London trio Benin City, grew up going to nightclubs. From the first, tentative teenage steps into the huge expanse of a London nightclub to embracing the club scene to such an extent that it forms as much of your identity as any job, this is a band who understand how those experiences shape us. They can also see how those profound, wonderous spaces are being systematically closed and pulled down. With them, characters disappear. Those same faces that make up the heaving, sweaty dancefloor week in, week out, move on. Life stories need new chapters as plotlines suddenly end.
Nevertheless, Benin City’s second album Last Night is anything but a downbeat, elegy for the death of the club scene. Vocalists Joshua Idehen, Shanaz Dorsett, and multi-instrumentalist, Tom Leaper offer a celebration of all that the clubs have given. This is a paean to the nightclub in all its lager stained, sticky-floored, sweaty glory. It’s also one of the most accomplished, hook-laden, musically diverse albums of the year.
The murky electronic opener “Take Me There” finds Idehen painting a nuanced and vivid portrait of a night out at a “Warehouse party paradise”. From the nicotine stains to the “spilled drinks/black bags and tinted eyes”. The random, drunken conversations you have with strangers (“Tell me how you chipped your tooth”) to the myriad of different backgrounds of those unknowns (“Refugee on the dancefloor / Said she came from Darfur). As Idehen intones the line, “Darkness / darkness / Now take me there”, the song peaks with an eager house beat that guides the song to an intense finale.
On “Final Form”, the band mix garage, dubstep, and palpitating, classic house synths to stunning effect on a song that urges the listener to surrender to the music and find the courage to totally let yourself go on the dancefloor (“The world’s a stage / Play your part / And you say you’ve given your all / You can go much further than this”). The exuberant, “Bus”, a celebration of the N38 London night bus is an uproarious riot of upbeat dance beats and synths. It serves as the perfect soundtrack for those traveling through the night to get to the next party or who are dragging their drunken, weary selves home.
However, this isn’t all upbeat tales of nighttime excess. “Double or Nothing” is a heart-wrenching tale of a couple who have become stuck in a rut after leaving their partying days far behind. (“I Never take you out anymore / You wouldn’t want to leave the house if I asked you”). As a last roll of the dice the pair attempt to recreate the old days. (“How about we pretend / We’re strangers who’ve just met”). With Idehen and Dorsett trading lines like two lovers locked in a desperate battle to save a failing relationship, it becomes almost unbearably voyeuristic.
“This is LDN III” details the lighter (“Five in a back seat of a car / Choking on smoke”) and darker experiences (“I saw desperate men at a bus stop / Searching for a fix”) that characterise growing up clubbing in any major city, all over a late night, smokey jazz backing. The altogether bleaker “Is This All There Is?”, addresses those nights where the reality of a night fails to match its early promise (“What a disaster / What a write-off”) to the point where it’s hard to even fake it (“If anybody asks / You’re having a good time”).
On “All Smoke, No Fire”, Idehen rages against the closing down of bars and clubs all in the name of gentrification. He laments the heart being ripped out of the clubbing community over uncompromising grim beats. (“You’re flat is in my dancehall / You’re parking in my market / This borough is all I know”). However, the overall impression is of a line being drawn in the sand as if the band are implicitly calling for a defiant, united effort to keep the soul of the UK club scene alive.
“Long Way Home” details the great British penchant for getting monumentally smashed and having to try and figure out how to get home after a night of shenanigans. “Not the End” ends the album on a hopeful note (“I heard it online somewhere / It’ll be better in the End”). Despite the best efforts of overzealous local authorities, maybe club culture can survive for the next generation of clubbers.
Last Night is a multi-layered delight that relates the experiences of clubbers up and down the country. The band understand that there are typical experiences that bind all clubbers together and they revel in detailing them. Musically, it is a wonderfully diverse record that perfectly replicates the heterogeneity of any club scene. Last Night is not only the perfect soundtrack for one monumental night out, but it’s also the soundtrack to the entire formative clubbing years.