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The Gaslamp Killer is attempting to reboot his career and it’s splitting the scene in half

In the midst of a serious accusation, the beat scene gives a mixed welcome to the Los Angeles artist

  • Andy Hermann
  • 7 September 2018

10 months after he was accused on social media of drugging and raping two women in 2013, and nine months after filing defamation lawsuits against his accusers, The Gaslamp Killer returned to live performing last week with a series of three shows called Airplane Mode. The first show, at the Hi Hat in Los Angeles, played out like a triumphant comeback. But the following night’s show in Long Beach was canceled in response to community protests.

The Long Beach installment of Airplane Mode, which The Gaslamp Killer described on Facebook as “a space for us all to disconnect from our phones and dive deep into the healing power of music and dance,” was originally scheduled to take place last week on Wednesday, August 29 at a club called Que Sera. But that afternoon, The Gaslamp Killer’s label, Cuss Records, announced that the show had been moved a few blocks away to a bar called Ashley’s on Fourth, which then also canceled the show in response to “some phone calls from people I respect in the city,” the bar’s owner, Steve Massis, told a local media outlet.

A group called Protect Survivors: Long Beach Allies, spearheaded the protests. When contacted by Mixmag, the group declined to be interviewed, but explained in a written statement: "Protect Survivors: Long Beach Allies is a group that formed to ensure that people accused of rape or sexual assault are not given a platform elevating them above alleged victims. We think questions should be asked before performers accused of assault or rape are booked for shows in our community.”

“We are starting a conversation with music venues, artists, and fans about how the Long Beach music and art scene can support and give voice to rape and assault survivors, and provide a creative and respectful space for all,” Protect Survivors’ statement concluded.

The Long Beach cancelations of Airplane Mode were in stark contrast to the scene at the Hi Hat the previous night, where the performance went ahead as planned and a sold-out crowd of around 300 greeted The Gaslamp Killer’s headlining DJ set with cheers and applause. No protests took place outside the venue, and an online effort to boycott the Hi Hat over the booking appeared to gain little traction; as of this writing, a Twitter account called @boycotthehihat has no followers.

Having shorn off his trademark beard and long, frizzy hair, Bensussen (who declined to comment for this story) was unrecognizable when he first took the stage to introduce Wyldeflower, Airplane Mode’s opener and lone female DJ. Some gasps could be heard from attendees when he identified himself, adding, “Yeah, I cut my shit. It’s a new chapter.”

The rest of the lineup at the Hi Hat included DJ Day, KCRW DJ Jeremy Sole, and a surprise appearance by venerated Beat Junkies founder J. Rocc. In Long Beach, Airplane Mode was to feature a different lineup that would have included Long Beach-based funk artist Zackey Force Funk. A third Airplane Mode event took place on Thursday, August 30 at the Kava Lounge in San Diego with yet another lineup including local artists Tenshun and Psychopop and went off without incident. “The show went great,” one of the venue’s owners told Mixmag via email. He confirmed that he was aware of the allegations against Bensussen but dismissed them as “vapor thin.”

Reaction to the rape accusation against Bensussen, first posted on Twitter by one of his alleged victims, Chelsea Tadros, on October 12, 2017, was swift. Within 24 hours, Low End Theory, the influential weekly club night he co-founded in 2006, dropped him as a resident, and his onetime label Brainfeeder issued a statement noting they hadn’t released any Gaslamp Killer music in five years. Producer and Brainfeeder founder Flying Lotus initially came to his defense, declaring at an October 14 show, “The internet is fucking liar,” but later apologized for his comments.

Others quietly stuck by him, including Wyldeflower, who has known Bensussen for “over a decade” and was one of his roommates at the time of the alleged rapes. “I urged the accusers to press charges if the allegations were true, because anyone who takes advantage of someone should pay for what they did,” says the DJ, whose real name is Rocio Contreras. “They didn't press charges. There are so many inconsistencies and holes in the accusers’ story. I know [Bensussen’s] heart and his spirit; I believe that he is innocent.”

Bensussen issued a statement on October 13 denying the allegations, then filed a defamation lawsuit in November against Tadros and his other accuser, RaeAn Medina. In March, a judge dismissed the suit against Medina but allowed the one against Tadros to move forward. Shortly after that announcement, Bensussen released a lengthy Facebook statement reasserting his innocence and claiming, “In suing Tadros, I am not trying to silence her. In fact, I am hoping to open a dialogue in which to examine this event in front of a judge and jury, rather than trial by social media.” (Tadros’ attorney, Erica Kim, who declined to comment for this story, issued a rebuttal taking Bensussen to task for “his fundamental misunderstanding of consent.”)

Against that backdrop, it was unclear how The Gaslamp Killer’s return to performing would be received. But as he began promoting Airplane Mode on Facebook two months ago, the majority of the responses and comments appeared to be positive. “GLK is back!!! Good news!!” read a typical one. “Beautiful concept, Will,” read another, in praise of Airplane Mode’s “disconnect from our phones” theme.

Others were more critical of the event and the man behind it, as well as the venues hosting it. “If you are a decent human being, please avoid playing [the Hi Hat] or patronizing it at all costs,” tweeted one critic. Another simply advised, “Cover ur drinks at the show, ladies.”

Outside the Hi Hat, roughly 50 attendees lined up before the venue opened at around 8:20 PM By 9:45 PM, as Jeremy Sole was replacing Wyldeflower on the decks, the venue appeared to be at or near capacity, with a crowd that included many Low End Theory regulars, including Gaslamp’s fellow co-founder and resident, DJ Nobody, who acknowledged in a recent interview that the allegations against Bensussen played a role in Low End Theory’s closure last month.

“It definitely divided the scene in so many different ways,” Nobody told local website L.A. Taco. “There are people that feel like we didn’t support him, or that we turned our back on him. And I think there are people that just want to stay away from the whole thing in general. … That whole thing was just a little too much for us to handle.”

Bensussen, wearing a white shirt covered with cropped photographs of people’s eyes, worked the Hi Hat room, seeming to take pleasure in surprising friends who didn’t recognize him because of his close-shaven hair. When it came time to take the stage for his own set, he broke out a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne, which he swigged from between mixes.

His eclectic DJ set included The Beatles’ 'Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!', Kendrick Lamar’s 'Alright,' Childish Gambino’s 'This Is America' (“the only track with Auto-Tune I fuck with,” he said) and numerous tracks by Mono/Poly, included a new song he said they’d collaborated on. Many moments throughout the set were punctuated by rumbles of his trademark, dive-bombing bass, as well as by shout-outs to various friends and colleagues in the room — including the Hi Hat’s booker, Britt Witt. “This is her fucking place and she’s taking a fucking chance on the motherfucking Gaslamp Killer,” he said, to cheers from the crowd. (Witt declined to comment for this story, but did confirm Bensussen’s announcement that Airplane Mode will return to the Hi Hat as a monthly event.)

Among those in attendance was Matt Dalimonte, who was there handing out flyers for his bass music festival Kosmic Gardenz with his girlfriend. Though The Gaslamp Killer doesn’t yet appear on the flyer, Dalimonte says he booked the producer to play the festival, which takes place in Apple Valley, California September 14-16, after discussing it with his event’s headliners, staff and others in the scene. (Because Bensussen declined to comment, Mixmag could not confirm the booking.)

While admitting that he couldn’t say for sure whether Bensussen was guilty or innocent, Dalimonte said he felt strongly that for now, Gaslamp should be given the benefit of the doubt. “To ruin someone’s reputation that’s been hard-fought for for over 20 years, there has to be more evidence, more proof — just like, at least one more allegation,” he said. Dalimonte’s comments echoed what many in attendance told Mixmag (nearly all asking not to be quoted): that the lack of other accusers coming forward made them less inclined to believe Tadros and Medina’s version of events.

For now, it remains unclear when Bensussen’s defamation lawsuit will go to trial; in his May statement, he said it “might be more than a year away.” Until then, his career will be in uncharted waters. Since the start of the #MeToo movement, only one other musician, Ethan Kath of Crystal Castles, has filed a defamation lawsuit — and his was dismissed earlier this year. The Gaslamp Killer is the first artist to attempt to rebuild his career while simultaneously fighting his main accuser in court — and after just a few shows, it’s already clear that his detractors will continue to challenge him every step of the way, as part of what they see as a larger #MeToo fight.

Photo: Narek Petrosyan

Andy Hermann is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, follow him on Twitter here

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