The bloom and burst story of dubstep is a well-told tale, and 12th Planet AKA John Dadzie has lived every minute of it. When he defected from the Los Angeles drum & bass scene for an emerging, deeper sound in the mid 2000s, there were only a few heads in the country already on the tip. "The Dubwar guys, Joe Nice, Dave Q, they were first," he explained to me in between sessions at Red Bull Studios in Los Angeles. "And then there were some guys in San Francisco doing this party, Grime City. Maybe 6 or 7 months after that was when the first SMOG got thrown. But it's all the same era, we're talking' blips on the radar of dubstep's existence."
At the time, there was an immediate backlash from the junglist scene from whence he emerged, one that still pervades, but Dadzie never took it personally: "Drum & bass people, in general, are caviar-eating snobs," he laughs. "I come from that. Drum & bass people are, like, the only real music fans where you can play a break for three seconds and they'll tell you exactly what break it is. They're very knowledgeable on all subjects relating to production, technology. So, like, dubstep to those guys was like the dumbing down. But it's not. It's totally different."
What occurred over the next few years was the rinsing of dubstep itself, a process that Dadzie skipped in and out of, leaving him with a sense of cognitive dissonance. He explains, "For the last two or three years, I've played 50% EDM shit. 25% dubstep and 25% trap…My crowd was people who didn't know what I made but had been to a massive and seen me play. They didn't really know where I come from, that I've been doing dubstep for eight years. Nah, they just thought I was some fuckin' EDM dude. They didn't know I'd been putting in work for 16 years now."
The whole situation came to a head a few months ago: "It wasn't until January this year, I was playing a show," 12th explains. "My bio says 'Los Angeles dubstep blah blah blah,' and some guy came up to me and said, 'Man, you only played like 3 dubstep tracks' and that shit clicked. I've been hooked on dubstep ever since."
It's not just any old dubstep that's gotten 12th Planet all excited, though. It's some fucked up new shit they're calling "Swamp."
12th Planet explains, "Swampy shit isn't about the next wave, it's more about the ideology. It's the same BPM as dubstep, but it's simplified. It's usually got some sort of generic movie sample in it. 14 year olds make it. It's like, 2 note basslines, any more than that is unheard of. It's more about the groove than the drop or the impact. Dubstep is build up, build up, riser riser, hook, and then bammm! I can get kinda bored of that, the formula. It still works, people love that shit, but me, I started getting into swamp because it went back to where dubstep comes from, where it's not about the drop. It's about the groove."
At the core of the movement is an international network of young producers that 12th's been tapping into for inspiration. "It reminds me of when dubstep first started," he says, "All those dudes, 50 Carrot, Soloman, Savage Society, they don't even consider themselves dubstep, they're in a whole different lane. I love the 'us against the world' mentality. If I go play a show in Columbus, and there's 100 people there. 70 will know what dubstep is. 29 will have no idea, and only one will know what Swamp is."
12th goes on, "This new swamp movement and the riddim movement is guys taking dubstep back. Like, "It's not what some EDM kid is gonna like, but we love it…There's no lights, no visuals, straight dark room, 50 dudes, all in hoodies. It's only a matter of time before that shit becomes accepted again, blows up."
The sludgy bounce of swamp isn't 12th Planet's only thing right now: "Right now, I'm writing everything: pop-EDM dubstep, swamp stuff, I'm writing disco-funk house, electro. Me and Bear Grills just did a song for his EP, it's a big-room house tune. In fact, it's called 'Big Room'. It's got that Prydz-snare and everything. We're not clowning it, we're fully embracing it."
"I've always kept an open mind and I always try to stay ahead of trends," 12th continues. "But I know how to underground. I've been doing what my whole life. So I identify with it more than the lights, camera, action. Like the Grammys, yo. That shit was surreal. But, all I care about is, like, are the lights on? Sweet. Can I buy a steak? Can I buy a round at the bar for me and this lucky young lady? If I can do that, that's all I care about. I don't get jealous of other people's success. I get motivated. But, at the same time, I've been in this shit long enough to realize that I can't believe I've made it this far. People come, artists come, they go. I get older, they stay the same age."
Jemayel Khawaja is THUMP's Associate Editor in Los Angeles - @JemayelK