The Gaslamp Killer, the producer and DJ wunderkind from San Diego, dropped his debut album 'Breakthrough' (via his Brainfeeder label) at a packed show at The Mayan Theater in L.A. on Tuesday.
We caught up with the kinetic artist (born William Benjamin Bensussen), who will be a special guest DJ at the Red Bull Thre3style World Finals next Wednesday, as he was minutes from hopping on stage. We talked about the origins of his world famous residency at Low End Theory, Thom Yorke's DJ skills and the insecurities of releasing his first album at the age of 30.
So you seem pretty keyed up. You're releasing your first album tonight, after over 14 years as a professional -- a pretty rad moment. How do you feel?
I feel like I have micromanaged my way to hell and back. I tend to micromanage every single detail of my life, especially my own work. There's only a few that I trust and hold very close to me that I allow any kind of intrusion in what I do.
That would be the Brainfeeder family, Low End Theory and...?
Low End Theory was one of the first parties that I gravitated towards when I first got to L.A. that felt like a true original Los Angeles vibe. You got your start there, as did Flying Lotus, Glitch Mob, and Daedelus, to name a few. Coming from San Diego, how did you get involved?
Daddy Kev (the founder of Alpha Pup Records) and I were friends through the turntablist scene. He respected what I was doing as a young up and comer, and I respected what he was doing as an O.G., a Project Blowdian (Project Blowed is a famous open-mic for hip-hop).
I always looked up to him, and he started doing shows with specific turntablists like D-Styles, and started breaking away from the whole battle scene and doing more beat shows.
When I moved to L.A. I started working at Turntable Lab and got a call from Daddy Kev. He was like, “Hey I'm starting this weekly beat party, can you help me?” I was like, "Of course." He said, “We got DJ Nobody and M.C. No Can Do from Project Blowed." We met at the Airliner (the original L.A. location for Low End Theory every Wednesday night) and the rest is history.
The Airliner is in Lincoln Park, not exactly a “hot” neighborhood like Hollywood, Silverlake or Downtown, yet Low End Theory caught fire there almost immediately. Did you guys feel like this was a movement from the get-go?
All of us had come from our own movements -- Project Blowed, Concrete Jungle -- and I had a club called the Cypher in S.D. and another party called Pro Sessions. We all had our thing going on already, so we knew it would work -- we just didn't think it would catch on the way it did. We were just trying to give people some beats. I guess they needed it because it turned into something bigger than we could have ever imagined, thank God.
You know your party's bad-ass when someone like Thom Yorke pops in every time he’s in town to DJ. Does Thom have skills?
He's an incredible selector, he mixes seamlessly and he gets the party going. He was DJing in college when (Radiohead) were recording their first record. He was DJing house parties in college -- that's from his own words.
This is your record release party, but also a Red Bull Music Academy event. A great roster of talent has graduated from the Academy, including Aloe Blacc and Jneiro Jarel, who just released a record with MF Doom. What's your involvement with the Academy?
I actually applied for the first Red Bull Music Academy ever, so as soon as I heard about it I was all over it. I didn't get accepted. But then years later when they started doing events they asked me to play this huge event in Europe.
Wow, sounds like vindication.
Yeah, that too. But really, when I saw the scale they were doing events on, I knew right away I wanted to be down with whatever they were doing. And all the people they have selected for the Academy have all been incredible and come so far. Almost everybody that has gone through an Academy have made careers out of this music thing.
I’m really digging the new promo vid for your album "Breakthrough" (peep it at the bottom). It's really psychedelic... saw my man Metatron in there. Have any other psychedelics like DMT or mushrooms informed your musical journey?
California is a psychedelic place on its own, I don't need any substances to get me trippy. It's a very magical energy, it's a very sacred place in the world. I've been fueled by the California vibe since birth, [as well as] all the music I listen to -- very wet effects, tons of delay and re-verb -- and that is as psychedelic as it gets right there. That's what influences my music most of all.
Do you think the psychedelic movement, whether through the substances or the music, has expanded in general? I feel at one point it was forgotten and left on the roadside. But now it feels like there's something in the air that's really resurrected this genre. What do you feel is the genesis for that?
I'm not sure the reason. I think the more sped-up the world is -- and everybody's life cycles are -- the more people want to expand themselves. People feel the need to change and every seven years you get a new skin anyway, it's not really in our control. That's a very psychedelic thing in itself.
Spirituality plays a big role in my life and a lot of other people are beginning to realize that if you focus your mind, your body and your spirit that you can get a lot more out of life. I think that was lost for a long time and I think people are starting to realize that now that the shit is hitting the fan again, like in the late '50s through to the mid '70s. I feel that people's spirituality is starting to awaken all over again.
The interesting thing about the EDM movement is, I feel, that it has embraced that spirituality way more than other genres. Whether it's through rave culture and now festival culture, it's standard practice to get thousands of people together and have a joint experience.
It's almost like that's also helped ignite this psychedelic movement, the fact that all these people come together and celebrate with each other. Do you see EDM continuing to further that, connecting people on a global scale?
I do. I feel like raves, as well as some hip-hop shows and b-boy events, where a lot of people gather to dance and to express themselves, they also find the tribe vibes. Whether they know it or not, they are connecting with each other.
Through raves I found that connection, more than at hip-hop events because I didn't feel judged or ridiculed or anything. I felt very welcomed by the freaks of the rave scene. Everybody is dancing with each other and connecting, weather they recognize it or not. So I totally agree with that. Thank God for that. Thank God for electronic music.
Word. Well, it's almost show time, Mr. Micromanager, so I will bust out my last question. 'Breakthrough' is your debut album. You have released a bunch of EPs, but I can feel the weight behind this album that has been inside of you for all these years. How does it feel spiritually, inside, finally releasing this beast?
It was a tough thing for me to release this music. It's been a long road of criticisms and judging myself super hard and it was only through my community that I got myself together and found that the music was good enough.
Not only through my friends' opinions but also through their assistance. Like Daedelus, who engineered a few tracks, and Computer J. helping me get my production techniques tighter and helping me forward my sound, and having multi-instrumentalists around all the time. And guys like Thundercat, always doing dope stuff, making me want to do doper stuff. That has been a huge help.
It was a very tough journey, but now I finally feel that this music stands on its own and is good enough to be consumed by the public, finally. It feels so good. I’m turning 30 in a couple of months, it's about freaking time!