October 2, 2014

12th Planet: The King’s Tour

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Athens, Ga.—Overlooking a typical downtown-Saturday-night street scene from the Georgia Theatre’s rooftop bar, it was hard not to entertain a degree of irony.

Why? In a couple hours, this newly rebuilt venue—in a town known for its longtime devotion to traditional musicianship and all things rock-n-roll—would be a sold-out madhouse for an EDM event, a dubstep show no less. What a difference a generation makes, right?

But the “Mothership Tour” had hit town, so just over 1,000 Athenians—many of them University of Georgia students on Winter Break—were ready to rage to the sub-bursting sounds of Skrillex, 12th Planet, Two Fresh and Nadastrom.

And rage they did. Up third on the bill, 12th Planet warmed up the Grammy-grabbing headliner with a set that leaned a little more hip-hop than his often-devastating dubstep flavors. No matter, he worked the crowd into a proper lather. By the time Skrillex was finishing the evening with his punishing mix of Avicii’s “Levels,” the venue was in a full-on frenzy. With each seismic bass drop, fans pogoed, sweat flying off their heads, hands and fists shooting skyward. Girls were screaming like it was a Beatles concert. Genuine madness.

At that moment, I pointed to the heaving squall of humanity and asked a bartender, “Ever seen anything like this in here?”

She paused for a second and, with an unconvincing shrug, offered, “Well, it gets crazy in here for Widespread Panic…”

“This crazy?” I counter, not letting on that I’m a former Athens resident. “I find that hard to believe.”

But one does suspect that, these days, there are many more “rock towns” that have begun to evolve and similarly embrace the bass-quaking sounds of dubstep. It’s truly a moment of cultural shift. And while Skrillex may be getting most of the attention and scooping up the trophies along the way, it’s his old L.A. pal 12th Planet (aka John Dadzie) who’s taking his music to the people with an equal fervency.

Fact is, of all the current L.A.-based dubstep DJ/producers, 12th Planet was the one most ahead of the game, shifting from drum-n-bass (when he was known as Infiltrata) to the emerging subsonic genre back in 2006. Since then, he’s released scads of singles, often collaborating with dubstep’s biggest talents (Skrillex, Rusko and Skream), and he’s been the face of SMOG, an L.A.-based dubstep brand, which performs music-label and event-promotion duties. Among other events, 12th Planet’s Dubtroit parties are among the genre’s longest running and most successful in America. Additionally, like several of the other top dubstep producers, 12th Planet was tabbed by Korn to contribute to their genre-crashing CD, The Path to Totality (Roadrunner).

Fast forward two months from Athens to NYC’s Webster Hall, where 12th Planet’s headlining a stop on his own multi-city jaunt, “The End Is Near Tour” (with support from Flinch, Kill the Noise and Kastle). Like the Georgia Theatre, the joint’s jammed and going mental to every wobble, every drop, every familiar melody. Big cuts from “The End Is Near” EP (Scion/SMOG), like the gut-quivering “Burst” (a Skrillex collab) and the anthemic title tune, connect in a big way. By the middle of 12th Planet’s end, it was hard not to look out at the floor and see much more than trendy fans getting their collective groove on—no, this was a room full of believers.

I never thought I’d feel old saying that I like techno, but these days, EDM’s most frantic energy is coming from bass-oriented music and its youth-dominated circle of events. Whether it’s Starscape in Baltimore or Bassgasm in Minneapolis, the kids are having it. The genre belongs to them. And, crucially, there’s a deep well of DJ talent—like 12th Planet—making investments in the genre’s very promising future. Dubstep, it seems, ain’t going away anytime soon.

We caught up with 12th Planet in Athens and Manhattan—it went like this.

DJ Times: You just flew in today to re-join the “Mothership Tour.” How was last night’s gig?

12th Planet: Last night, I was at Beta in Denver for my first sold-out show there. I play that market a lot—it’s the biggest dubstep/bass-music market in America—so to finally sell it out meant a lot to me. The crowd was awesome. The energy was cool.

DJ Times: I saw some of the reviews on Facebook today. Seems like it really went off.

12th Planet: I couldn’t believe it, man. It was just one of those nights when everything worked.

DJ Times: OK, so let’s get into your beginnings. You were very much a part of that crazy L.A. rave scene, right?

12th Planet: Yeah, that was, like, 1997. I was into DJs like Ron D. Core, Rob Gee, RAW, Deacon, Tron—those were the first ones I had mix tapes from. Before that, I was listening to whatever was on Power 106 radio in L.A., people like Swedish Egil and Richard “Humpty” Vission and DJ Enrie—they shaped the foundation of electronic music in my head. Before that, I didn’t know what house music was.

DJ Times: So how did that music begin to get into your blood?

12th Planet: When I was in the 6th, 7th and 8th grade, my friends and I were having what we called “kickbacks” and we’d just hang out at somebody’s house and listen to music—no booze or anything like that. We didn’t have turntables, but we had recorded sessions of Power 106. We’d play that and just dance and try to grind on girls and stuff [laughs].

DJ Times: So how did you make the transition from even more underground house music and, eventually, to more bass-oriented music?

12th Planet: I mean, house was my first idea of what this music was. Then I got to high school. I went to this all-boys school called Loyola in the center of downtown Los Angeles, but everyone comes from all over—5,000 apply, 500 get in. It’s a big football school. Anyway, I was with all these kids listening to electronic music—way more than my previous school. I got into hardcore, then I got into gabber, then I got into jungle.

DJ Times: A natural progression, really. There was a moment back then when it seemed like drum-n-bass was going to take over, but it never really did. It always did well in L.A., but in only select areas in the States.

12th Planet: I think it didn’t take off nationally for three reasons. One, there was no social media at the time. There was no Facebook, Twitter or MySpace to push the music forward. At the same time, too, there was nothing like a Napster. You didn’t really know who made the music and there was no easy way that allowed you to share the music. And third, it was just too connected with the rave culture, which had a negative connotation. You had those “crackhouse laws” and everything. People just figured that everyone who listened to this music was on drugs, so it wasn’t going to be played on the radio.

DJ Times: How did you get into deeper, dubby sounds? Were you hearing the music coming out of South London?

12th Planet: Yeah! When I was younger, I played guitar, bass, drums, and piano. I played in a lot of ska/reggae cover bands and a lot of punk and hip-hop/crossover bands, and I was always influenced by reggae culture. Then I got into jungle and drum-n-bass and that was heavily influenced by sound systems, and so I started producing drum-n-bass in 1999. I got really, really into it.

DJ Times: How so?

12th Planet: I got professional about it in 2002—and by professional, I mean getting paid to play and produce. Then I started touring around Europe, so I was touring England so much from 2002 to 2006-2007 that I saw the natural development of dubstep. At first, it was just a side-room option. I think it was Zed Bias, Oris Jay and this group Slaughter Mob. I heard them DJ, and I said, “What is this music? It sounds like slow drum-n-bass.” It wasn’t until [BBC Radio 1 DJ] Mary Anne Hobbs came out with her “Dubstep Warz” show that everything clicked.

DJ Times: Why has bass-oriented music taken off so much now in the States?

12th Planet: I think a large part of it—maybe 60-percent—is because of social media. Then 40-percent of it is technology just getting better. I mean, 15 years ago, you didn’t have, like, Native Instruments synths like MASSIVE, RAZOR, REAKTOR. You didn’t have access to such things that made such cool sounds. Back then, in order to make those kinds of noises, you had to buy a sampler, learn how to use it, get a mixing board, hook it up, have a big $3,000 compressor, you know? Everything was basically off-limits to people. In order to get into this stuff, you had to have 15 grand.

DJ Times: Now that more people have access to technology, they’re embracing it and, eventually, the cream rises. You must get bombarded with new music, right?

12th Planet: It’s gotten to the point where I’ve had to turn off AIM and iChat just because I was getting flooded. I’d go away for a week and just leave on AIM, and when I got back, my hard drives were loaded. It’s just impossible to go through all that music.

DJ Times: It seems like this generation of kids is a little more open-minded about music and embracing many of the genres and subgenres. Wasn’t always like that. Do you see that, too?

12th Planet: Yeah, it’s become such a big melting pot. It’s just about kids having a good time. A lot of the same kids who listen to dubstep or drum-n-bass also listen to Metallica or Britney Spears or Katy Perry or whatever, and this tour’s a prime example of what’s going on. If you listen to my set, I’ll play a dubstep song, then the next track will be Waka Flocka Flame and the whole crowd will sing the lyrics, then I might play a moombahton song and the crowd’ll know that one. It’s like there’s no genre classifications. It’s the same thing with the set from Skrillex. He’ll play 15 minutes of each genre as his whole set for 90 minutes. He’ll play a Notorious B.I.G. song and everyone will sing along. This is Skrillex, king of EDM…

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