SERATO GROOVES FROM A SAN DIEGO SHAMAN
ANCIENT SHAMANISTIC TRADITIONS ARE LARGELY CENTERED ON MASTERING LIFE IN THE DREAM WORLD. THE SHAMAN’S PRIMARY SOCIAL FUNCTION IS TO LEAD THE WAY INTO A SHARED WAKING DREAM STATE—A FOCUSED CONSCIOUSNESS BASED ON A COMMON VISION OF RAPTURE AND TRANSPORT, OPENING THE DOOR FOR THE TRIBE TO JOIN HIM. THAT SHARED STATE OF ALTERED VISION AND COMMUNAL SPIRIT IS ALSO A GOAL, UNSURPRISINGLY, OF A NEW SCHOOL OF DJS WHO ARE EQUALLY ABOUT CREATING MUSIC FOR YOUR HEAD AS MUCH AS FOR YOUR BODY.
The Gaslamp Killer, who got his performing nickname from sets that created a distinctly different vibe in the clubs he would play in the Gaslamp district of his native San Diego, takes an amazing eclectic, world-spanning approach to creating uniquely textured sets that insinuate themselves into both body and mind.
An accomplished turntablist and scratcher, GLK, as he’s frequently known, was inspired from an early age to get behind the turntables and spin for the crowd. “When I was 11 years old,” he says, “I went to a rave. Inside there was one DJ controlling the entire room—controlling the vibes all night long—by himself with two turntables. That is the most vivid memory I have of the decision clicking in my head, ‘This is what I want to do with my life. This is the type of performing that I want to get involved with.’ It wasn’t even so much about the music itself. I know that might be weird, but I feel like I came from it from a different angle—a performance angle. I just loved this guy, by himself, controlling a whole room of people like a shaman leading the tribe into a trance.”
Music, though, quickly became far more than simply a way to be the center of attention. “I think that when I found music, it gave me a channel, a direct line to that spirituality that I wasn’t finding in my day-to-day life,” says GLK. “Music was that thing for me. Music is that thing for me. It keeps me from so many terrible things that I want to do, all the time. Thank God for music and thank the universe for music, because it’s so important to have that kind of focus when you are a high-strung, neurotic person, which most of us are nowadays because those are the constraints that get put on us. You can’t break the chains physically, but you can break them in your mind and in your spirit. You can break those chains that they put on you. Everyone needs an outlet. Everyone needs a way to connect to the higher source. It’s important. If you don’t, you might just explode.”
Having briefly played clarinet and bass when he was younger, GLK refers to turntablism as “a percussive sport,” and credits it with leading him to also start experimenting with playing a drum kit. “We are making rhythmic patterns on top of rhythmic patterns,” he says. “Some of the scratches I do resemble a paradiddle or other drum patterns and stuff. It’s like this rhythmic thing that I’m doing, so it makes sense. DJing—you’ve got to be on beat. You’ve got to be in time. You’ve got to keep the people moving and grooving.”
GLK draws from a wide range of inspiration, some well outside the electronic world. “Jimi Hendrix was channeling the ultimate power of the universe when he performed with his guitar. There’s no doubt about it. That [stuff] is too perfect to be human. It transcends flesh.” His other influences range from Kurt Cobain to DJs, from old school (Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay) to newer inspirations like Cut Chemist, DJ Shadow and The Beat Junkies. All of these influences combine into a sort of stream of musical consciousness.“I’m inspired by a lot of other artists. I think we all are,” he says. “We all take pieces from every single moment in our upbringing that we find inspirational, and we try to bring it all into our musical world. I think all the best musicians and artists borrow and are inspired. There [are] a lot of arguments to be said, but you cannot argue originality—that’s the people that I mentioned initially. [They] have created their own sound and paved their own way. That’s the stuff that really keeps me going as an artist.”
GLK is known for both the intensity and eclecticism of his sets, drawing his inspiration and flow from the energy of the audience.“The motivation behind this is the crowds—the crowds of kids who go through hell to get into these clubs,” he says. “They wait in obnoxiously long lines. They stand in obnoxiously crowded, shoulder-to-shoulder rooms, dripping with sweat. If you have ever gone out to a club or a concert, it’s one of the most anxiety-producing, stressful things, until you get inside and stand in your spot to watch the show. Anybody who goes through those things, for me, to see me play, they are touching me in a way that nobody else will ever be able to. There’s nothing like it.”
Performance is more than simply an ego-gratification thing for Gaslamp Killer, though—it’s a way to transcend the mundane. “You don’t get that in day-to-day life,” he says. “Most people will never experience that in their entire lives, and I manage to harness the people’s energy and channel my nerves, and focus this beam of power into the crowd. It’s like this alchemical, metaphysical, spiritual equation—it’s insane. It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire life. There is no comparing it with any inspiration that I will ever find anywhere else. Try it. Get in front of a crowd. Even if you are just getting up there to take a photo of someone who’s performing, you’re still on the stage in front of all these people, and they’re all focused on you. It’s a powerful thing.”
Both onstage and in the studio, GLK relies on a fairly traditional turntablist setup, with a pair of turntables with Shure M447 cartridges, a mixer and a computer running Serato. “In my opinion,” he says, “[Serato] is the world’s leading digital DJ software. The interface is very easy for me to use and it’s very intuitive. It has all the bells and whistles that I need. Basically, it’s like having four turntables at all times. I can have two songs going at once and I can have sound effects happening. It [has] really cool effects built in. Then, they came up with an iPad app [Serato Remote], which made it so I could control every single aspect of Serato’s capabilities into my DJ set wirelessly. I could take it out and walk into the audience, and still be controlling a song and manipulating the music from the middle of the crowd if I wanted to, which is really cool, to have wireless capabilities.”
As the tech has evolved, so has GLK’s stage and studio rig. “Over the years,” he says, “I started implementing controllers. There’s different touchpad MIDI controllers that connect with Serato and everything they offer in their programs. There’s hardware, like the [Pioneer] DDJ-SP1, [which lets you] control the options you have in your software with the hardware, which is awesome. Everybody needs that.”
In the studio, he keeps the same free-flowing atmosphere as his live sets. “I like producing in a way that feels free and live,” says GLK, “so I’m not working on a grid. I’m working in Slip mode on Pro Tools. It’s, like, record five minutes and chop the best parts out. I find the end result that I like the most is live, one-take, get the best thing you can, shut your [stuff] off, go home, come back and see what you did. Give your ears a break and then come back and go, ‘Oh my god. This one part is so awesome.’ There might be five minutes of trash, and then there’s 20 seconds of gold. That can be your inspiration to create a whole new song around.
With an ongoing weekly residence at an L.A. club called Low End Theory, upcoming European tour and a new album in the works, like all true shamans, GLK stays chill. “I’m just trying to enjoy my life, enjoy L.A., perform for people all over the world, and keep that raw vibe alive. That’s what I’m here to do, I feel like. I’m doing the best I can at it, and I appreciate this opportunity to share it with you guys at home and the people of the Internet. Now go outside and run free in the grass. Take off your shoes and socks and put your feet in the earth. Get a little bit of that real life. [blows kiss] Gaslamp Killer. I’m out.”