club classic “Music Sounds Better With You” but with an ecstatic yet deeply personal bent. As the British act’s Joshua Idehen explains, the song was inspired by a night at Zoo Bar, “I once went to Zoo Bar in the West End with a poet I really fancied. It was a Saturday night, and neither of us drank but we felt like dancing. They were playing soulful house (this was back in the noughties). Spurring and daring each other on, we started with the running man and ended up at last orders, dripping in the worst sweat, making up entirely new dance moves, downing large glasses of tap water. She, a Dragonball Z fan, kept saying ‘nah, you haven’t seen my Final Form. Next song I will be over 9000.’ Obviously, that stuck with me.”
As for the video treatment, Idehen explains, “Our last video for “All Smoke, No Fire” was in memory of all the clubs that have shut in the last five years, so we wanted our next video to celebrate the mainstream and alternative scenes still thriving in London. Working with George Bushaway, we crafted a narrative of two clubbers working up the courage to lose themselves in three very different dancefloors: Lindy hopping with Swing Patrol in Holborn, Jungle/Garage raving in Fire down [in] Vauxhall, and a soca night at Ruby Blue, Leicester Square.” The video focuses on these two lonely men, feeling self-conscious, awkward and as though they couldn’t possible belong — that is until they figure out a way to let go, and embrace the moment, absorbing the joy, ecstasy and community of the room they’re in, while being authentic to themselves.