Representing the West Coast from Day One, the original basshead known as 12th Planet seems even more excited than usual when we touch down to chat up his upcoming headlining slot at Exchange on August 18 for the Bassrush family.
With an infectious love for bass music in all its forms making 12th Planet a favorite no matter where he goes, the Los Angeles-based producer/DJ is perhaps best known for his seminal role in the foundation and evolution of the SMOG imprint and club night. Alongside co-founders Drew Best and Danny United, 12th Planet and the rest of the SMOG faithful helped put the States on the map in terms of representing and pushing dubstep culture from the very beginning. Now he and the crew are staring down the label’s 10-year anniversary and they’ve got a mix of special treats planned, including an epic album compilation from the SMOG family.
So whether you knew him from his drum & bass days as John Dada MC or Infiltrata, or the OG dubstepper 12th Planet or just straight up the homie John, sit tight for this wide-ranging chat at the SMOG compound in downtown L.A. that not only celebrates his roots but looks ahead to the legacy he plans to leave behind when it’s all said and done.
Bass music the most popular it’s ever been and it’s only going to get more popular, so where I see myself is almost like a reflection or a historian of it all, you know? I play what’s hot and I’m always going to be where it’s hot.
Hard to believe it’s been 10 years! Take us back to the beginning and how SMOG originally came to be.
Yeah, it’s crazy. The music had been bubbling up over here but there were no crews or artists really pushing it so [SMOG co-founder Drew Best] decided he wanted to throw an all-dubstep party under the name SMOG. The problem was the music was so new that he needed to find a bunch of dudes that could spin at least 30 minutes of dubstep each, which was hard at the time because there just wasn’t nearly enough stuff out and no one was spinning it yet. Remember this was when it was only on vinyl and the only place you could buy dubstep in L.A. was at the Temple of Boom and that section was like a little bin with 20 motherfuckers fighting over it. Anyways, long story short, Drew hit me up, and was like, Yo dude, you got an hour’s worth of dubstep that you could play? I did but I was going to Germany to go play as Infiltrata, you know? That took precedent at the time so I didn’t even get to play the first SMOG party.
Were you already producing dubstep at that time?
I was producing dubstep as Infiltrata. None of those tunes ever saw the light of day because there was no drum & bass labels that wanted to release a dubstep record back then.
What was that first year like?
We knew we were onto something because there were just as many people at the all-dubstep parties as there were at the drum & bass parties. At the time the messageboard over at junglescene.com was where everyone got all their information about drum & bass parties in L.A. and I remember Hera [a mutual friend] dropped a post about how dubstep was “the panty dropper” and people better get with the program. It was kind of a troll but that post got so much attention that you could start to feel like this wave of interest turn. At first people were like, what the fuck is dubstep, and you had mad haters who to this day don’t fuck with dubstep but then Big Sam started having BBQ parties at the [Temple of Boom] record store and that brought a lot of people together who were down with that side of things and the scene spread like wildfire after that.
When did the idea for a label come about?
Probably somewhere around 2008? We had the “bedroom idea” around then, you know, where we have all these dudes—Pawn, Emu, myself, DLX and Knife Dreams—who were all based out of L.A., who’d love to start making music under an umbrella so why not SMOG? People were scared to do digital back then so we didn’t want to have no part of that either. We were like, We’re going to get a vinyl [production and distribution deal] and figure it out ourselves, you know? We ended up doing three releases on vinyl before we realized that shit was not worth it at all. I’m not going to name names, but they would say, You guys are doing great, you sold this many records, but by the way, the labels cost this much, the sleeves cost this much, the master cost this and blah-blah-blah. In the end they made all money and we didn’t get shit, but it ended up working out because it made us move to digital which ended up giving us an international presence in a way we hadn’t expected.
When you’re producing, are you conscious of genre?
Not really. You know when you have a spontaneous mix you do in the club, where you bring two tunes together and you’re like, Oh shit, that shit worked, like those two songs just go together so well that it would be sick if that was a song? That’s about as far as I get in terms of thinking of genre. I’m not really copying styles to keep up but more inspired by random moments like that.
You love to collaborate, too. I’m guessing the two are connected?
It goes back to why I love back-to-back DJ sets and that feeling of being in a group and having synergy with someone else. In the studio, it’s someone picking you up when you’re down and you picking them up when they’re down, you’re having that person’s back in the session. Sometimes that person may have a sick idea for a riff but they don’t believe in it but you like it and you don’t let it go. The words I love hearing the most in a collab are, “You know what would be cool?” There’s always some new aspect to the tune that can be explored because when you work solo everything is a confidence thing. “Am I confident enough to finish this?” Half the time shit gets scratched but in a collab there’s no room for scratching tunes. If that didn’t work, ok let’s go in a new direction—Bam!
This seems like the direct result of you only doing in-person collaborations.
That’s right, I don’t do any collabs online at all, none of that shit. I only do collabs in the room and literally pretty much only in this room [the SMOG studio]. I’m blessed being in L.A. as a lot of people come into town and every week there’s someone new here so it’s easy to get synergy going.
Do you have a master calendar where you’re scheduling studio time with people?
Nah, everything is spontaneous. Lumberjvck, Protohype, Virtual Riot, Dodge & Fuski, and Dubloadz probably come over the most. Those dudes are like my main squeezes. The best thing about collabs is getting knowledge from the other person. They’re like, Oh man, did you hear about what happened in Morocco today or did you check that new game for the PS4 that just came out?
Like real-world knowledge, like news from the outside world?
Yeah, real knowledge! [Laughs] I mean, on top of music knowledge too, sometimes the homie just downloaded a new plugin. “Check out this new Izotope vocal synth, what the fuck is that?”…and then bam, they show you show some shit and you’re like, I’m buying that. I would’ve never heard of Valhalla Shimmer unless I did a collab with Lumberjvck. He showed me that and now that’s one of my favorite reverbs.
You got to keep it fresh for yourself too, I imagine.
Definitely, I have to stay up to date, stay relevant, keep my ears to the streets but still be innovative at the same time. I love this music so much I just want to keep doing it. I’m like in the DNA of the fabric of that shit. Back in the day it was so easy to keep up with everything because it was all on vinyl and there was like 30 releases a week or whatever, you could just study them and you already knew how the scene was evolving. Now there’s SoundCloud and Spotify and all these things; you can’t keep up, it’s impossible, not even with one sub-genre.
When we look at how bass music has evolved over the years, where do you see yourself fitting in?
Bass music now is more popular than it’s ever been. I’m talking drum & bass, bass house, dubstep, UK garage, trap, future, whatever. It’s the most popular it’s ever been and it’s only going to get more popular, so where I see myself is almost like a reflection or a historian of it all, you know? I play what’s hot and I’m always going to be where it’s hot, meaning if it hypes me then it’s something I want to play. I guess I’m selfish like that.