12th Planet on dubstep production: "I knew that I wanted to create music no matter what"

American DJ and dubstep producer, John Dadzie (better known by his stage names 12th Planet and Infiltrata) reflects on his early musical influences, bringing dubstep culture to America, secret talents, music production, and his go-to Waves plugins.

What are you working on at the moment?

For the past year I’ve been really diving into hardware and building up my studio. I have got a lot of new pieces in my studio as well as learning the tendencies of them; it has been an incredible adventure.

Besides getting a bunch of new gear, I have noticed that there have been so many new plugins released lately. The game has really stepped up, so having the opportunity to learn all of these new tools and techniques has taken my level of production to new heights.

What are you working on production-wise?

I am writing a ton of new music! I am primarily writing dubstep for my 12th Planet project, but I’m also making other genres for myself. I am also writing music for a few different artists’ projects at the moment.

Being able to switch genres has been exciting for me, creatively. Lately I have been trying to switch up my workflow by writing different styles of music in order to take what I learned from those sessions and apply it to how I create my sound for my dubstep projects.

Before I start trying to finish other projects, I like to warm up by creating four or five ideas from any other genre. I try to dissect certain songs and see what kind of elements are being used and then recreate them from scratch. I have had so much fun doing that; it’s been a blast.

While knowing that some of these ideas will never see the light of day, I believe I’ve learned a lot more about song structure, sound design and musicality from just doing this routine.

I am also currently on a tour with Rusko called Dubplate Special, where we plan on adding a few more dates to the schedule. I hope we come to a city near whomever reads this and they might grab a ticket and come check it out!

I am going to be playing a lot of my unreleased music on this tour. On top of that, every night Rusko and I will be doing a b2b set that features dubstep from the good ol’ days, so if you’re into this style it's definitely one you do not want to miss.

Did you always see yourself working in the music industry in some way?

I have always been interested in music. I grew up during an era where MTV and BET actually played music videos. I would memorise the songs and ask my older brother what certain lyrics meant because I was too young to understand!

 I always loved watching the music videos and trying to pretend I was one of the singers or rappers. I would play air guitar to the videos, or try to spit bars in front of the mirror.

I remember my parents got me a Yamaha keyboard when I was in sixth grade, which really sparked my interest in playing. Then my friend Brett showed me how to play guitar in eighth grade, and after that I was hooked.

I knew from that point on that I just wanted to create music, no matter what. I knew that the road would be hard and arduous, but somewhere in the back of my mind that this is what I wanted to do. I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me otherwise.

I grew up during an era where MTV and BET actually played music video; I would memorise the songs!

What music were you into growing up?

Growing up in South L.A during the ‘80s and ‘90s, you get exposed to a lot of different styles of music at an early age. My father’s from Ghana so he would play a lot of hi-life music around the house. My mother’s from New Orleans, so she would be playing all kinds of jazz and funk.

My older brother had one of those big Alpine subwoofer systems in his car and he would always be bumpin’ the latest hip hop and R&B albums. My next door neighbours were from Jamaica and they really got me into reggae and dancehall at an early age.

The elementary school I went to in Inglewood had a large hispanic influence on me, so I got to hear a lot of Ranchera and Punta Roca music. I used to skate with some friends back in high school and they got me into punk rock and metal.

Back in the mid ‘90s the local radio stations, Power 106 and Groove Radio, used to have house and dance music as the majority block of their playlists, so I got introduced to club and rave culture at a very early age.

I think the mixture of all of these different influences, plus a lot more that I wasn't able to mention, ended up becoming the blueprint of how I would eventually find my identity through music.

What was the first music you bought with your own money?

I think the first single that I bought with my own money was Young MC’s Bust a Move. The cassette single was $1.99 at The Warehouse.

I remember I used some money from a birthday card and picked that one up because I saw the video on MTV and wanted to dance like the people in the video.

What was the first gig you went to without parents or adult supervision?

I went to my first rave when I was 15 years old. Like I said, growing up in L.A at that time, house music was on the radio a lot, so because of that I bonded with some of the folks at my high school who were into the same music as me.

As some of the ones before me had already been before, I felt getting in with that crew and having that experience with them was so memorable for me.

The thing that really captivated me about the electronic music scene was the feeling of camaraderie.

Tell us something that most people don’t know about you…

I am a die-hard wrestling fan. Whether it be professional or indie, I go to as many events as I can, and I try to keep up with the major promotions on a daily basis.

I love WWE, AEW, NJPW, ROH, Impact, GCW, PWG, Triple A, and many more promotions. If I’m not on tour or in the studio for a session I am probably at one of these events no matter what location they are in.

I also have an uncanny ability to say words backwards and spell them backwards for some reason. I am not sure where that came from, but it’s there…. Try me sometime!

You were first introduced to the electronic music scene in high school; what was it about the genre that captivated you?

The thing that really captivated me about the electronic music scene was the feeling of camaraderie. I came from a certain neighbourhood that was pretty tough at times, so when I saw the way people interacted with each other at the rave, it blew my mind.

Seeing people who were complete strangers be absolutely nice and caring to one another made me realise that the world was much larger than I could have ever imagined.

Where did your interest in music production begin?

My interest with music production came in the middle of high school when I met a dude who had a four-track recorder at his house. We would make tapes of us rapping over beats from a Roland Dr. Rhythm. We would make beats on that thing and then start playing guitars and bass on top of them.

When I saw that this was how people made songs, it really got me into learning what other equipment was being used. Having that interest led me to meet another friend during high school who was already making hip hop beats with an Akai MPC2000.

I watched him sample actual records, chop them up, rearrange them then layer drum samples on top of it. He would then take those beats and track them on a Tascam eight-track recorder.

After that he would burn the CD for me and say, “Here you go; this is everything we just did today.” I thought this was the coolest thing that ever existed. I didn't realise you could have a studio in your bedroom like that.

I was so stoked to see how many people in L.A were actually interested in dubstep.

How did you learn all about production?

When it comes to music production I am mostly self-taught. However there have been some people along the way that have guided me through my journey. When I first started, there were no YouTube tutorials or music production schools.

It was also very hard to get in the studio with people who had equipment, so most of the stuff I learned was in the box. My first move into the digital world was working with trackers. I had a PC that I was meant to be doing my homework on, but once my family got an AOL account from one of those random mailout CDs, it was on from there.

Once I had access to the internet I found out about AIM, ICQ and IRC which led me to a community that would eventually help me figure out there were more options for music production software available.

That led me to learning about ‘trackers’, and from that point forward, I found Fast Tracker. It was so easy to get ideas out on those things with just a PC, a Soundblaster Card and some AIWA speakers.

By the time I got to the end of my junior year of high school I started seeing the word ‘DAW’ float around. I started to really ask people on IRC what kind of software they were using to create music. From then I started getting into Fruity Loops 1.0 and Propellerheads Rebirth.

I didn't like the limitations that came with Rebirth, it was like I was stuck only being able to manipulate the loops that came with it which were like 909 drums and 303 bass lines that were all kind of trance-based.

Although they were great loops and taught me a lot about dance music production, I gravitated much more towards Fruity Loops because of the fact you could import your own sample libraries and use other VSTs that were being released.

What were some key things you learnt in these early years about production?

Early on in my production stages, I was really trying to figure out what the anatomy of electronic music consisted of. Coming from a hip hop and rock band background, this was kind of a new world for me.

Trying to find out how people made these crazy sounds that were sonically inconceivable to me, it led me to learning about synths, samplers and effects. Although I kind of had an idea of how most effects functioned from playing guitar and having pedals, I would have never imagined the rabbit hole that it would lead me down.

For the first time I was able to use all of these effects at the same time without owning a single pedal or cable. Being able to mix and match effects digitally was a game-changer for me.

Another thing I really learned early was how to layer and mask sounds. After listening to so much electronic music and trying to figure out how to get things to sound right, one of my friends showed me the secret sauce.

He showed me how to find breaks in songs and then take the groove of them and replace the drums with other one shots. That was the biggest “Oh snap!” moment for me production-wise.

Being able to take the groove and make them your own makes production so much fun. From that I learned you could do the same thing with synths and samples. So, I started adding 808s or subs to certain samples to make new bass sounds.

I learned you could do the same thing with synths, and I started re-sampling stuff made from the fruity synths and later adding effects.

Making dubstep is a very intricate process, especially when it comes to sound design.

With Infiltrata you were making drum and bass music; why did you later decide to start making dubstep instead?

Making jungle and D’n’B was my first real passion for production after hip hop. It made me push the envelope and learn all kinds of techniques I would have never imagined using prior.

For about eight years I was mainly focused on making that style of music, creating it, touring it, promoting it and living off it. One night I was on tour in England playing this show in South London and in the second room of that show had some artists playing dubstep there.

At the time I had no clue what it was, but the sounds that were coming from it sounded very similar to early DnB stuff, but with more of a garage swing and some elements of hip hop.

A couple days later a buddy of mine hit me up on AIM and was like, “Have you heard of dubstep?” Not knowing anything about the name of the genre I thought he was talking about reggae or something.

A few weeks later I heard the Mary Anne Hobbs’ Dubstep Warz show on BBC Radio 1 and then I was like, “This is the stuff I heard in England a few weeks ago.” Once I saw who the artists were in the genre, I immediately fell in love with it.

I quickly began making dubstep beats for practice and started sending them out to some of the other artists to play. Back then it was very hard to get noticed by that scene, so the songs had to be really good to get any attention back in 2006.

One day my friend Drew was putting together a showcase for dubstep with as many guys as he could find in L.A that were able to play at least 30 minutes of the genre. That crew eventually became the Smog crew and got credited with some of the first live dubstep events on the West Coast.

Although I couldn't play the show because I had to go back to Europe to tour for my DnB project, I remember seeing photos from the night and it being slammed. I was so stoked to see how many people in L.A were actually interested in that style of music.

A lot of the dubstep scene in L.A had roots in DnB so it was an organic progression for people to gravitate toward that back then.

When I got back stateside, I started splitting my time with making DnB and dubstep. I decided to use the alias 12th Planet alias to separate the projects around late 2007 and it just kind of picked up more steam as time passed by.

How does it feel to be one of the first individuals to bring the dubstep culture to America?

I am honoured to have been alive during the early stages of dubstep. I am able to see it from a different perspective than a lot of people who are into the culture now. People like Joe Nice who really pioneered the sound and brought it to America were big influences on me.

How did Zecharia Sitchin's book, 12th Planet inspire your new production name? Are you a big sci-fi fan?

I first came in contact with Sitchin’s book through DJ Craze and his partner Ros. She actually gave me the physical copy of it back in 2005 or 2006. We would have these crazy conversations about mythology, conspiracies, aliens and stuff like that.

One of those deep conversations ended up leading to a debate on the origin of mankind and she immediately brought up Sitchin. Back then there was no show like Ancient Aliens on television so we had to really dig for books and message boards on this topic to find information about things that weren’t very popular in opinion to most people.

When I flew back home to L.A from Miami, I ended up reading the entire thing cover to cover and was mind blown at the explanation of the tablets from Mesopotamia. Having grown up and gone to Catholic school my whole life, no one ever explained the meanings behind the names in the Bible and where the stories took their influence from.

This book led me down a path of knowledge on how other early civilisations viewed their origins. That book helped me realise that a lot of cultures have more in common than we were led to believe.

I have an uncanny ability to say words backwards and spell them backwards for some reason.

What was your first big break as 12th Planet?

I think my first big break for 12th Planet occurred when Rusko featured one of my songs on his BBC Essential Mix for Radio 1 in 2008.

I remember I was being played by a lot of DJs and on underground radio, but at the time that was a lot of exposure for me. I ended up getting a lot of respect from my peers and people really started hitting me up for music.

You’ve toured globally as a DJ and you get to make music that you love; what has been a personal highlight of yours as 12th Planet?

I think my biggest personal highlight would have to be the Mothership Tours I went on with Skrillex back in 2011-12. I have to admit that every single night was a total adventure.

We got the opportunity to meet so many amazing people along the way and the camaraderie we had as a unit was unlike anything I ever experienced before. Everyone involved was on top of their game, so you got to hear each artist at their best.

The many different styles that were represented in the group was a total inspiration to push things forward on a nightly basis.

How do you go about approaching a typical 12th Planet dubstep track?

Making dubstep is a very intricate process, especially when it comes to sound design. It can make most people go crazy so you have to switch it up every time you step into the DAW with a plan.

At times I will either start from the drop and then work backwards. Sometimes I will start from the intro and work into the drop; it sort of just depends on how I feel.

Some days I only focus on making loops, other days I only focus on sound design. Sometimes I will just riff around and just come up with chords; it really just depends on how I feel and whether or not deadlines are involved or I have a session with another vocalist.

As the years have gone by I have changed my approach to making any style of music. I like to start the day off by making a sort of palette of ideas before I even start working on anything.

I will spend about 30 minutes on an idea, whether it be manipulating a sample, re-playing a sample with original instruments, making drum loops, or just testing out a new plugin to see what it does.

Waves' OVox is like a swiss army knife vocoder and it has so many parameters that you can automate in your DAW.

You’re a loyal Waves user; how long have you been using their plugins?

I have been using Waves for about 20 years now. I was first introduced to it by my friend who was really hyping me up about the bundle. 

At the time I was only using free VST along with the stock Fruity Loops plugins, but once I heard the Waves plugins I could immediately tell the difference in quality between the two. I think it was the first bundle I ever got my hands on and I was hooked.

Being able to use that bundle opened me up into learning about other techniques like sidechaining and processing. It was a real eye opener for me, and had a lot to do with my development as a producer.

Granted I didn’t have the fastest computer money could buy at the time, I was still impressed at how great the plugins sounded without killing your CPU like the others.

What are four go to Waves plugins that you use time and time again?

This is sort of a difficult question for me because if you ask me this same question three months from now my answer will be completely different!

The Waves bundle is constantly evolving and updating. The size of the bundle is so vast now that you can try something new every day and still get surprised at how amazing of a tool it can be.

When I first started using Waves, I couldn’t live without the C1 compressor, the L1 Ultramaximizer, and the MetaFlanger.

A couple of years later when the C4 was released, that was a huge game changer for me. Fast-forward a decade or so when the Signature Series dropped, I really started getting into the CLA, JJP, and Maserati all-in-one multis. Those really made life easy for getting really amazing results in just a few clicks.

It was a really tough decision to choose four, but at the moment if I really had to choose four that I love to use all of the time, it would be R-Vox, OVox, API 560 and Lofi Space.

As soon as Waves released their API models 64-bit, I literally jumped for joy.

Specifically, what part of the process do you use them for?

This is a very interesting question…I use R-Vox for my initial stages of compression on my vocal chain after recording. I usually like to look for a little bit of gain reduction to even everything out.

Once I do that, then I like to throw on Clarity Vx to remove whatever noise might have occurred during recording. After that I toss on the Waves DeEsser to kill sibilance, a surgical EQ, and lastly another compressor to finish it off.

That’s usually my chain on the main insert for vocals give or take. On my returns or bus I like to use some RVerb and/or H-Delay depending on the vocalist.

Secondly, I like to use OVox lately on some of my midrange / bass channels. I know most people use this as a tool for vocoding lyrics, but I like to do something a little different with it. I use OVox as a tool to make some melodic harmonies for my basslines in dubstep to give it more colour.

OVox is like a swiss army knife vocoder and it has so many parameters that you can automate in your DAW. You can really get creative with it!

I know it’s kind of a different approach, but when you're making basslines in dubstep there are no rules really, you just have to try unconventional methods to really get something crazy sounding.

Thirdly, I am a big fan of API 500 series EQs and preamps. Even though I don’t own any of their hardware at the moment, I am familiar with how they work from my time with my boy Hochi. He had an API Lunchbox with all of the units available.

Using those 500 series units was my first foray into outboard processing. After using that as my first outboard EQ in a DAW, I started using the A10 model of the API 560 that URS used to make.

I was kind of sad when URS didn’t update the plugin to 32 bit format, but as soon as Waves released their API models 64-bit, I literally jumped for joy.

Thinking back on why I like this EQ for non-surgical purposes most probably has to do with some deep down nostalgic reasons. It totally reminds me of the EQ I had on the stereo in my bedroom when I was younger. It’s so easy to use and it sounds pretty much identical to the actual hardware.

I like to use Lofi Space as my work-horse Delay and Reverb combo. I tend to use the delay function on my midrange basslines to do super short delay slaps for edits. The algorithm for it is pretty awesome as well, so you can get some really tight tonal delay effects by setting the time to very short milliseconds.

It makes anything sound granular and I love that. You can use longer delays for vocals as well. Because it has some sort of saturation built into the delay model it makes your vocals sound epic.

Having the reverb option is like icing on the cake as well. It just gives it that extra space you need to make it sit in the mix.

What's next for you on the new music front?

I just want everyone to know that there is more music coming from me soon, so stay tuned…