John Dadzie is swiveling back and forth in an office chair at his tidy downtown loft, surrounded by computers, synthesizers and an antiquated mixing board. This is where Dadzie transforms into 12th Planet, the DJ and producer responsible for bringing the emerging electronic strain of dubstep to America. In fact, with the help of his roommates — his manager and his tour manager — this spot has effectively become the center of the stateside dubstep universe. The genre's biggest star, Skrillex, uses Dadzie's sofa as a crash pad after studio sessions.
Usually found in jeans, a T-shirt and a baseball cap, Dadzie is black and sports a Van Dyke. Unlike other DJs, who foster larger-than-life images, he's got a boy-next-door appeal and a charming smile, both of which belie the bass-heavy, half-time apocalyptic sounds he's known for. When he caught wind of dubstep, it was emerging from London's underground dance clubs in the mid-aughts. With his help, it migrated to L.A. and now dominates the U.S. festival circuit, and even the frat house.
Though he shrugs off his influence, Dadzie has been showered with attention from everyone from Urb to Spin, while local promoter Drew Best calls him the “Johnny Appleseed of dubstep.” Dadzie's an influential producer: His recent The End Is Near! EP features the genre's hottest studio wizards — but he has the soul of a DJ, and an uncanny ability for trend spotting. He helped popularize Canadian producer Datsik, and he championed Skrillex before most had heard of him, long before he was on the cover of L.A. Weekly and Billboard. Dadzie asked Skrillex to collaborate; Skrillex returned the favor by bringing him along on his first headlining tour this past fall.
Dadzie also anchors L.A.'s internationally renowned dubstep crew and record label Smog, which throws parties at Dim Mak Studios in Hollywood and Dubtroit at the Constellation Room in Santa Ana. In only five years, Smog has become one of the most important parties in the area, packing houses at the Echo and House of Blues and featuring top U.K. talents such as Benga, Plastician and Caspa.
Dadzie's knack for evangelizing new music is bolstered by his outgoing personality and charm. He's open to all genres, serves as a great teacher and even cracks good jokes. “I think it's really funny how my generation of ravers wore really big clothes, and now ravers wear no clothes,” he says with a laugh.
The youngest of four children, Dadzie grew up in South L.A. He won't reveal his age but, considering he graduated from high school in 2000, he's likely 29 or 30.
Taking up piano in sixth grade, he later worked out covers of Sublime and Rage Against the Machine songs on bass and guitar. He excelled at basketball and volleyball at all-boys Jesuit institution Loyola High School, but before long, electronic music began dominating his time. He and his classmates flocked to raves.
It was the late 1990s, and L.A. underground parties were drawing young, multiracial crowds from every corner of the city. Dadzie recalls kids dressed in rainbow colors and Mickey Mouse gloves in the main dance areas, but he was drawn to the parties' smaller rooms, where DJs spun drum & bass. Even among dance music fans, that subgenre — with its quick tempo and pummeling beats — was outsider territory, but Dadzie became intrigued by both the music and the scene's tight-knit community.
He pursued the strain after high school but was still young and found the rave circuit hard to penetrate. So he started rapping, spitting verses at events where he could get his DJ mixes and production work into the hands of promoters. He dropped out of Santa Monica College to perform full-time and moved to Orange County, where he embedded himself in the local drum & bass community. There's been no looking back. “I've never had a real job,” he says. “I mean, I worked at GameStop once, if that counts.”
He went by the moniker Infiltrata, and his frenzied beats began to draw notice. He began playing out of town and eventually booked European tours, releasing material on Grammy-nominated producer Photek's label, Tekbdz. While playing in the United Kingdom, Dadzie became captivated by artists like Londoner Skream, who played something he called “slow drum & bass.” It wasn't until Dadzie returned to the States that he realized this weird sound taking over across the pond was dubstep. He began incorporating the style into his own sets, and by 2006 was making dubstep under the name 12th Planet, taken from Zecharia Sitchin's alien-focused tome The 12th Planet.
Local promoter Drew Best contacted Dadzie for the dubstep party he was starting, which became known as Smog. “At that time, people didn't know anything about dubstep,” Best says, adding that because Dadzie was a known drum & bass name, he helped draw fans to the new genre. As a partner in the venture — and the face of the crew — Dadzie helped take Smog from local parties to events in Austin, Chicago and beyond. The Smog label, meanwhile, has put out dubstep from Datsik and Flinch, as well as several of Dadzie's own releases.
Best credits Dadzie for planting half-time beats like seeds across the United States. “From there, you've got all these people who are trying to figure out what dubstep is,” Best says. “They don't know a lot of these big names [from] London, but they know who 12th Planet is.”
But Dadzie isn't just playing parties, he's also building a community that bridges dubstep with other varieties of electronic dance music. From his years on the road he has befriended DJs around the world, and when they're in town they'll swing by Dadzie's studio. (In fact, many live adjacent to him downtown, including Skrillex, Dave Nada and Dillon Francis.) He and his pals are frequently booked at parties with massive, multistage lineups, like Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival.
Though they don't have much in the way of radio crossover hits, they're managing to lead the biggest party circuit the United States has seen in ages. All over North America, kids are heading to deserts, forests and even out to sea by the tens of thousands. For this generation of ravers, officially sanctioned electronic gatherings serve the same function secret warehouse parties did for the previous one.
“Big festivals are the new destination spot,” Dadzie says. “Instead of going to the resort in Puerta Vallarta, you're going to the rave in Arkansas.”
Indeed, in May Dadzie will perform in the Arkansas Ozarks at Wakarusa, a multiday event fusing rock bands and electronic artists, which draws more than 10,000 people.
Dadzie played no small role in this dance-music explosion, though he's reluctant to take credit. “Dubstep was around way before I came into the picture,” he insists. Which is true, of course, but only in the same way that apples were around before Johnny Appleseed started doing his thing.
12th Planet performs at Avalon on Feb. 29.