From his humble roots freestyling hip-hop in Inglewood to his days busting drum and bass beats in a two-bedroom apartment in Orange County all the way through to his current position as a leading figure in the global dubstep music scene, John Dada (aka Infiltrata, aka 12th Planet) has always been a force to be reckoned with. Ask anyone who’s close to the man and there is no denying that his work ethic combined with a straight up genuine love of music has made his nearly two-decade long career an ever-impressive presence in the bass music world.
Having an outsized impact in the Los Angeles dubstep scene in particular, John’s appearance tomorrow at Day Two of Bassrush Massive is a way of coming full circle. “The NOS Center is historic,” John tells us. “I’ve been raving there since day one so it’s cool to go back this weekend and give back to the rave gods.” When asked if he considers himself a rave god at this point, he laughs, and says, “No, not yet, I’m still paying my respects. I’m more like a high priest, a dubstep high priest. Sacrificing basslines.”
With festival season in full swing, it can be hard to pin down one of the hardest working artists in the bass music scene. But ask any who’ve known him from the beginning and they can tell you that even though the gigs and crowds have gotten bigger over the years, John’s week-to-week grind hasn’t changed all that much from the early days.
“Yeah nothing’s changed,” John agrees. “It’s the same ethos, just me in the studio knocking out beats.” From the outside looking in, that may be hard to believe. From being labelled the “Johnny Appleseed of dubstep” by the LA Weekly to being profiled in mainstream mags like Rolling Stone and Spin, not to mention headlining some of the largest festivals around the world, it’s easy to imagine that John’s life as 12th Planet is one non-stop party, but he’ll be the first to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.
“I’ve never let any of the accolades get to me,” John says. “My modus operandi has always been to just make music, put one foot in front of the other, and go play every weekend until my ears my fall off.” It’s that approach that has not only elevated John to the highest tier of the bass music world but has also endeared him to his die-hard fans who can sense a genuine love of music and wilding out on stage. “At the end of the day I’m a fucking diehard raver,” John says with a smile. “I might not wear no furry boots but you know, it’s in me.”
My modus operandi has always been to just make music, put one foot in front of the other, and go play every weekend until my ears my fall off.
Few artists can say there were there when dubstep began to infiltrate the soundscape of the United States, but there’s no denying the seminal role that John and his cohort at SMOG played in introducing and laying the groundwork for the continued dominance that bass music culture continues to have, especially here in SoCal and Los Angeles. Able to help grow a new scene from when “less than 20 people knew about it” to an era where everyone from “frat dudes” to “hardcore emo and hipsters” came to embrace the sound, it’s no wonder that John seems to have taken a shine to his reputation as the Johnny Appleseed of dubstep.
“There were definitely trees already there, I was just taking the seeds and throwing them out, you know? Hoping some more trees would grow.” And now, looking back at the forest that has blossomed in his wake? “It’s a big-ass forest man, bunch of wookies in that shit. Lumberjacks, crystals, quartz, all that shit is in there now [Laughs]. Seriously though, it’s nuts how big it has become and how different it is from coast-to-coast.”
With increased attention to mental health issues in the industry, we tried to get a sense of how he’s not only keeping his life/work balance in check but how he’s managed to stay at the forefront of the scene for so long.
“It’s so difficult, and I’m probably not the best example,” John says. “I’ve got vices. I don’t yoga before sets or drink Kombucha [Laughs]. There’s nothing wrong with that—that’s just not what I do to sustain. In terms of my advice for others playing the long game: don’t be a dick. Treat other people the way you want to be treated, and you’ll go far. But at the end of the day, remember it’s not show friends, it’s show business, too.”
Don’t be a dick. Treat other people the way you want to be treated and you’ll go far, but at the end of the day remember—it’s not show friends, it’s show business, too.
Knowing how friendly and open John is on a personal level, we knew that he probably learned that lesson the hard way. “It can be hard to realize that everyone doesn’t have your best interests in mind, you know? I got lucky. I got a filter, his name’s Danny Johnson [John’s long-time manager]. I’ll smile and nod all day but at the end of the day, if it’s going to get pushed through it’s got to go through the right channels.”
It’s an important lesson and one that keeps coming up over and over again in our conversation: the success of 12th Planet is less about John forging ahead on his own than it is about him surrounding himself and taking inspiration from a close-knit crew of like-minded people. “It’s definitely a team effort behind the scenes but also in terms of working with collaborators and other artists; that has a huge impact on keeping me focused and inspired.”
John points to a period around 2011 to 2013 where he began to follow the lead of other big-name artists like Skrillex in drifting towards playing multi-genre sets. “Back then I was playing all genres—house music, drum and bass, dubstep, trap—all in one set. But after one show, someone on the bus was like, ‘Yo, they calling you the Johnny Appleseed of dubstep but you played like three dubstep songs in your set just now.’ I was like, Whoa. You’re fucking right. I realized that I was just trying to cater to the masses and wanted to be as big as possible. I wanted to play Vegas and Miami clubs, but I also wanted to play dubstep raves, trap raves, electro raves…I was just trying to be part of everything.”
It was a defining moment in John’s career as he quickly shifted his focus and went from playing multiple genres in one set to going back to his roots in dubstep. It was also the closest he’d ever come to a proper identity crisis but one that he feels was an important part of the process in keeping him fresh. While he’s been around for nearly 20 years at this point, he’s not a legacy act that promoters bring out for nostalgic purposes, he’s an artist that is still undeniably at the top of his game and leading the way.
“I just try to be active, you know? I don’t even think about it. I just try and have fun, get up on stage and treat that show like it’s your last. When I’m in the lab, I just try and have fun. If you’re not having fun why even do it, right? If it becomes like a job or a burden, that’s when it’s time to get out. I’ve seen people come, people go, genres come, genres go, you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow so I’m just thankful to be in a position to work and do all this stuff.”
I just try and have fun, get up on stage, and treat that show like it’s your last. If you’re not having fun why even do it, right?
With a recent signing to Disciple to be a part of what he calls a situation similar to the way the “Golden State Warriors put a bunch of big money players on one team in order to make a superteam to compete for a championship,” John envisions his ongoing legacy to be less about his own accolades and more about how he and other like-minded producers can continue to shape and influence the ever-evolving culture.
Throughout the interview, even when asked about his own legacy, John continually referenced other producers with the sort of wide-eyed awe that belies his own years and status in the scene. “Virtual Riot just moved out here, he’s one of my big inspirations. PhaseOne, he’s from Australia, he just moved out, both are huge inspirations, they’re both on Disciple. Both are two of the most talented dudes I’ve ever worked with; I’m talking musicianship-wise, playing instruments to straight writing dubstep, those guys are really gifted. Barely Alive. Oolacile. Lumberjvck. Working with Jake [Kill the Noise] is awesome, too. That dude is out of control in the studio. If you have a technique or idea or something that just needs to get done, he can do it, no plug-in. He can do it manually.”
So, what does John feel the legacy of 12th Planet will be when it’s all said and done? “I hope that people will remember me for being one of the guys pushing the genre from when it started to being there when it was at its absolute biggest all the way through to when it ends. I doubt it’s going to end but if it ever does, you know I’ll be there.”