An Interview with SMOG Records About the Birth of LA Dubstep, 12th Planet

One of the dopest channels on our Scion AV radio “dial” is hosted by SMOG Records, the Los Angeles-based dubstep label owned by 12th Planet, Danny United, and Drew Best. The label releases monster dancefloor tunes by the likes of Flinch, SPL, and Noah D (look out for their forthcoming 12th Planet & Mayhem release on May 7). They’ve also thrown many truly sick parties around the LA area over the last few years at places like The Roxy and Orange County’s Observatory (and even won Red Bull’s massive Culture Clash soundclash event last year, beating out the likes of Dim Mak and Mad Decent.)

It’s no exaggeration to say that SMOG basically started the dubstep scene in LA, so we thought we would ask Drew for some SMOG history and also advice for you aspiring promoters out there. Scroll down and you can download a free EP Scion released from 12th Planet and friends.

When did you throw your first party, where, and who were the DJ guests?

I feel like SMOG was born to fill a void. In the beginning of 2006 there were people in LA who were listening to dubstep music, there were a couple guys who were even DJing it, but there wasn’t a place to go and truly experience it. I remember seeing videos on YouTube where people would film the ashtray bouncing off the table at Dub War in NYC or a wake of p***  splashing around the urinal trough in the bathroom at DMZ in London, all being caused by the intense bass that the dubstep nights were producing. I wanted to create something similar to that in LA because I knew people would gravitate towards it, so we set out to produce LA’s first all-dubstep event.

The first challenge we faced was: Where do we find enough dubstep DJs in LA to constitute an all-dubstep event? Between my friends Knyphy and Unit (who probably had identical record collections anyways) there weren’t many other local options. I had heard a rumor that local drum & bass producer Infiltrata (you might know him now as 12th Planet) was making some dubstep tracks so I gave him a call. We connected well on the phone but he had prior obligations to an out-of-state gig and turned it down. He did put us in contact with Nick Argon (of Argon Records), who was beginning to put out dubstep records in San Francisco. Nick was real into the idea of driving down to LA for our gig and brought fellow Bay Area producer Matty G along with him. Now we had a party! We advertised it as “An Experiment in Dubstep” and it was a free event at an Irish bar in Downtown LA. They had an outdoor patio and we setup a Turbosound sound system that spilled sub bass all throughout the city of LA. Dave Q from NYC’s Dub War also happened to be in town and he played a 30-minute set. People from all over Southern California came out, the party went off, and history was made.

Other than your residents, who is the DJ you have booked the most often at your party?

It’s easily Joe Nice from Dub War NYC. Joe was the original DJ in the USA that was playing the UK dubplates. Most of the UK guys did not have agents, visas or even passports to visit us in the USA, so Joe was the next best thing. He had spent a lot of time across the pond trading tunes and it earned him the Ambassador title that everyone has always joked about. He’s been a staple at Smog events over our nearly seven years of running.

What has been the best or craziest moment of SMOG so far? 

I think our 2011 event at the five-room Mekka Nightclub in Miami was the craziest. It was our first time in a new venue in another city, and we had hired about 50 DJs. We had the legendary Skream headlining the main room and Goldie with Metalheadz in another room. We gave one of the rooms to the then up-and-coming producer Skrillex, who brought with him Datsik and then unknown talent Zedd and Porter Robinson. We had a way bigger turnout than we an anticipated. The line to get in was wrapped around the building and down the block. People who had tickets to get in were offering to pay more money at the door since that line was shorter. It was kinda chaotic, but everything worked out and it turned out to be one of my favorite events we produced.

Related: Skream & Benga EP Release


What kind of parties did you grow up going to and how does that affect what you do now?

I grew up in Chicago and started attending dance music events in the mid-’90s. Chicago was home to some of the best music producers and DJs in the world at that time, so we had a lot of pride about it. I initially got into it through house and techno music. Being too young to go to the clubs, my only option was the underground rave events. I really loved the creativity that people put into the production. You felt like you were a part of a secret as you found yourself in old factory buildings, tunnels, laser tag parks or barns in the fields. This was that way all across the Midwest in cities like Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Minneapolis. My friends and I used to travel great distances and met amazing people along the way. It was an adventure. Eventually I found myself working in every facet of the scene. I was DJing, organizing my own events, running a photocopy ‘zine, working with lights and video… Whatever I could to push what we were doing further.

I really feel like that era shaped me in a lot of ways, which is evident with SMOG. When I arrived in LA ten years ago I got the impression that there was not a lot of local pride in their music. The promoters told you the best music in the world came from anywhere but LA. I didn’t feel the same sense of community with the producers, DJs, and record labels I had experienced in Chicago. This development of a true music community has been our biggest priority with SMOG. We didn’t want to throw a couple parties; we wanted to start a movement.

How long have you personally been throwing parties now?

Seventeen years now… which sounds like a lot, but I took a six-year break somewhere in there. I threw my first event when I was 16 at a roller rink on the Southside of Chicago. I had decided that if no one was going to book me as a DJ, I would throw my own parties to DJ at. It kind of worked—after that, I was networking with other promoters and they didn’t see me as this nagging kid to listen to my mixtape. Around 1999, I decided I needed to get a real career, so I went to film school for animation and graduated and moved to LA. Somehow I ended up right where I started, though I do a lot of different animation projects too.

What has been the biggest change you’ve seen go down in LA in the last few years? 

Without a doubt, it has been the music community in this city. That old LA scene that I discovered when I got here? That changed and suddenly LA was at the center of this new emerging music scene. I think right around 2005/2006 is when it started. That’s when Smog started, that’s when Low End Theory started, that’s when groups like Dim Mak and Iheartcomix started to emerge. Los Angeles became this wealth of music support and, like a magnet, the local talent found a new home. Before you know it, musicians from all over the world are relocating to LA, the clubs and events start to take off, and it’s been an exciting thing to be a part of.

Obviously there are many dubstep crews and labels. What is the vibe of SMOG that makes it unique? 

With our events, I think we have always been able to separate ourselves. We moved away from the Hollywood clubs and found a home in the LA rock venues. We just brought in our own soundsystems the same way we would at an underground event. I think we’ve been very good at selecting the right artists to work with, and which artists best compliment them. From a label standpoint, I think the Smog sound has an undeniable energy to it. Some of our music is made for the rave, some of it is made to enjoy at home. There is a common thread that connects it. I think all of us come from a drum & bass background, so maybe that is the secret ingredient in there. We are always in a transitional phase though, and have big plans to venture into some new and unexplored territories.

Which famous squad do your crew most resemble and why?

The A-Team. We’re a diverse group with many opposing skill sets, but fighting for one common good!

What’s your best piece of advice about running a record label? 

My best piece of advice would be to really do your research about how this business works. I’ve come across a few people who own labels, and they’re not really sure how things work. There are plenty of resources out there that can help explain the basics. I would also recommend to stay organized. It’s easy to let things slide a few months, but then you’re faced with a lot of paperwork down the road. I’ve had to learn that the hard way.

What’s your best piece of advice about throwing a party? 

Start small and grow. Do something easy at first, create a following, and your events will steadily grow. If you bite off more than you can chew, it can be a sore mistake.

What parties do you have coming up or big releases we should look for?

We have an event coming up at the Sunset Strip House of Blues on Saturday, May 11th called SMOG vs. Respect. The guys at Respect have been running their weekly drum & bass night in LA for 14 years now (!) and are all good friends of ours. This will be our third time doing this event and it’s a lot of fun. We make it a $5 show, we get our local guys to go against their local guys. Our DJ’s get to be the headliners and everyone comes out to represent for LA. We even take turns playing each others’ music, so it gets to be competitive but it’s all in good fun.

Other than that, we have a few of our successful Sunday Night Session events coming up soon with people like Seven, Author, and Kryptic Minds. Our Sunday night events were meant to be an alternative to the big weekend dubstep raves. By being on Sunday, we can make things a little more mellow and take people back to the roots of dubstep. It has created a cult-like following and it’s something I get really excited about.

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