Flashback to 2006, dubstep in America. "In my opinion, Los Angeles was ripe for it,” Drew Best, co-originator of SMOG, tells DJ Mag. “We had this long history of funk and hip-hop, then the warehouse raves and massives. Into the 2000s, drum and bass had a big following, and in its wake a lot of experimental music was starting to take off. Not to mention the graffiti culture, sound systems, MCs, dancers, and street fashion. Dubstep was about to fit LA like a glove."
Drew, along with Daniel Johnson, and John Dadzie, aka the force known as 12th Planet, created the SMOG events and record label nearly seven years ago. “We chose the name SMOG because it describes this atmospheric industrial byproduct that surrounds you,” the Cali native vividly outlines. “It also holds a lot of meaning to Los Angeles. Creating a brand that people could associate with was the first step. We needed people to trust our taste in music as we introduced these artists.”
The trio has been hard at work ever since, taking SMOG from purveyor of one-off underground events into a widely influential, mega bass empire. “We didn't have access to the big Hollywood clubs, so we found a home in some unusual spaces,” Drew recalls of the crew’s humble beginnings. “We also did not want to be limited by the production at a Hollywood club, so we frequently set up in pubs, rock and roll venues, and warehouses. It helped us separate ourselves from everything else, by creating something from the ground up. Before you know it, the club has caught on and the rest is history.”
Born from an increasing interest in the bass music genre and teeming local production talent, SMOG transcended from the dark warehouses to its own self-titled imprint in 2008; a year marked by the introduction of electro and house music to many new clubs. With the task taken up by 12th Planet and DJ Evol, producers previously experienced in jungle and drum and bass, they effectively created the first vinyl release, aptly titled the Smokescreen EP, which signaled the coming of the US dubstep movement with radio plays and scores of circuit DJs rewinding the release. The brand largely advanced through the label and as Daniel tells us, “When the events started attracting people from all genres in the underground, the label was born and records were produced. It was very much a bedroom operation until 2010, when things became very real and the artists signed to SMOG were being booked to play all over the world.”
Generating a buzz locally and commercially, SMOG subsequently crept its way into other major cities across the country; producing bass music events for popular destinations like SXSW in Austin and Winter Music Conference in Miami. Each performance was responsible for exposing many young Americans to dance music, and for pushing 140bpm into new territories. Now an entire gang of popular SMOG artists are touring nationwide this winter, including 12th Planet, Flinch, SPL, and Two Fresh, with dates in NYC, Miami, Seattle, San Francisco, and Dallas for the SMOG City Series
HOTBED OF TALENT
A truly West Coast institution, SMOG’s roster is proudly comprised of a hotbed of talented producers and DJs from various regions of Southern California, some of whom have moved their operations to LA exclusively, including mastermind 12th Planet, Flinch, Pawn, Kelly Dean, Noah D, Antiserum, SPL, and DLX, plus resident DJs Steady, Unit, and Pablo Hassan, alongside talented microphone masters, MCs Kemst and Knyphy. Many of the talents have known each other personally for a multitude of years, which contributes to the elasticity of in-house collaborations. As if donning years of experience like a pair of Ray Bans, Drew delves into the ever-changing world of EDM, and how the label has faired with the merge of what is considered bass music.
“It’s a term that works for now. The word 'dubstep' carries such a different meaning to so many different people. Techno went through something similar in the '90s. The fact of the matter is, we still do dubstep events and release dubstep music, but we have also expanded our scope a lot further. Most of the artists on our label are going in all these new and exciting directions, and we embrace the change. It’s what brought us here to begin with.”
John Dadzie shares his SMOG co-conspirator’s enthusiasm for change: “In the past the label concentrated on only releasing a few artists. But now, there is so much great music and great artists out there, you can't help but support it. Artists like Starkey, Herobust, Lo Bounce, Two Fresh, Protohype, and Ill Skillz will see more releases on the label.”
Becoming influential within just a few short years of its launch, SMOG branched out further. The label infiltrated British airwaves in 2009, with its first special feature called The Smog Showcase, as presented by Radio 1 DJ, Mary Anne Hobbs. Popular 1Xtra presenter MistaJam now offers the Daily Dose of Smog segment, which showcases cutting edge music, often from LA’s own backyard. Notably, the SMOG crew also nabbed the Red Bull Culture Clash championship in 2012, taking the title spot against competing music crews Dim Mak, Jeffree’s, and Friends of Friends. With special guests ranging from hip-hop pioneer Too Short to Cypress Hill, the SMOG boys are one connected posse.
SMOG CITY 2
To celebrate its seventh year, SMOG is releasing an anniversary compilation entitled Smog City 2, a dynamic collection of dubstep with West Coast roots, including trap, experimental, and funk.
Generously providing 18 unique and exciting tracks, special UK guest Caspa, of Dub Police fame, presents “No Gyal,” featuring vocalist Rod Azlan. The soca styled carnival-meets-dubstep banger is an album highlight. “I'm very happy to be a part of this project,” Gary McCann, aka Caspa, shares.
Another standout comes from SMOG artist SPL, aka Samuel Pool, who delivers the energetic tear-out track, “Pterosaur!”
“I was sitting down to write a love song and wasn't getting anywhere with it,” SPL says. “I kept toying with different ideas and finally decided, 'fuck it,' and out came this dinosaur fueled stomper. I made a point to not over think anything on this track to focus on raw noisy power.” SMOG previously released SPL’s Balearic Bass EP, which showcases his unique new sound.
The album is rounded out and given breadth with contributions from 12th Planet. “My tracks on SMOG City 2 are 'Le Empty,' 'Smoked Out,' and a collaboration with my boy Protohype, called 'Fungus,'” the beatsmith says. “'Le Empty' is a festival trap hoover type song, 'Smoked Out' is a more laidback trap song, and 'Fungus' is a 100bpm twerk banger custom built for the dance floor. All the songs have been played in my sets all year long, and I am glad we got to release them on SMOG City 2 for everyone else to play.”
SMOG's creation realized a new era in the American Dance scene, with their efforts from Los Angeles pushing a movement and culture throughout the rest of the world. The influential and forward-thinking collective has a firm grasp on what’s most important: putting out good music. “Respect and love is what comes to mind when I think of what Drew and the SMOG team have done for the scene, not only in LA but throughout the USA,” Caspa imparts. SMOG is one of American dance music’s favorite addictions. Whatever comes next from the smoggy city, the music world looks forward to inhaling in large doses.
Other highlights from SMOG City 2
Veteran dance music producer Atlantic Connection, aka Nathan Hayes, brings the soulful vibe. By no means new to the label, this past summer saw the release of Atlantic Connection's The Limit EP on SMOG, showcasing his versatility and experience in a range of styles.
Deco pays homage to the original dub sound, relaxing the mind and really rounding out the compilation.
Japan creates a different type of chill with this vibey cut, featuring vocal snippets, horns, and a warm rattling bassline.
“One Last Tune”
A name known for high quality d&b production, Viennese producer, Ill Skillz, offers up some big room ammunition with this 140bpm end of night banger. Philipp Roskot, aka Ill Skillz, has recently been making waves in bass music, landing positions with SMOG and Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak imprint.
Philadelphia based DJ/producer, Starkey, provides journey club track, moving seamlessly between dark and deep with a strong lead and precise drum kicks. His latest EP on the label, entitled Blaster, is not to be missed.
Son of Kick
“Shoot People (Part 2)”
With its grime atmosphere, zippy trap leads, and cinematic feel, and MCs Grimanal and Marger flowing over the beat, you really can’t test this one from London-based Son of Kick. His latest single, “Reloaded,” finds him teaming up with Marger again, as well as the sultry drum and bass goddess Jenna G.
“Running Late Night”
Another founding SMOG artist, DLX, aka Drew Peterson, delivers a beautiful showcase of his trademark intricate drum sequences, moody environments, and exciting bass-scapes.
Pawn, born David Sandstrom, puts forth an experimental blend of running drums, raining amen break chops, sharp hitting hi-hats and low bass stabs complementing the dubby atmosphere.