Q&A: Benoit & Sergio On Hooking Up With DFA, The DC Dance Scene, And Disco-Cheese Love

A dance act is on fire when they release a handful of stellar records not only one after the other, but on different labels. Only two years into their joint recording career, D.C.-based house duo Benoit & Sergio are coming up not only with good records, but records that turn into anthems. It started with January's "Walk & Talk," on Visionquest, and picked right back up in June, which saw the issue of both "Principles"/"Everybody," on DFA, and "Let Me Count the Ways," on Spectral Sound. They also issued a very '80s-soundtracky (and rather good) version of Daft Punk's "Around the World" in July.

Anyone wishing to understand DFA's position vis-à-vis the current hipster-matrix (and retromaniac) musical landscape should acquaint themselves with Benoit & Sergio's January DJ set for the XLR8R Podcast. Even though only "Principles" and LCD Soundsystem's "I Can Change" are on DFA proper, the set is canny enough to work as an album, with Talking Heads, Ariel Pink, and Atlas Sound into the disco-savvy groove set by Lee Foss, Jacques Renault remixing Midnight Magic, and a trio of B&S cuts. I spoke to Benoit a week before Sergio, both on the phone, in July.

Benoit, are you from Paris originally?

Benoit: I'm born in Paris. I moved to the U.S. nine years ago. It was in Boston first, and now I live in D.C., and that's where I met Benjamin and started Benoit & Sergio.

What brought you to Boston to the first place? Were you already making music and DJing?

B: No, it was work originally. I was working in speech synthesis and speech recognition—telecommunication stuff.

That's interesting to hear because there are so many processed vocals in your music...

B: [Laughs] I guess! I never really made that connection.

Sergio: That's interesting. That might been some subconscious sort of thing—I didn't even know he did that. I thought he was doing other sorts of things. I think that we've found that you can make some very beautiful effects on top of the vocals and we were exploring that. I think it's really nice. That's all there is to that. We're really deep on this Vocoder stuff right now.

B: Actually, I made a Vocoder myself when I was in school. It took a while.

S: We don't use it all the time. Our Boy Trouble EP, all the voices are raw, and on "Principles" and "Everybody" the voices are raw as well. The only time we really started exploring it was in "Walk & Talk." But on some new tracks we're exploring it a little bit as well.

How did you make the leap from doing speech pathology to doing music?

B: I've always been into machines, early electronics like Casio. I've always been playing around with stuff, just for myself. When I arrived in the U.S., I discovered more of the analog sound there, and went on and played more. At the same time, with work, I always geared towards sound. I was working on mp3 stuff, voice recognition, and always trying to revolve around this sound-world. The leap, really, was when I met Benjamin, who had some ties to the scene. He had been playing around and had already put some stuff out. We met really casually. For months we just hung out. Then we went one time in the studio and it went well.

Sergio, are you originally from D.C.?

S: I went to high school in Iowa in this little town called Fairfield. It's kind of a new age-y, strange community that my parents were into. My dad was a professor. I went to [college] at Chicago, and then I moved out to the East Coast to study Renaissance literature at Johns Hopkins. I was a working towards a PhD, so I was out in Baltimore for five years or so.

My best friend who was a DJ got me into this whole scene, five years ago: "You've got to come out to Berlin for the summer." It was a really transformative experience for me. I needed to get out of graduate school if I was really going to be able to focus on music. It was like a trial: If I quit graduate school and worked on music without the guilt that came with not working on my dissertation, and started making headway on music, then I was going to be like "Let's go for it or not go for it." And I decided I could go for it.

D.C. was this incubation period. I was teaching English at a prep school, but it allowed me to feel like when my day was over at school, it was over and I could go home and focus on music. I met Benoit about six or seven months after I moved to D.C. We were just hanging out for a year, getting to know each other. Then we went in the studio.

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