NOBODY GIVES A SHIT: An Interview with The Gaslamp Killer
William Bensussen (aka “The Gaslamp Killer”) has been tearing up stages and DJ booths since he was 17, infiltrating and wrecking the, otherwise, fairly orthodox “dance club” scene of San Diego‘s Gaslamp district. In 2006, he relocated to Los Angeles and helped found the Low End Theory weekly that now serves as the epicenter for U.S.-based experimental beats. Generously borrowing from a wide range of genres, GLK blends hip-hop, dubstep, jazz, and just about anything else into high-energy, schizophrenic sets characterized by fast cuts, chest-crushing bass, and gritty top-shelf beats. Although mostly known for his DJ sets and mixes, Bensussen has also dabbled in production, collaborating with label-mates Flying Lotus and Daedelus in the past, and, more recently, with Gonjasufi on the critically acclaimed A Sufi And A Killer. His most recent project, the Death Gate EP, just came out on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label this past month, and blends deep bass lines with dirty analog drums patterns, twisted ethnic samples, and dreamy, distorted synth lines. The album includes guest appearances by Gonjasufi, San Francisco-based DJ/producer Mophono, and LA keyboard wiz Computer Jay.
I sat down with The Gaslamp Killer before the “Magical Properties” show at 103 Harriet in San Francisco on October 15th. The tour featured other Brainfeeder/LA acts such as IDM pioneer Daedelus, dubstep producer/DJ 12th Planet, and Brainfeeder newcomer Teebs. The lineup encompasses much of what is so exciting about the LA scene- off-kilter beats, powerful bass, record-crate samples, and plenty of weirdness.
- Davis Memes
DM: So, you just released the ‘Death Gate’ EP this week, right?
DM: Is there anything you want to tell us about that?
GLK: Well, the ‘Death Gate’ EP has Gonjasufi, Computer Jay, and Mophono from San Francisco on it. It’s kinda like ‘My Troubled Mind,’ but a little different. It’s got a lot of my live drumming on it, and a lot of my live sounds that I’m making with some modular synths; a lot of keyboards by Computer Jay again. It’s on Brainfeeder, you can get it on iTunes, you can get it on thegaslampkiller.com, you can get it at Amoeba…
DM: Limited edition…?
GLK: Only 2000 copies on vinyl, but digital is endless. Never-ending digital…
DM: It seems like you often do a lot of collaborations with people on productions- how does that usually go down? Is it sending tracks back and forth, or are you guys actually in the studio together..?
GLK: With Gonjasufi, it’s just sending stuff to him. With Mophono, we got in the studio together. With Computer Jay, we got in the studio together. Daedelus and I got in the studio together- that’s on a tour-only 7” available on this tour only. It’s called “Impulse” and it’s a Gaslamp Killer and Daedelus tune that we made together, we recorded it together- did the whole thing together. Yeah, I love collaborating with people because I don’t really have my production formula down as much as I would like, but I’m pretty fucking good with Pro Tools, and it’s all kind-of DJ edit style- it’s cool, but it’s not- I haven’t found my voice yet. I know what I like- I have a good ear- but I haven’t determined my own sound yet, so I’m still working on it. And I think working with other producers can help you find out what you like and what you don’t. People like Daedelus have been producing ten years longer than me, so…
DM: So most people know you as a DJ, but you do production as well- how would you relate the DJ’ing aspect of your career compared with the producing part- like, percentage-wise, or importance-wise…
GLK: Well, I’m a DJ first and foremost, and I don’t find the time to produce as much as I would like to because I’m on tour all of the time. But I’m taking four months off to record my album now, and I am finding it hard. <GLK is distracted by someone across the room for a minute; an inaudible exchange occurs and we’re back to our conversation>
Alright, so I’m definitely a DJ more than a producer, but I’m trying my fucking darndest, man- that’s for damn sure.
DM: Yeah, it sounds great. One thing I’ve noticed about you and a lot of the other LA producers or American producers in general in the whole ‘bass’ scene is that you guys are more ready to use samples; samples of real drums and breakbeats and vinyl samples and things like that than some of your European counterparts- do you agree with that?
GLK: Definitely. I think all of us- well, I’ve been collecting records for so many years that the thought of just using whatever came with my machine or my plug-ins in Pro Tools- I mean, it’s cool that it’s there, but it’s not the raw shit. It can be made into raw shit, but it’s just not- I think all of us are into drums, you know? We don’t want to get all of our drums from drum machines. <Phone vibrates>
Sorry- I told people the show starts early so they’re already…
<Trails off as he writes a text>
DM: <Commenting on the the 60Hz hum that is plaguing the loudspeakers>
Listen to that hum!
GLK: It’s fucked up, right? We can’t get rid of it either. Not even the owner or anything…
GLK: It’s in the DJ booth right now. I told everybody to get here so early, now I feel like an idiot. <Continues to text>
DM: Yeah, this place definitely starts pretty late… historically.
<Referencing the light show in the downstairs lounge> I don’t think I’ve ever seen this light show down here.
GLK: It’s fucking dope as fuck, dude! I wanna do a party down here just for that!
DM: Yeah, exactly- they must have redone it down here or something. Or I haven’t been down here in a while.
GLK: <finished texting> Alright, let’s do this!
DM: Okay, so you’re known to be a very diverse DJ, spinning a lot of different genres- hip-hop, dubstep, psychedelic, jazz- how important do you think it is for younger producers and DJ’s to listen to different types of music outside of their main or preferred genre?
GLK: I think it’s really important. A lot of these cats are not educated in music at all- they just got a sampler and started making beats from drum machines and presets and shit like that…
DM: …sample libraries…
GLK: …it’s totally fucking bizarre in my book, and some of my favorite producers that are younger- I won’t mention any names- but they have no fucking idea about records or music at all. And they have not been exposed to shit, but they’re still making really dope music, so that just shows how genius is what it is, you know what I mean? It’s fuckin’ impossible to determine who’s going to be the next fuckin’ Dilla or whatever, or the next fuckin’ Beethoven- fuck, who knows who it’s gonna be? Someone with little or no knowledge might be- they just might have the fuckin’ gift, you know?
GLK: But I definitely think it’s important for a well-rounded sound, but…that’s just me.
DM: So I interviewed Daedelus a while back, and he sort of expressed this idea that with all of this influx of digital music and people making home recordings and everything, that there’s this lack of taste-makers now, like John Peel and people like that. But I’ve always lumped you and, say, Mary Anne Hobbs as taste-makers…
GLK: Totally, man- that’s our job! I’ve broken a lot of records in clubs in my communities- playing Eprom’s shit, playing FlyLo shit, and playing unreleased guys- Samiyam, 16Bit back then, and playing a lot of John Wayne stuff. It’s our job to get this new stuff out to the kids. I think it’s the best we can do- I don’t have a radio show- I’d love one, but I don’t have one, so…
DM: So how do you find new music and new artists?
GLK: Friends, man- we’re all just passing files, you know?
DM: Is there anything specific you listen for when you’re hearing something new?
GLK: Yeah, it has to have a certain energy, a certain umph! I’m listening to a lot of music for listening purposes, you know, a lot of African, Peruvian, Indian- all kinds of Turkish and shit like that- Rock ‘n Roll and stuff…
DM: So if you can’t enjoy it…
GLK: It needs to be powerful. It needs to be heavy and as intense as the last song I played in my set and keep moving forward, you know? I’m trying to find songs that- each song I want it to be that dope- as dope as the last or better, you know?
DM: So LA has sort of become a capital of this future sound, or bass sound, or whatever you want to call it.
DM: Yeah, at least in the United States (LA) is. Why do you think its LA specifically?
GLK: I have a different idea than most, but I honestly think that it’s because nobody gives a shit, or nobody gave a shit for so long, that we were just able to do our own thing, and ANYTHING goes. Dilla was doing ANYTHING, and when he moved to LA, and him and Madlib started teaming up, and Dilla’s sound changed 360 degrees, man. And he was influenced by the people around him, and LA has that kind of vibe. Like, I play dubstep, and I play beats, but I listen to fuckin’ cumbia and I listen to jazz, and I’m driving around listening to fuckin’ female folk, and fuckin’ soft-ass shit, like string shit. We’re all listening to different stuff, and I think that it all- it helps us. Like, all of us are just super spoiled and nurtured in LA with music and culture all around us all of the time. And everybody’s doing whatever the fuck they feel like. And that’s why it’s so dope and so original- cuz anything fuckin’ goes in LA. And it’s always been that way, and nobody’s given a shit. We’ve never had our own fuckin’ sound, so now it’s time- it’s like, “Yeah, we have our own sound. It’s the sound of dope-as-fuck, because we do it all!’ We have fuckin’ cumbia crunk producers, Latino guys that are killin’ the game down in LA, to electronics in TJ and shit. Like, in Tijuana, Mexico they have crazy electronic parties, and this amazing crew called the Nortec Collective that are fuckin’ huge. Mexico City is poppin’ off, so we have this whole Latino culture, we have this thick strong black gang-banger repertoire- the violent South Central stuff, and Highland Park, and East LA- all of these places are just thick and rich with culture and diversity and awesome people making awesome shit. And it’s still like that.
DM: Yeah, different people coming from different places with different music, and blending those together…
GLK: Yeah, exactly.
DM: So, what’s next on the horizon for you?
GLK: My album, more Low End Theory podcasts, <looks at ceiling> staring at this fucking light show! This Magical Properties tour is going to lead into a short European/UK run, and that’s going to lead into New Years in Australia and New Zealand…
DM: “The Gathering?“ Is that what that’s called?
GLK: There’s a bunch of shit. I don’t know if that’s the one I’ll be playing, but it’s going to be gnarly as fuck, and then I’m going to come home and work for four months on music and not go anywhere or do any parties. I’m going to play my friend’s wedding…
DM: More of your own music?
GLK: Yup, I’m going to make my album…
DM: Full length album?
GLK: Yup, 40 minutes. I have an official newsletter coming up- you can sign it at thegaslampkiller.com. I’m going to revamp the website and make it really poppin’, just so you can find my merch and my schedules and you can read my shit all in one place. See the videos, the photos- everything integrated. It just fuckin’ takes forever, man, and I’m so not a web person.
DM: So you’re doing this (website) all yourself?
GLK: Pretty much, yeah.
GLK: I have a little help- I have an agent. Well, I have two agents- one in the UK and one in America, and I have an administrative guy, an assistant, whatever…
GLK: I can’t let go of this shit- it’s my life. It has to be perfect. Well, it’s never perfect, but it has to be on fucking point, and nobody gives a fuck the way you give a fuck about your business. And that’s just the way it always will be, it’s the way it always has been. If you leave it to an intern that doesn’t have any stake, they’ll just drop the fuckin’ ball. Some will work and be diligent, but I haven’t found one I can really trust yet. I hired a guy recently, just to do a few things, and five customers complained that they only got one of their two records.
DM: Oh, man…
GLK: Shit happens. It’s all good. <to manager> You guy’s ready?! Alright, then.
<pointing at the questions in my notebook> I saw that was your last one.
DM: No worries- thanks for taking the time.
Catch The Gaslamp Killer with Daedelus on the following Magical Property tour dates…
10/29 – Double Door, Chicago, IL w/ 12th Planet & Teebs
10/30 – Sound Academy, Toronto, ON w/ 12th Planet & Teebs
10/31 – Grog Shop, Cleveland, OH w/ 12th Planet & Teebs
11/2 – Le Belmont, Montreal, QC w/ Samiyam & Teebs
11/3 – Harpers Ferry, Allston, MA w/ Samiyam & Teebs
11/4 – Le Poisson Rogue, NYC, w/ Free the Robots & Samiyam
11/6 – Bourbon Street, Baltimore, MD w/ Free the Robots & Samiyam
11/7 – DC9, Washington, DC w/ Free the Robots & Samiyam
11/9- Club 828, Asheville, NC w/ Free the Robots & Samiyam
11/12 – The Masquerade, Atlanta, GA w/ Free the Robots & Samiyam
11/13 – The Howlin’ Wolf, New Orleans, LA w/ Free the Robots & Samiyam
11/14 – Barcelona, Austin, TX w/ Free the Robots & Samiyam
11/16 – Trees, Dallas, TX w/ Free the Robots & Samiyam
11/17 – Ground Hall, Houston, TX w/ Free the Robots & Samiyam
11/18 – Club 101, El Paso, TX w/ Free the Robots & Samiyam
11/19 – Club Red, Tempe, AZ w/ Free the Robots & Samiyam
11/20 – House Of Blues, Los Angeles, CA
w/ Free the Robots, Samiyam & Teebs
The amazing “Octa-Killa” photo was used with permission from Tina “T-Fail” St. Claire.
Check out more of her work at TinaStClaire.com