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John Dadzie, better known as 12th Planet, is one of the reigning kings of American dubstep. He vividly remembers the first time heavy bass smacked him upside the head. It was the '90s. He was a teenager in Los Angeles. And after years of deep-house domination, the early, aggressive strains of electronic hardcore and Dutch gabber had finally crept into the California scene's underground crevices.
"A couple of friends and I went to a rave or whatever you want to call it, and we got to hear hardcore for the first time on a loud sound system," he recalls. "I just remember the shock value of this crazy bass going through your chest. It's 4 in the morning and you're delusional, and the bass is pounding inside!"
The experience was teeth-rattling, but also fiercely communal. "I was seeing this whole community of people rallied around the same kind of music and coming from all walks of life," he says. "It was a match made in heaven for me. All I wanted to do from then on was write this music and be involved with this music in any way possible."
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Later, when he discovered dubstep in the mid-'00s while touring England, he was hooked — and knew he had to help bring the sound back to the States. "The likes of Skream and Slaughter Mob and Hatcha, they were using these sounds from drum 'n' bass and putting it into garage or grime, and it really caught my ear," he says. "I came back to L.A. and started working on that stuff, even though at the time I could name only four or five people who had even heard of the word dubstep."
Straight away, Dadzie set about increasing that number by promoting dubstep rooms at drum 'n' bass parties and eventually cofounding the record label Smog and weekly party Pure Filth. "I think the weekly is what sparked the movement," he says. "I remember [UK producer] Caspa coming to play for his first time, and there were 100 people at that show. Then a year later, Caspa came and played the same venue for 1,000 people."
While 12th Planet has been a tireless booster for the U.S. dubstep scene, he also has been one of its best producers. Full of drilling synths, dragging snares, ominous vocal snippets, and brutal breakdowns, his tracks (and those on which he collaborates with fellow leading lights such as Flinch and Skrillex) are helping forge a new, boldly American strain of dubstep. But where some of his peers might go for the easy, crowd-pleasing tricks, 12th Planet is still all about experimentation and sonic evolution.
"People have the misconception that the West Coast sound is this rowdy, brostep-type, punk-rock wrestling match, when in fact it's like that everywhere except for maybe England," he says. "I would just categorize it as another step in the genre of dubstep."
And 12th Planet's forthcoming debut artist album is part of that next step, he says. The new set of original tracks, which currently has no release date — or definite label — will find Dadzie flirting with L.A.-style post-hip-hop and free-form beats, and even reaching back to drum 'n' bass and hardcore.
Don't worry, though — he's hardly abandoning the sound he worked so hard to establish in this country. "Of course, I'd love to be known as just an electronic artist. But let's face the facts: If it looks like a duck or quacks like a duck, it is a duck," he says. "I'm pretty much a duck, and I love dubstep. I wouldn't have it any other way."