On a rainy Los Angeles morning, Daniel Johnson — Danny to pretty much everyone who knows him — is giving a tour of the downtown pad where he and roommate John Dadzie, aka DJ/producer 12th Planet, live and work. There are Pioneer CDJs hooked up to a club-style speaker system. Concert posters, including one from a Rolling Stones show that Johnson helped organize, hang from the walls.
In the back is a studio. On a normal day, producers will venture in and out of the room to work on new tracks. Right now, Dadzie is stretched out on a sofa, while ESPN plays on a TV behind the recording gear.
Together with Drew Best (who wasn't present at this interview), Johnson and Dadzie form the core of Smog, the party promotion team/record label that ignited L.A.'s fascination with dubstep. Saturday night, at downtown's Regent Theater, Smog celebrates eight years on the scene.
It was Best who first conceived of Smog. Johnson had been doing dubstep parties separately and joined up with the crew two years later.
Together, they have organized more events than Johnson can count. That includes everything from warehouse bashes to after-parties for festivals like Coachella and EDC. Both Dadzie and Best, who does live visuals, tour often. Their label has released oodles of records from the likes of Flinch, Datsik and Antiserum.
The years blur together now, but sometime around 2009 or 2010, Smog hit its stride. They got Caspa, a British producer beloved in the scene, to play for 900 people in a warehouse space. A few weeks later, 12th Planet joined another scene king, Rusko, at Avalon.
Then there was the time that Dadzie, as 12th Planet, brought his friend Sonny — you might know him as Skrillex — up on stage at Avalon for a collaboration. They repeated the performance at EDC. Soon, Skrillex was a rave star. 12th Planet was booking big festival gigs and Smog was in-demand.
Dubstep, long popular in the U.K. and elsewhere overseas, had finally hit big in America. The deep, bass-y music brought a new crowd into dance parties.
The dubstep explosion presented a lot of opportunities for Smog, but there were challenges as well. Key artists in the scene were no longer available to play the promoters' parties. And when team Smog hit the festivals, the expectations on them differed as well.
“The whole scene changed and I think what people expected from us in a festival setting is sort of different from what we wanted to project,” says Johnson.
When asked exactly what changed, he answers simply, “Drops.”
You know the drop when you hear it. Dadzie describes this convention of dance floor dubstep as akin to the roar of a jet plane or a ship's engine: “You feel it in your stomach, that anxiety, fight or flight response.”
The drop became a climactic moment that partygoers wanted on repeat. “It became really just about those few moments, instead of this whole night of — I don't know — energy,” says Johnson.
The genre hit its own peak. At one point, you could hear it blasting from cars across Los Angeles and feel it seep out of the headphones of kids on the Metro. The music infiltrated commercials. Then it became the subject of parody, with a particularly brilliant sketch on Key & Peele.
Eventually, dubstep headed back underground. The guys from Smog took that as a chance to strategize.
“We started off as a very specific thing and served a very specific purpose, uniting all these people through this one sound,” says Johnson. “I think what we were about is cultivating the culture side of things through the parties, creating a vibe. It never really was about the biggest drop.”
With their eighth anniversary quickly approaching, Smog is, in a way, getting back to its roots.
“I think Smog is a pillar in the dubstep community and it's going to continue,” says Dadzie, adding, “When people think, 'What is dubstep?' I hope they look at Smog.”