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The Gaslamp Killer Confronts Tragedy and Finds His Way Forward 

Thursday, Sep 27 2012
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The Gaslamp Killer can't stop moving. Watch him DJ. Bass spasms and eerie synthesizers electrify his limbs. Heavy drums offer hang time. When the beat drops, he's a B-boy whirling dervish. His head bangs like a lead guitarist; his brown, fusilli-curled mane whiplashes; his shoulders convulse; his arms jut out like a zombie. He smacks his iPad like a funky drummer. His glasses forever verge on flying off and injuring an audience member. Depending on time and mood, he can resemble Frank Zappa, Groucho Marx or Rasputin. He is the fork in the socket, the tribal drum leader disguised as the DJ, the John Belushi of dance music.

For the last six years, San Diego–bred William Bensussen has detonated every Wednesday at the Low End Theory in Lincoln Heights — the city's preeminent dance club for people who hate dance clubs.

At 29, Gaslamp Killer, or GLK, is the youngest of the four resident DJs and the breakout star. When he's booked at European festivals that pay a monthly salary for one hour's work, there's an energy vacuum among the teen and 20-something mixed-race clientele at LET — most of whom arrive hours early for a crack at entrance.

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If not the most popular DJ in L.A., GLK is the most popular great one, the rare exception wowing both bro-step hordes at HARD Festival and avant-garde diggers at Dublab. From Hendrix and The Beatles, to Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, to the latest trap banger, any song he spins feels remixed to Richter-popping intensity.

"He hurls his mind, body and soul at the audience. Any song takes on different meanings because of how he emotes with it," says Daddy Kev, a co-founder and resident DJ at Low End Theory. "He guides you through the madman subconscious, taking you from light to dark to light — it's a roller-coaster ride. Few are skilled enough to do it from a programming perspective and fewer with his beat matching and scratching skill."

The DJ has dethroned the rock-star archetype in the popular imagination, but most stars are poseurs pressing play on their own corny songs. They fist-pump and rely on pyrotechnic explosions and LED displays. This isn't communion. This is carnival.

The Gaslamp Killer offers something more sinister and threatening. He is why the Puritans banned dancing. The crowds are not merely paying for the GLK show. They aspire to join the trance, the psychedelic thwack of pure chaos triggered by berserk showmanship, underground sound and disemboweling bass. It's the chance to get wired and weird — an opportunity to turn off your fucking phone and siphon the voltage, to feel the drums bayoneting you in your gut.

Even his first music experiences were addled and adrenal. His first concert was a rave, age 12, when he and a friend took the last bus of the night to an industrial district in San Diego. When the party didn't materialize, they fell asleep on a storage container's roof, too broke for cab fare home. They were awakened at 2:30 a.m. when the bass started thudding underneath.

"A girl at the door was reading a book. We asked, 'Is this where the party is?' She said, 'I don't think you guys want to go in,' " GLK remembers. " 'No, you don't understand,' I told her. 'We took the last bus and have $5 between us and have heard about this forever. Please let us in.' She did and we immediately asked her to get us drugs."

She refused to procure them acid but helped GLK get drunk from her Mad Dog 20/20. He soon drifted to the nitrous tank. After inhaling a balloon, he fainted, nearly cracking his skull on the concrete. A nearby dancer caught him right before he hit the ground. Then the cops arrived.

"The [organizers] said, 'We can get away with this, but we can't have drugs or little kids.' So they stashed me and the nitrous tank in the storage attic," GLK says. "I was so small, the cops didn't see me when they shined their flashlights. When they left, they grabbed me out by my heels and we partied until 6:30 a.m."

Until 16, this was the routine. GLK raved every weekend and returned home at 7 a.m. to increasingly irate parents unaware of his true whereabouts.

The shit hit the fan his junior year of high school. He was caught on camera at the rave Narnia 98, flipping off a TV news team and hollering, "Fuck the media."

Shortly after, he was tossed from his performing arts high school for miscellaneous transgressions, including a 1.0 GPA. His parents threatened to ship him off to a kibbutz in Israel, but he successfully begged for one last chance. For his last three semesters of high school, he was sober and got straight A's.

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