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‘The Whole Gaslamp Thing’ ~ Saying Goodbye to Low End Theory With DJ Nobody: Q&A

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]ast month, the organizers of experimental hip-hip collective Low End Theory announced they will be ending their long-running Wednesday night DJ shows at The Airliner in Lincoln Heights.

In an Instagram post on June 6, the collective revealed its plans for a final run of 10 shows culminating on Aug. 8. The group wrote, “The general consensus amongst the residents is that we have overstayed our welcome, and our greatest hope now is that the final ten weeks of Low End Theory can serve as a time for the beat community to set aside our differences, come together, and hopefully remember what made Low End Theory a special place to begin with: the music.”

Low End Theory was founded by Los Angeles DJs Daddy Kev, DJ Nobody, Gaslamp Killer, and edIT in 2006. D-Styles replaced edIT as a resident DJ a year later. The weekly sets at The Airliner’s gritty dance floor and outdoor back patio gave up-and-coming DJ’s the freedom to experiment with new ideas and sounds. It soon became a launching pad for influential electronic artists and producers including Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing and Daedelus.

RELATED: Low End Theory Mini Doc

In October, popular resident DJ Gaslamp Killer (William Bensussen) was accused by two women of raping them in 2013. Low End Theory subsequently parted ways with Bensussen last year, angering some in the community who felt the collective should have supported him in light of the allegations.

Bensussen denied the accusations and no criminal charges have been brought against him. He filed defamation suits against both both women in November, one of which was dismissed in March, according to a report by Pitchfork.

Bensussen issued a statement on Facebook in May, writing that, “My only recourse was to bring a suit for defamation to prove my innocence.” In the post, he included several legal documents including the testimony of two witnesses and a toxicologist, which  Bensussen wrote disputed the allegations. He also included a judge’s ruling that Bensussen had established the “minimal merit” of his claim that the accusations against him were false, allowing his defamation against one of the women to continue.     

In an interview with L.A. Taco, DJ Nobody (Elvin Estela) for the first time addresses the controversy with Gaslamp Killer. Estela said severing ties with Bensussen “definitely divided the scene in so many different ways.” The Low End Theory co-founder also talked about the decision to end the weekly DJ night, shared some of his favorite memories from over the years and revealed what’s in store for the final run of shows.

*Edited for length and clarity

DJ Nobody
DJ Nobody

LA TACO: What made The Airliner in Lincoln Heights the perfect spot to host Low End Theory?

DJ NOBODY: I feel like all super cool things always start out in a part of town where not everyone wants to go to at first. Like, The Good Life and Project Blowed — that was in South Central in the early '90s, right around the time of the riots. That area was pretty poppin’ in terms of gang activity and stuff, but in the middle of it all that was that crazy cultural hip-hop night. And it was the same thing with Lincoln Heights at that time, in terms of people going down there for anything.

What’s special about the club itself?

The outside is what gets people because it has this outdoor stage sort of vibe. Especially the very first incarnation of it. It was really rickety; there'd be birds perched up on the top of it. There was a weird built-in sound booth that was also super rickety. It just felt underground. It felt unsafe and scary. But there was dope shit happening there, so people wanted to go.

RELATED: The Airliner Lincoln Heights

How did the show evolve into a kind of hip-hop/electronic institution?

It happened pretty naturally. I reconnected with (Daddy) Kev that year and it felt like he wanted to start something new. Gaslamp (Killer) was coming up as young kid DJ. And edIT, it was the same thing, he was making his way with his music. I think Kev was aware that there was something bubbling. We would do these nights where we would just play all instrumentals, but it was always at small bars. They were never at places with proper sound and all that. I think it just was the right time. It was the beginning of Ableton software, so it all just coincided where there was a space for this music to exist and be heard properly, and in addition, the technology was making it so kids could play beats in a live sense and not just DJ them.

How important was the show’s DIY mentality to fostering the scene?

It was just a genuine movement of kids that loved that music and then loved wanting to make that music. They would make that stuff even if it wasn't gaining hype. They would still be into it because there's just something about it that makes them want to do it.

Do you feel like Low End Theory helped create an “L.A. sound” for electronic music?

Oh yeah, for sure. Before, maybe the previous L.A. electronics sound was the electro sounds from the '80s. But this was a newer updated version of that, which was more hip hop influenced. Besides some of the Florida iEDM stuff, there really isn't a super hip-hop based electronic music movement. It used to always feel like things had to be fast, that things had to be techno or house to be considered electronic. And we just slowed it way down and kept it instrumental. And I think that's what got people. It was like, "Oh, I get it. It's like rap beats but without the rap."  

How influential do you think that sound has been on mainstream pop/hip hop music?

Like I said, it's this hip-hop based electronic music that's kind of rough around the edges. You just know it when you hear it. Like when I heard that Weeknd song “Crew Love,” I was like, "Damn, whoever made that beat has been listing to Flying Lotus.” I don't know if it's really describable—but sidechaining, clipped vocals, harsh base, all that shit kind of makes like elements of the sound.

Do you have any favorite memories?

Yeah, there are so many. The second time Odd Future played there, it was pretty incredible. It was kind of an impromptu performance because it was supposed to be just Syd (Tha Kyd) and her laptop ended up crashing and breaking so she wasn't able to play. I ended up having to DJ for them. And it was right when “Yonkers” came out, so the hype on Tyler, (the Creator) was just through the roof.

What was behind the decision to announce the final run of shows?

We always agreed that when it felt like it was slowing down, that we would wind it down instead of trying to keep something alive that people didn't want anymore. And that's just what it feels like. It feels like it’s run its course and kids have moved onto something else. So, we just feel it's time to wrap it up.

When did you start to notice the energy at the shows wasn’t the same?

We already had this organic slowness that started happening maybe since 2016 or so. There was a time when no matter what the lineup was, it was just cracking. But now it's become less about kids just wanting to check out the club and more about, "Oh, who's playing there?"

The closing announcement talked about wanting people in the community to set aside their differences and come together. Was there anything internally that forced the decision to shut things down?

The elephant in the room is the whole Gaslamp thing. It definitely divided the scene in so many different ways. 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. The other side of it is that he had hella fans that came to the club just to see him, so they're not coming around anymore. That whole thing was just a little too much for us to handle.

Do you plan to keep Low End Theory going in some other capacity?

We've been talking about maybe at least doing yearly or quarterly, but we haven't really decided as of yet.

What do you have planned for the final run of shows?

The next few lineups are going to be bonkers. We've got Nosaj Thing, Jonwayne and a lot of other folks who helped build the whole scene up coming back to do their final set there. And Daedelus of course, who’s one of our main guys. He's going to do the second to last show.

Low End Theory will host its final run of shows every Wednesday at The Airliner until Aug. 8.

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