My blog for all things music related, with a specific focus on electronic music and the art of DJing.
William Bensussen aka The Gaslamp Killer is a lot of things to a lot of people. Some see a crazy performer, a crazy person, perhaps even an outright menace—the jury is still out on that. I see a uniquely talented artist who is willing to push the listener outside of their comfort zone. Who is willing to explore the limits of what an audience can feasibly dance to. And in doing so, I see an artist who has been perpetually ahead of the curve, even at times to his own detriment. Long before Lil B embraced the intended criticism based, Willow embraced being decried as the vibe killer. This can put a target on a man’s back… to be so raw in one’s sound and presence it is nearly to the point of abrasiveness. I see it as the mad science of progress, the process of expanding musical minds. But to those who prefer the comfort of more familiar sounds, it can almost seem like a threat.
GLK is sometimes is criticized for getting on the mic too much. “Fuck society in the ass!” he howled at one show. “Focus, Discipline, Passion” he chanted at another. “In California, cigarettes are the devil” he told an audience in Berlin as they smoked and danced furiously. I’ve seen people shout back, too: “Let the bass do the talking!” Thing is, he does. When the sound gets big, the drop swells, and the groove deepens, he’s not talking: he’s on the decks, cueing a bizarre sample, drumming his pads, scratching out cuts, or layering in the next track, developing the musical soundscape that is a GLK performance. It's just also that sometimes he chooses to add his voice to the mix, in the moment: an opinion, a mantra, or (most commonly) a shoutout. It’s all part of the experience. GLK the DJ, and also the emcee.
When I think of GLK, I think of skulls. Something about that skeletal aesthetic really helps to visualize his art. I took this picture myself, at a church in Hythe (southern England) with an annex full of bones.
I first saw GLK play when he came to Salt Lake City and opened for Prefuse 73 in late 2009/early 2010. He absolutely blew my mind that night. His energy and stage presence combined with the way he channeled what was, back then, essentially instrumental hip hop… I had never seen anything like it. As he finished his set, overcome by the exhilaration of the moment (and drunk), forgetting that etiquette dictates if you like the music, just yell and put your hands in the air, I crumpled up a $20 bill and threw it at him. He looked me in the eyes and grabbed his mic. “What do I look like, a stripper?” He plucked the bill off the mixer. “I’m a baller, I don’t need this,” he said, “but I’m also a Jew, so I’m keeping it.” He said it with pride and swagger. The most PC thing to say? No. But was he being 100% serious? Probably not. He was fucking with me, and also he wasn’t. Dude is intense like that.
I was so much younger then. So was he. A lot has happened since that first show… and even more may have happened. When allegations were made against him in October 2017, I commented: “this is a lose-lose. If he did it, then he's scum and preying on their innocence. If he didn't, they are scum and preying on his innocence.” He’s now “back” in a certain capacity, playing shows close to his home on the West Coast, once again active on social media, and most importantly, making new music. He cut his hair, trimmed the beard. I wonder if this is a metaphor, a physical manifestation of a person who is now somehow less, worn down by shame, anger, and negativity, these emotions coming from many directions (his critics? his supporters? himself?)… I hope not. I hope it’s just a new look for a new year. Shearing away something that needed to be left behind, in order to move on.
Today is his birthday, he turns 36. I guess since becoming a fan I’ve felt a special connection, albeit the product of simple coincidence: we’re born on nearly the same day, a year apart. Soon I’ll be 35. On his birthday, I make it a habit of going onto Discogs, finding something I don’t yet own, buying it. This is an increasingly expensive tradition. But I’ll keep doing it, as long as he keeps making music... in this way I hope my collection is never complete, and that I’ll get to see him perform time and time again. Until then... Happy Birthday GLK.