It’s not really like underground versus mainstream in my opinion because dubstep is not mainstream.
Exactly four months ago I was standing in the balcony of the Congress Theatre in Chicago, watching 12th Planet bring down the house for the grand finale of Skrillex’s Mothership Tour. I remember vividly kids in the front row were holding a poster reading “IS THIS REAL LIFE?” I find myself asking myself the same question sometimes, especially when the same kids brought back the same sign to 12th Planet’s show on Thursday at Bottom Lounge in Chicago.
There’s no aire or flare when I sit down with John Dadzie, better known as 12th Planet. Handing me a beer, we kick off our conversation with some college football talk (Michigan Wolverines, if you were wondering). It felt more like a lazy Sunday afternoon, if it we weren’t in one of the green rooms of Bottom Lounge in Chicago a few hours before he goes on stage. Excitement and tension was building up outside the door, as the subs were turned on and the bass started making vibrations.
After the forefront of the dubstep scene in the US, John knows his stuff. Before the dub phenomenon, he was reigning under the moniker “Infiltrata” playing drum & bass style—dubstep’s precursor. In person Dadzie’s demeanor is frank, on-point and his depth of knowledge immediately apparent. His bullshit switch: off.
We were joined later by Jukali, who John introduced as the “OG” of dubstep. He was doing a live performance that night of 12th Planet’s “Reasons.” While the green room was a mix of new and old faces, the banter was all friendly and relaxed interrupted by a cig break here and there. As his set time draws closer, John stands up in anticipation, and isolates himself a bit—clearly focused. Minutes later, he’s walking on stage to a crowd already shining with sweat and ready to hear it from the best—and return the favor—taking John for a crowd surf and responding with sheer enthusiasm when he would walk in front of the decks. Backstage it was abuzz with how both sides of the stage were having a blast—showing how a smaller show can pack quite as big a punch as massive concerts. Once again, there were no aires and no flares. It was just him, the crowd, the music.
Why do you think dubstep took so well in the US?
I think it was more of a thing where dubstep, in its early form stateside, was only presented in 21-and-up venues. Then, when promoters started getting wind that it was selling tickets, they switched the format to 18 plus and it was over-night big. This was around summer of 2008—which is when 18 plus became the new thing. And then it’s like when it’s the teenagers who are listening to the music their older brother and sister or friends are, or heard it at a rave or a fucking party somewhere the crowd just gets younger. Dubstep specifically kinda made the switch from being in the 21-and-up clubs to being able to sell hard tickets venues… where 16 and 17 year-olds can go to shows and enjoy.
Are you a fan of this change?
Yes and no. I really like the fact that the people can go out and see which artist they like and stuff they like. I miss the club culture a little bit because that’s what I come from, but the only thing constant is change I guess, just gotta embrace it.
You’re treat right now would be going back to a club and playing at a smaller venue?
Yea I love those ones.
I’m not trying to set a limit of how much I cost—I’m not a prostitute.
Do you get a lot of those, or would you say those are more underground?
Those are a lot more underground, yea. Most of my shows are at hard ticket venues and you know they’re like LiveNation or Insomniac and fuckin’ Golden Voice and stuff like that. There’s not that many local promoters that are really working...
Do they not want to reach out to you anymore because you’re so big now?
That and because of the price range. I’m not trying to set a limit of how much I cost—I’m not a prostitute, but if someone’s like, “Yo, we’ll give you like this many zeroes to play,” and these guys are like, “Wow we can only give two zeroes, you gotta’ be realistic.”
You took your name from Zecharia Sitchin’s book 12th Planet. What resonated with you so much about it?
I went to Catholic school for fourteen years of my life and I always wondered about the origins of biblical names like Adam and Eve and Noah. All of the stories didn’t really make sense to me until I read that book and I was like: “Oh my life has changed.” It was kind of like the predecessor story to the Bible and to the Greek pantheonand the Vedas and every major religion. It just all made sense and all connected with the number twelve in this book. So I kind of wanted that and I wanted to have a deeper name so that at first glance it sounds all spaced out and smokey and stoney and acid-y. But then when you actually did the research there’s like some crazy shit behind it.
Would you say you’re into religious theory?
I’m not really into religious theory, but I love mythology and I love the stories.
What’s your favorite myth?
Perseus and the Minotaur, I like that one a lot. Pandora’s box, that’s a really good one. King Midas. Icarus flying so close to the sun that his wings burned off—I love that one too.
So have you read all the books in the 12th Planet series?
What’s your retort to people who say dubstep isn’t music? What would you say to them?
I’d say you’re probably right. It’s definitely not music.
So what would you describe it as?
Uh, it’s a massage. It’s a bass-based... vibrating massage. And at the end of it, it’s like it’s a golden spa. Best treatment ever, you come out a new person.
Infiltrata, any inspiration for that moniker?
Yea, that moniker came from when I was 16 or 17 when I made first trip to Canada to go to parties and make music and stuff, and one of my main influences was this guy “Mystical Influence.” He lived in Hart Lake. I was always asking questions like “When did this record come out?” “What’s this?” and they were like “Oh you’re just infiltrating and taking all our knowledge and taking it back to the USA.”
Would you say he’s like your guru?
He’s like my guru yea. ‘Cause no one in LA really gave me the time of day, because I was just a young dumbass kid you know? And all those guys were like making fuck tons of money just DJing.
So Canada looks like a starting spot.
Yea, especially for drum & bass, man that’s like the home. It really blew up back in Denver and then it spread to LA.
Why do you think Canada was such a hotbed?
Because English artists don’t need a visa to play in Canada.
So you brought dubstep from Canada?
No I heard it first in England. I was touring under my drum & bass moniker, that’s where I got exposed.
People often say that older dubstep is a lot different from the newer style, so how did it evolve and how it took that direction?
I think it has a lot to do with technology, really. Because in its infancy, it was kind of very minimal and like a garage beat and a sine wave with an LFO. As technology got better, smaller, cheaper, faster, the production got better. It also had to do with a lot of the guys that were producing drum & bass—to produce drum & bass it takes a really talented engineer because the music is so fast and it’s so much stuff. It’s hard to fit all that into something so fast. There’s no space for the beat to breathe. So once drum & bass guys got a hold of it, they’re like, “Wow, so much slower! So much room!” You can do so much with it and that just stepped everyone’s production up.
One word, the Grammys.
Skrillex, fuck yea!
Is there a big division between mainstream and underground dubstep?
Nah dubstep is dubstep. It’s not really like underground versus mainstream in my opinion because dubstep is not mainstream. Even though Skrillex got Grammy noms, until I hear like Katy Perry sing on a dubstep record and it goes number one all around the world kind of like what Rihanna and Calvin Harris’s song did, then I’ll say dubstep is mainstream.
There are just so many different faces to dubstep. You have this heavy metal kind of shit that Korn’s doing which is awesome, and then you have the more jump-up drum & bass-influenced dubstep that people like Doctor P and Flux Pavillion are doing. And then you have the whole electro rave kind of dubstep that people like Skrillex are doing, you know. It’s very musical with as much shock value as possible. Then you have people like James Blake, shit like that where it’s super minimal and vocal and more R&B influenced... there’s even Christian dubstep.
Remaining dates for The End Is Near Tour North American Tour:
Feb 24 Phoenix, AZ @ Madison Events Center
Feb 25 Las Vegas, NV @ Hard Rock
Feb 26 San Diego, CA @ Voyeur
Feb 28 Orange County, CA @ Dubtroit
Feb 29 Los Angeles, CA @ Avalon Hollywood (*venue change)
March 1 San Francisco, CA @ Mighty
March 2 Portland, OR @ Roseland
March 3 Eugene, OR @ Wow Hall