12th Planet Talks Dubstep, Brostep, and Why Skrillex is the Future
Tomorrow marks dubstep ambassador 12th Planet's much-anticipated return to Miami, when he'll headline an evening at Grand Central rounded out by Juan Basshead, MC Jumanji, Animal Krackerz, and Mike Deuce.
We reached him recently to chat about the past and current state of heavy bass. But there was too much to fit in our preview of the party. So we posted part one of the interview last week, in which he discussed dubstep's hardcore roots and his friendship with Miami's DJ Craze.
And now here's part two of the full Q&A with 12th Planet. We discussed his first discovery of dubstep, the genre's American flavor, and the success of his protege Skrillex.
Crossfade: You got your start producing and MCing in the drum 'n' bass scene. In the late '90s and around 2000 the scene was huge, but then a lot of producers started turning away from the genre and it got really heavy with sounds like tech-step. Did you ever have a point where drum 'n' bass started feeling stale or like you wanted to look at something else?
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12th Planet: Oh yeah, that's definitely true. It wasn't necessarily because the music got hard, per se. It was more like, the ideas weren't developing. Drum 'n' bass, in my opinion, was all about experimentation and making an amalgamation of different genres of music, but under this one uniform speed, which was 175 or 170 bpm. It didn't matter how it sounded, as long as it was at 175 bpm, it was drum 'n' bass to me.
I got so used to the sound, I just wanted to hear something different. I think that's what drew me towards dubstep. Back in the early days of dubstep, maybe 2005, 2006, I was touring really hard as a drum 'n' bass DJ in England, so I got to see the birth of actual dubstep from the likes of Skream and Slaughter Mob and Hatcha, and all these kinds of guys. I got to see the beginning of that, and they were using noises from drum 'n' bass , but putting it into garage, or grime, or this new half-time beat that really caught my ear.
I thought it was something new, and I wanted to experiment in it. So after hearing all that stuff, I came back to L.A. and started working on it. And at that time, I could name only four or five people who had even heard of the word "dubstep." But I just got hooked, and that's the only way I can explain it. I really liked experimenting in the genre, and really doing something different other than d'n'b, even though at first I looked at all different and might have been treated as a "sellout."
A sellout from what, drum 'n' bass?
Yeah, in the beginning there was a negative stigma with dubstep with the drum 'n' bass audience. Everybody thought it was like, fake drum 'n' bass. They thought it wouldn't last, the production wasn't that great.
And yet some of those people praised that certain millennial two-step sound, which turned out to be relatively short-lived.
Yeah. I listened to that, but I wasn't drawn to it like I was drawn to dubstep. The thing that drew me the most to dubstep was that it sounded like new drum 'n' bass, but not rip-off drum 'n' bass.
An evolution of the genre?
Yeah, it seemed like the next step, the natural evolution of the sound I liked. And I've been following drum 'n' bass since before it was drum 'n' bass, when it was breakbeat, hardcore, and jungle. So I just figured it was a natural progression.
At what point did you notice people were getting more into dubstep in L.A.?
I think it was the formation of Smog and Pure Filth. We all banded together to start the awareness of it by putting dubstep rooms in drum 'n' bass parties. There was this record store here in LA called Temple of Boom, and they were among the first people to have dubstep sold in the store. They were also doing these picnics that would have dubstep featured there, and from that, people got to hear what the music was, and found out who the artists were. Then the movement got created as soon as the weekly called Pure Filth got started. It was the first dubstep weekly in the Los Angeles area.
Granted, there were other places that had monthlies, like New York had Dub War, and San Francisco had Grime City. But it was the first one in L.A., and I think the weekly is what sparked the movement. It started with maybe 40 or 50 people going to hear what the sound was. I remember Caspa coming to play for his first time, and there only being 100 people at that show. Then a year later, Caspa came and played the same venue, but for 1000 people.
So I think it was the weekly that had a lot to do wit the formation of the movement. It was easy for promoters to come see what dubstep was, and aside from the weekly, my brand, Smog, we started doing monthlies around LA which had a bigger capacity. We started filling out those kinds of rooms, so we knew there was potential for the sound, that people were starting to get into it, and they were starting to get as hooked as us.
Granted, we didn't think it would be where it is now, today. There was no way of foreseeing that!
Electro reigned supreme in LA, and by electro I mean the Dim Mak Tuesdays and the Heist Thursdays and the MSTRKRFTs and Steve Aokis. All those guys were the most influential people in the electronic music scene in LA.., and that sound was the big cultural movement here, and we were just kind of on the sidelines, doing our own thing.
You do a lot of stuff with Skrillex, though, and he's always seen with Steve Aoki now. So do you think those guys are coming back around and that those things have reversed?
I guess from the outside looking in it would seem like those guys are just now getting into it. But I've known Sonny -- Skrillex -- for a long time, and even when he was in bands and stuff he was always producing electronic music and coming out to the dubstep parties, and he's always been coming out to the drum 'n' bass parties and all the electronic music parties.
if the kid wasn't on a tour bus, he was experiencing life and hearing this side of music. It's no new thing for him, although it seems like Skrillex came out of nowhere. But he's always been around. He's writing pivotal music, and now the spotlight is on him.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have of him?
I've heard so many misconceptions about him. When he got eight out of the top 10 slots on Beatport, people were like, "Oh, he doesn't even write his own music." Or, "Well, he bought his own songs on Beatport, 1000 billion times, and that's why they all went to number one." I've heard that he's not even human, he's like a cyborg.
The fact of the matter is that the kid is the most talented electronic musician of our time, in my honest opinion. The guy can pick up the guitar and play like Eddie Vedder or one of these crazy guitarists, or he can pick up a drum set and sound like the best of the drummers. He can pick up piano and play the piano.
He's so musically inclined, and he's so hard-working and driven by the love of making music, that that's all he even cares about. It shows in his music that he's just so talented. I guess that's the only thing to say.
So that's the biggest misconception that people have, that he's not who he is, if that makes sense. But Skrillex is real. When you hear the music, that's Skrillex coming out. It's beautiful, it's musical, and it's uplifting, but also face-punching and face-melting at the same time. You go through all these diff emotions when you hear his music.
You use words like "face-punching" and "face-melting" and those are the kinds of terms that get thrown around a lot with his sound, and with a lot of new artists from the West Coast in general. Do you think West Coast dubstep has its own specific harder flavor, or its own sound?
I wouldn't say that the West Coast or East Coast or any coast has a specific sound. We could go to Russia and have the same West Coast lineup, and the kids in Russia would react the same as us. Or we could go to Australia and New Zealand and play the same West Coast sound, and they would still appreciate it and love it because it's their sound too.
I think people have gotten the misconception that the West Coast sound is this rowdy, bro-step type, punk rock wrestling match, when, in fact, it's like that everywhere except for maybe England.
With that being said, yeah, the sound that you're describing, I wouldn't categorize it was West Coast, I would just categorize it as another step in the genre of dubstep. Because the same music that's getting played here is getting played everywhere.
Earlier when we were talking about your upcoming original artist album, you said it could be dubstep, it might be other new music. What other sounds are you experimenting with right now?
I'm experimenting with beats, like the whole Low End Theory-type stuff. I've gotten really into this free-form music. I've also gotten back into drum 'n' bass, and maybe some club beats and some going back to hardcore. I just want to make an album that represents everything that's influenced me as an artist.
The Low End Theory guys are all really blowing up right now too. In the early days of Smog and your weekly, did you have much contact with them?
No. It was kind of strange, because the Low End Theory movement at that time was more rooted in hip-hop, and it was an extension of this big crew called Project Blowed, and also Konkrete Jungle, which was an old drum 'n' bass night in L.A.
So Low End Theory was kind of a mixture between those two scenes, and also the band scene and the East L.A. scene. So I think when dubstep was first sprouting, all eyes were really on electro music and drum 'n' bass, but not really on dubstep and that movement. But it's kind of cool to see how it's taken off and become more musical, with people like Thom Yorke and Erykah Baduh and all those people embracing the Low End Theory movement.
Now that dubstep is so popular, do you think it's in danger of reaching a saturation point, or do you think there's still room for it to evolve?
I think the only thing constant is change. What I consider dubstep is not what dubstep is now, to this day. The sound has done a complete 180 from the original core values that I think were established in the music. I don't even think it should be called dubstep any more. it should be called something else.
A lot of the characteristics are the same -- the bpm are the same, but the production value now is completely higher, and it's gathering influence from more genres than before. It's kind of following the same suit that drum 'n' bass did in 1999 through 2005 -- it's kind of just become this melting pot of ideas. I think it's just going to continue to do that, and it's going to lead to something else. It is what it is.
There's already been a saturation point. It's already over-saturated, but in that, there's always a diamond in the rough. I don't know if that quote made sense, but for as much crap as there is out there, there's just as much good stuff that comes out. And I think the good stuff is what really steers the genre in new directions and into the change.
We can already hear dubstep influencing multiple genres, like the Low End Theory stuff and the jack-house stuff, and hip-hop, too.
Do you want to be known as a "dubstep artist" or just an electronic music artist in general?
I'd like to be known as an artist in general, but let's face the facts. If it looks like a duck or quacks like a duck, it is a duck. So I'm pretty much a duck, and I love dubstep! I wouldn't have it any other way. It's my favorite genre right now, and I'm honored just to be included with the other artists who make the genre.
12th Planet with Juan Basshead and MC Jumanji, Animal Krackerz, and Mike Deuce. Saturday, July 16. Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $10 plus fees via fla.vor.us. Call 305-377-2277 or visit grandcentralmiami.com.
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