Contrary to his outrageously bushy appearance and his ominous stage moniker of
the Gaslamp Killer, enigmatic American club DJ Will Bensussen possesses an
unusually serene, scholarly demeanor.
“A lot of people I meet tell me
that when I speak, I remind them of a rabbi,” Bensussen said from London last
week, where he was on tour with his pal from his hometown of San Diego,
iconoclast rapper/poet Gonjasufi.
“When I’m on the microphone in a club
and I’m giving my little spiel, I’m almost like a rabbi giving his drasha,” he
added with a laugh.
“My Jewishness plays a huge part of who I am and will
Indeed, shows by the Gaslamp Killer and Gonjasufi are almost
like going to a free-form, strobe lit, bass-thumping synagogue where the two
musical masters decode the DNA of every kind of music they can get their hands
on to an audience eager to be transformed by the spiritual and physical
“I try to teach the audience that it’s OK to be yourself. And
it’s OK to show your soul and wear your heart on your sleeve and be honest with
yourself,” said the 32-year-old Bensussen, calling his indemand set an “eclectic
“I express the fact that being a nerd is OK and being an
intellectual person is OK, not that I’m the most intelligent or well read, but I
feel very proud of who I am and what I do. I try to educate the audience and
bring eclectic sounds to them as well as entertain them and hit them hard with
bass as well as good rock and roll with guitars, some real heavy electronic
distortion and some funky beautiful music created everywhere from Israel to
Brazil to Turkey and LA. It’s entertainment and education rolled into one –
that’s my goal!” And Bensussen’s been moving in that direction ever since he
first decided to DJ, back when he was 17, a move that didn’t set well with his
But they likely saw it coming, as their son spent most of
his youth rebelling against societal conventions.
“My mother’s family is
from Lithuania and my father’s family is from Turkey and Lebanon, and when I was
little, they enrolled me in a Chabad day school,” he said. “At some point, I
decided I wanted to go to a public school, because I realized at an early age
that the rest of the world wasn’t made up of Hassidic Jews.
But even in
public school, I knew right away that I was different - not because of how I
looked but because of how I thought., and how I felt.”
of not belonging only began to change after he dropped out of college following
the death of a close friend.
“He was an artist, and his death made decide
that the only important thing was being happy. And the only thing that made me
happy was my creative abilities. School was for my family, I was working in
college so hard to make my parents happy, they had dealt with so much when I was
growing up I wasn’t the best kid, I was kind of a troublemaker,” he
“I realized that if I didn’t take the bull by the horns and chase
my dream down that I would regret it for the rest of my life. So I took on music
Of course, my parents told me I was a complete idiot. Now I’m
helping to pay their bills and they’re can’t thank me enough and they’re more
proud of me than I could ever have imagined.
They’re my heroes and I’m
their hero, and it feels very good.”
BENSUSSEN’S DJ career didn’t feel so
great at the beginning, where his acquired name The Gaslamp Killer, derived from
the downtown Gaslamp district of San Diego, took on two meanings – sometimes he
was slaying the crowd with his inventive blend of hip hop and psychedelics and
sometimes he was just killing their good time.
“For years, I had to play
in this neighborhood and people just booed me and threw things at me.It was not
fun,” said Bensussen, explaning that the Gaslamp district was “where all the
rich people go, spend their money, drinking their fancy drinks, wearing their
fancy clothes, listening to their same generic music.”
wanted to hear their pop music – Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna. They
didn’t want to hear hip hop or underground electronic music. So we were fighting
with the audience unfortunately. And sometimes it was great. So in the hip hop
sense of the word, I was ‘killing’ the Gaslamp.
That means ‘you did a
great set, an amazing performance, you killed it.’ “But in another sense of the
word, I was killing the good time of these trendy rich kids, I was ruining their
nights and clearing dance floors. I was making people unhappy. The club owners
would come up to me and say ‘what are you doing? This isn’t what we brought you
here for.’” The times, and tunes, have changed, and today, Bensussen is
recognized as a trail blazer in the performance DJ world.
driving audiences away, they’re arriving in droves to hear his remixes, forays
into dubstep and segues from Black Sabbath to Bollywood
Local audiences will get a chance to feel the bass inside
their guts tonight when Gaslamp Killer and Gonjasufi take the stage at Comfort
13 in Tel Aviv.
Bensussen credits his longtime hip hop collaborator
(whose real name is Sumach Ecks) for enabling him to express his creativity
through his music.
“Sufi and I met in 1999 in San Diego, I worked at a
hip hop record store, Sufi used to bring his albums in and ask to put them on
consignment. I would see him at hip hop shows, and house parties and he’d always
be free styling,” said Bensussen.
“One day, I played him what I was doing
with my re-eds - taking world music and re-editing it into
And he said ‘I love this vibe, I would love to try and
take this and make some songs. So I gave him some of my stuff to sing over and
The next thing you know he sent me some incredible music, and I
No novice when it comes to Israel, the Gaslamp Killer
pointed out that his arrival in on these shores this week marks his fourth visit
to Israel, the most recent one being his debut performance in 2008.
was here for the first time when I was 12, for a family wedding, and returned on
a school program when I was 15,” he said.
“I remember being on Ben Yehuda
Street in Jerusalem and seeing all the kids walking around and the young
beautiful soldiers mingling with them, and the energy of these awesome people –
it was very open minded, relaxed and so cool, it reminded me of California in a
way. can’t wait to come back.”
Delighted that people no longer run for
the exits with their hands over their ears, Benmussen is treating his
underground success with the cautious respect it deserves, and not
anything for granted.
“I’m a realistic person and I realized that this is
not the most solid work to be doing as a man, but I’m going to work my
to try and make this career as long and fruitful as positive as I can,”
“In the sense of helping my family, touching people all around the
world, and trying to bring a little happiness, fun and light into
lives, I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far."