Due to a crazy accident, we’d almost lost the great Gaslamp Killer. Fortunately, William Bensussen recovered incredibly fast and came out alive and kicking! We met up prior to his smashing performance at Bird Rotterdam, and had a good talk about his life, dreams and inner peace.
Hi, thanks for doing this interview. Can you tell us something about your path of becoming the producer & DJ you are these days?
I started out just buying records and DJing, very motivated by the hiphop community in San Diego where I grew up. Everybody was DJing, breakdancing, doing graffiti, MCing, beatboxing and stuff. There were just tons of creative kids around me and I was super inspired by those people. It motivated me and made me want to pursue it a little bit more seriously, so I started bringing records to every gig and asking the promoters if I could play. That’s pretty much how I got my footing you know.
Based on the hiphop-culture?
Yeah, that’s where I got my footing as a DJ for sure.
Now you play a wide variety of music, can you tell us something about your musical development?
Well, my brother and sister were always playing really loud music in their bedrooms, my parents were always working super hard and trying to make a good life for us kids. So it wasn’t my parents’ music I heard, it was my brother and sisters music. As I got older I just was affected by people in high-school, who were giving me cassettes. Later on, even older people in the scene started giving me records, people like Cherrystones, Egon and Cut Chemist. Some of my friends in San Diego, like RSI and MRR, always gave me cool records from all over the world, just to check it out.
So it developed from a wide range of music genres…
Yeah, people in my scene listen to Turkish, African, Indian, Latin music, reggae from Jamaica… all kinds of stuff.
You’re a high energy guy, how do you create some peace of mind between all your producing and travelling around the world?
[exhales] There’s not much peace of mind that we have in the world today. I get mine through meditating and focussing, eating right, sleeping as much as I can, trying to keep my physical body healthy as best as I can, trying to set up my schedule to my benefit to make sure I don’t have anything too stressful to do. And if I do, you just got to plan accordingly so you’re not getting slammed with your work all the time. You’ve got to balance things out, try and have a little bit of balance and that creates peace. You have enough time in a day to focus on everything you need to do, just like any other human being has. I just have a little bit more ‘outside frequencies’ affecting my thoughts and my day to day movements because I have fans, which I am very grateful and blessed for, but I focus a lot of my life on reaching out to them and the world. So I have exterior motives that are harder to gain the peace and concentration that I need in my day, but it’s totally worth it.
So you try to keep a tight schedule with your health and everything…
Exactly. Don’t get too crazy, you’ve got to keep disciplined.
What does a morning after after a hyped up event look like for you, how do you wind down after such an energetic show?
Usually after a show, when I finish talking with the fans and friends and have a couple more drinks, if I feel like I can’t sleep I get online and try to Skype my mom and dad. My parents still live together and they’re very calm. So I can Skype them, for me it’s six in the morning, for them it’s the middle of the afternoon. They always have a good piece of advice and some nice calm words and stuff, which is just cool.
You’re a resident at Low End Theory, what makes Low End Theory such a special event?
We’re some of the first people to focus on instrumental music, and the real beat-producer-DJ driven-markets-music people weren’t really coming out to a lot of clubs, unless they were hearing their favorite music. So it was hard because there was a big demand for instrumental music, but nobody wanted to take the risk of doing a beat night, so once we started doing a instrumental beat night it really caught on quick. That, and it’s 18 and up, so we’re offering this music to younger people. In America, it’s 21 and up to go to bars, so it’s very rare for younger people to get the chance to see amazing, raw, new, underground stuff. All they have is concerts that they’re old enough to go to because its all ages, those are big shows where only big artists can come at all-ages venues. So the underground artists were only playing in bars, and we were all watching each other and everybody that are older, they are more jaded, they have more attitude, they’re more in their ways, whereas the young people are free, open, have untacked energy begging for entertainment and creative energy so they’re much more engaged with our music. You start early, I was going out when I was 12 years old. Nowadays there’s not that much to do when you’re young. In Holland you go out for a beer with your dad when you’re 14, you get to go to clubs when you’re 16, you buy cigarettes and stuff. Over here it’s starting early because they know that kids are starting to get interested in things that age, but in America they don’t care what and when you’re interested in. They made this 21+ rule , so we have an 18-and-up crowd which is just bringing in kids from all over Southern California to check out Low End Theory every week. They stand in line and then when they get in the show, they don’t go have a drink or have a smoke, they go straight to the front of the stage and engage with us, the artists, and they give us tons of love and tons of energy and I think that has caught on amongst the young people in Southern California.
So it’s mostly crowded with those young people?
Yes! But the beat-aspect of it, the instrumental hiphop and DJ / producer culture has travelled across the world and people are catching on with it from all over the place. Obviously Europe had so much amazing instrumental beat music before a lot of places did, but there wasn’t that much of a community for it. Berlin, London and Amsterdam had it’s stuff, but it was more dance music driven, there were no hiphop-vocals and stuff, it was more like dance music. It’s still a new thing I think, for a lot of people. It’s still catching on, even as we speak.
Why should every city need a place like Low End Theory?
It’s a community center, you should have them everywhere. It gets the artists together with the fans, and the kids together with the people that they like musically. It gives people more perspective on the world, what things can be like. These kids saw me growing up, when I was 24 I started Low End Theory with Daddy Kev, DJ Nobody, Nocando, D-Styles, and back then people were checking our stuff. Obviously, they still really were interested but not nearly as much as when the community started coming together and engaging in what we were doing. When that happened it was like wildfire how fast it caught on, because the kids can see the perspective. You have more than just a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher; you can do so many different things. It gives the kids hope, if they want to be in the creative arts or something like that, they can do it! They saw me and everybody else do it. I was young when I started, now I’m 30 years old and I made a life for myself through the creative energy that I like to mess with. Some people just do it for fun, it’s fun for us too but it also means a lot. If it wouldn’t have caught on the way it had, we might not have been so passionate about it, but it caught on and now we know we owe it to them, to bring more to the table than your average day-to-day scenarios and your average day-to-day clubs.
'I was young when I started, now I'm 30 years old and I made a life for myself through the creative energy that I like to mess with'.
How does Los Angeles influence your work and sound?
My work ethic is pushed everyday by the people around me. People like Flying Lotus and Daedalus, these guys produce so much music, they have so many records you don’t hear. Daedalus probably has 4 albums you’ve never heard, Flying Lotus probably has around 15 unknown records, Jonwayne and Samiyam also have a few records you’ve probably never heard of.
And you have the privilege to check them all…
I get to hear some, but I know it’s being made and I see them and they’re my friends, I see their work ethics. Daddy Kev, the way he runs a record label, ánd he runs Low End Theory, ánd he has family and a normal nice life, he’s just got it made. They lead by example and I live with these people. I get to see how great it could be if you could just focus your energy, have discipline, master your craft and really care about what you’re doing you can make it work. But I’ve also seen people around me fizzle and wither and disappear from the community and decide that they want to go back into more secure lives. They go get a job at a record store or at a bar, bar-tending again and they’ll do DJ gigs on the side, but it becomes a hobby again and then they go back into their real life or whatever you wanna say. So it’s not always succeeding, but LA inspires me because it’s a really motivating place, with a lot of awesome talented, motivated people. They just have a lot of focus and discipline and are really serious about their craft and make it work at all costs. They make it work and that’s what I’m trying to do, that’s what all of us trying to do.
Can you tell us something about your collaboration with Jungle By Night, and are there any new collaborations coming up?
I met Jungle By Night at the first Pitch festival and I just thought they were fantastic. I gave them a cd, the kids saw my set and they liked what I did, then a year later we played Pitch again together. I said ‘if I ever have some time off in Amsterdam and I’m not wasting my life away, maybe we could record’, and they said ‘sure’. Sonny, the drummer, stood out to me. I play drums, not very well but I try. He came to me and he said ‘my father has a nice studio, if you want to record we can do it anytime’. I was like ‘okay, I’m coming to Amsterdam and I have three days off’, so they told their manager. Their manager Ronald contacted Red Bull who invited us in for three days and gave us the studio for six hours a day, for free. Just to nurture the creativity in Amsterdam from this Dutch band of young brothers, young kids doing dope African Afrobeat world-music rhythms. So we got in the studio and recorded some stuff, messed around and had fun and made a couple of things worth putting out. Then we got involved with Kindred Spirits and Rush Hour for Recordstore Day, and we put out the seven inch on april 20th. We’re going to perform those songs live at the MC Theater with Cinnaman and Benji B. I’m just going to integrate my style live into the show, as well as hopefully record some more, maybe a little bit in the summertime or something. I really like working with them, they weren’t all open to directions though. One of the kids was really hesitant to take any kind of direction, but yesterday I ran into him at the Nieuwmarkt, this little outside fair in the middle of Amsterdam, and he said ‘you know what man, I want to tell you I was a little put off at first, but I thank you for telling me your opinion and not forcing me, but thank you for pushing me to play this song the way you felt it should be played, because it helped me realize something about dub music and helped me play the bass a little bit better’. It was awesome, it was good to know.
How would you explain the upcoming stream of talents from Los Angeles with their typical LA-ish experimental music like you played in Low End Theory?
Low End Theory is a platform for young people, whether they want to engage with us as artists of whether they want to give us their demos and try to play at their club. But nowadays in general, the new artists are coming out from all over the world. 18, 19, 20 year old kids making incredible beat music. And there’s a lot of them, because the internet allows people to share their love of music and put up SoundCloud and do all these cool projects. Just free downloads all day, they’re sampling all different kinds of music, you can do just about anything and spread it in a heartbeat. There’s no limit to what you can do nowadays, you can start at any age and you can get the music out right away. You don’t need a label, a manager or an agent, all you need is SoundCloud and it takes just one DJ like Lefto or Gilles Peterson to hear it and play it on the air and the next thing the kids are touring Europe and touring the States. The kid gets signed by Alpha Pup, Brainfeeder, FOF. There are just amazing opportunities waiting around every corner, anybody who is willing to put themselves out there might just get lucky and make something out of it.
So it’s more accessible to become a good producer these days…
It’s more accessible to do anything creative these days, because you don’t need somebody like an agent to back you up or anybody to back you. You could just put up your page and show your greatness to the world right away.Â It’s going to take some time for people to look at it, they’re not just going to find it on their own, it’s got to be the right time and the right place still, but not as crazy as before. I used to beg promoters to let me play, they eventually did let me play because I was in their face. I wasn’t calling them or something, I was coming to their club with my records, ready to go like ‘give me 5 minutes, watch what I can do, just 5 minutes’. You don’t have to do that now [laughs] but that’s okay. Either here or there, you too played a role in my career as well. People wouldn’t know that I was any different by my mixes, they sound a certain way that might be intriguing to some, but I think that a lot more people see the videos and they want to come and see the shows based on that. Which is not really something I’m into, I would rather then hear the music and be more engaged to the sound because that’s what I’m really about, but I just happen to be more energetic than some I guess.
Do you have more of these collaborations coming up?
On my album I have a lot of collaborations, I worked with Computer Jay, I worked with Daedalus and right now I’ve been finding that everyone loves this song called ‘Nissim’. On my album, that’s the one that everybody loves and so I’m working with that same band again to create some more world music like that. Right now my main focus on collaborations is with Amir Yaghmai, he is this Middle Eastern string-master and he also shreds any kind of guitar ever, he could play any kind of style of guitar. He knows about the Middle Eastern vibes that I like to mess with, so I think it’s a good match. We have a new song that’s kind of Nissim-ish, but it’s a little more violent. It sounds more like an action theme than it does like an uplifting spiritual thing, it’s more like a car chase or something, a car chase around Istanbul with machineguns. That’s definitely the first song that’s going on the next album.
Really strange question, imagine yourself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Which instrument in your studio would become most handy as a weapon?
Oddly enough, my friend Lucien Shapiro makes these so-called ‘Relics of the New World‘, and basically they are the future apocalyptic tools that human beings will need at the end of the world. It just so happens that I procured a very large croquet hammer, fixed with a very sharp blade, like the blade of a spear, coming out of this hammer on both sides. It’s beautifully decorated with beads, just like it would be straight out of some African subcontinent tribe, but it is in my studio. I wouldn’t use my synthesizer to kill zombies, they’re too heavy to lift, but this hammer… I thought about this already actually, I’m very well oiled and prepared to kill. Maybe not to survive because I don’t know how to cook or make a fire or camp, but I could definitely swing this hammer into some zombie heads, ready for that.
You can always eat at the Crosby’s of course…
Yeah, they’ll probably have zombie meat for sale!
If you ever retire and you give one hell of a goodbye party, what would be your all star line-up?
It would have to be the same people I idolize now. The same people I work with and love now, like Gonjasufi, Heliocentrics, Malcolm Catto, one of my favourite drummers, Thundercat and his brother Ronald Bruner Junior, Dimlite, Hudson Mohawke, Daedalus, Computer Jay everyone, It would be my friends and my favourite bands that are impossible to reach in my mind, because they’re just so fantastic and they’re just doing such big things. Of course Radiohead, Portishead, Bjork, Massive Attack, any crew from that era I would love to work with them. I love Erykah Badu, she’s so fantastic. I’m actually working with a lot of the people that would be on that dream line up right now, so I’m not mad at that, they’re the first thoughts that came to my head.
We’ve had a little Facebook contest going on in which we gave away some tickets in exchange for some good questions for you. The first one is from Frank: If you were to make a Turkish psych cover-album, which tracks would you cover?
I think pound for pound that Erkin Koray is the greatest Turkish rock-master of all times. He’s like the Jimi Hendrix and the James Brown and the Fela all in one. He’s a cult leader, a cultural icon, and he’s also a completely insane acidhead who took way too much acid who is still wandering the streets of Turkey, rich as a motherfucker doing whatever the fuck he wants. He has people at his feet bowing down to him, being old and funky, wearing weird shit, walking around town and people are like ‘master master’ when they see him. He is just the master of his domain and all of his records are so fantastic, it’s just an endless amount of material to cover. Whereas the other Turkish artist, that shall remain unnamed, doesn’t have as much to cover, so one of his records is equal to many other artists. We used a lot of his music on ‘Sufi and a Killer’ and we sampled a lot of his stuff already, so we kind of already did do that. Sufi and a Killer on Warp Records, we have a lot of Erkin Koray on that album. And he definitely knows, I’ll tell you that.
The other question was from Tom: what would you do if you were king for a day?
Thats the weirdest question ever… If I was king for a day I would fly out all my favorite bands and do the supershow that I want to do! Just have this big ass concert with the best bands that I’ve always wanted, somehow I would get enough money to gather to get them all on a plane and bring them all to the show. An amazing concert, that would be the only thing I would really want.
Who should we interview next?
Some up and comers that I think are more than worthy of interviews are people likeJungle By Night, those kids are so keen on music, they have great attitudes and they have a lot to say about music. And if you ever get the chance to interview Thundercat, he’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. I don’t think he’s actually a person, I think he’s some kind of alien. I have no idea where he comes from, he’s the most fantastic creature, you wouldn’t get a straight answer out of him but it would be a real fun interview, that’s for damn sure! Also Jonwayne and Edan, their brains are insane. There are neural synapses just firing, word association and stuff. It’s hard to get a straight answer out of them, because they’re rhyming and doing poetry and making jokes all the time. They’re all underneath and above where your brain is working at all times, so it’s interesting to interview those types of people. Jonwayne is too smart for his own life and so is Edan, neither of them have it easy because they’re so fucking smart. Every time I have a conversation with them, it’s like ‘whooo, you guys are too smart for your own good’. Too smart to be musicians!