He provides soulful soundtracks to the grand soirées of none other than Barack Obama, but Adam 12 is more than just the President’s party DJ. He’s also one of LA’s most diverse sound curators and club promoters, a guy who came up among peers like DJ AM and Z-Trip and never went the cheesy Vegas route. Despite possessing a keen ear for dance-floor fillers, 12, real name Adam Michael Bravin, is known for experimentation in his set lists and when making his own music – the latter delving into the goth, new wave and synth sounds that tainted his youth in the ‘80s and '90s. Joining forces with fellow LA native Justin Warfield in the early 2000s for the seductively eerie project She Wants Revenge, Bravin provided the tense and tempestuous beats behind SWR’s wickedest hits, winning the band instant buzz, near-constant indie radio play and multiple headlining slots at the Coachella.
Despite breaking up in 2012, SWR currently find themselves with a whole new fanbase thanks to Lady Gaga. Gaga suggested the duo’s vicious track “Tear You Apart” for her big debut scene as the Countess in American Horror Story: Hotel last month – an orgy sequence that sees Gaga and Matt Bomer devouring another couple in more ways than one.
This was great timing for Bravin, who is currently in the midst completing a new dark music project all on his own called Love, Ecstasy and Terror. Between DJ gigs for Barack and co-promoting/spinning at his own nightclubs in LA – the biggest of which is a modern and relatively intimate take on Studio 54 called Giorgio’s at the Standard Hotel – Bravin has been in the studio working with a talented network of friends (Warfield, Dita Von Teese, Daniel Ash) on a new music project. We spoke with him in his space at Swinghouse Studios in Los Angeles during a production break.
Your song plays over an entire scene of AHS. When you watched the episode, were you surprised?
Yeah. They had us send in an instrumental and we thought it was going to be a background instrumental at some point. We saw it along with everyone else when it aired, and we were blown away that it was basically the whole song. It’s the 10-year anniversary of the album next year and it was funny to hear it on KROQ again.
The power of TV placement.
Within the next week we were on the top charts of iTunes. There was a whole new generation of kids learning about the song and the band… A lot of people that thought we were a new band. Because of the appearance on AHS, there is a chance the single-sales jump could actually push our record into gold 10 years later.
What did you think of the AHS scene?
It was like seeing a whole new video for the song. It was really different from anything we’d do. We made a decision early on when we first came out and people were focusing more on the word “Revenge,” than they were on “She"… We never incorporated any blood or horror or any kind of images that could be taken the wrong way. We wanted to focus more on the femininity of the name. To see the song interpreted in that way was cool though – watching Gaga do a kind of an homage to The Hunger to our song.
Why did She Wants Revenge break up anyway?
We called it an indefinite hiatus. Justin [Warfield] and I have been making music our whole lives, and Justin has done a number of projects. And you know, they’re all completely different. He is an artist like that. Being an artist that switches up their style, I think that he just came to a point where he had said everything he wanted to say in that way, for now.
But your new solo project Love, Ecstasy and Terror is an extension of SWR, right? What made you start this project?
The original idea for my next project after She Wants Revenge was to do a compilation record featuring a lot of vocalists on it. The idea wasn’t even to do a dark record; it was to produce a bunch of songs and have all my friends, or artists I was a fan of, come and appear on it. While I was starting to produce tracks for that version of my solo record, Justin, who knows me better than anyone else, he realized it was still in the context of She Wants Revenge and that I always wanted to say more. I’d never, ever sung in my life, and I never really wanted to. But I think he recognized I probably wanted to say more, so he suggested I write and sing a couple tracks. It was literally a muscle I had never flexed in my life so it took a while to figure out how to do that for me, where I wasn’t cringing every time I listened to it. So we did that song. Then we did another one. Even though one of my fears is getting up in front of people and singing, or letting them hear me sing, I was enjoying the part of it where I could actually write ideas, lyrics, and sing them and say them. I was enjoying it so much that I decided to make a whole record by myself, with the help of some of my friends, a few musicians and a couple of vocalists. Daniel Ash from Bauhaus and Tones on Tail and Love and Rockets plays guitar on one song. Johnny Radtke from Filter and Kill Hannah plays most of the guitar. Dita Von Teese has a part. There’s a song with Tony from No Doubt, and Steven and Gabe, the horn players from No Doubt. And Justin plays guitar.
As a DJ, you’ve done hip-hop nights, disco, and for Obama your playlists are super soulful. But your own music always leans dark, right? Some people used to call She Wants Revenge a goth band, and others say your new members-only nightclub, Cloak & Dagger, a goth club. What do you call what you’re doing now?
First and foremost I am a fan of dark music. I’m a fan of a lot of different styles of music, but I naturally gravitate towards things that are on the darker side. For me, when you say the word goth I think it becomes super specific. There are a few bands that I can definitely name as goth bands, but as far as using it as a general term I don’t think it applies because I think when I use the word "dark” it makes it easier for me because, I think it, again. “Suicidal Thoughts” by Notorious B.I.G. is not a goth song but it’s a super dark song. There’s a hip hop group called the Gravediggaz. That’s not goth, but it’s dark, and it fits within my concept of dark music and my new night. I’ve had that conversation with people: “Biggie and Gravediggaz are not dark. I don’t get it.” And I say, “Well, come to [Cloak & Dagger] and listen to them in context with what’s happening. You’ll hear Portishead into Death Grips into Nine Inch Nails into Gravediggaz…”
Did your club rep help you get the Obama gig?
I’ve been a DJ as long as I can remember. I started off as sort of a hip-hop DJ and I’m still a hip-hop head. I made a decision earlier on in my career as a DJ to just be an artist, really, and trust my instincts, and do it for the love of what it is and never sell out. So I can look back on a really long, amazing career as a DJ and I can hold my head high and I can always say to myself, you know, You never sold out. And that is exactly why, in my opinion, I’ve gotten to work with so many amazing people in my career. People ask me all the time, “How did you get the job DJing for Dre?” “How did you get the job being Prince’s DJ for so long?” “How did you get the job DJing for Michael Jackson?”
How did the White House gig come about?
Promoter Pantera Sarah hired me to do her Friday night party at Bootsy Bellows’ backroom. She was instrumental with helping out Obama on his first campaign. She helped him by hooking him up with a lot of really amazing artists to help spread the word. I wasn’t really thinking about it that night though. Friday night, Hollywood, VIP section filled with socialites and celebrities. 99 times out of 100 you can probably predict what you are going to hear in there. Although I don’t alienate people from hearing a few hits here and there, I definitely don’t play what every other DJ plays because I’m not interested in it, and people know what they are getting when they hire me. So I just did my thing like I always do. There have been special nights like that one, where someone comes up to me and something happens. This time, she said, “Hey, I really love what you are doing. Do you do private events? Because I’m in these kinds of rooms a lot and I travel a lot and I hear a lot of DJs and you really did something special tonight. I think my boss would really appreciate that so I wanted to know if you did private parties.” And I said, “Of course I do.” And so she handed me her card and it said, “Obama 2012” on it. A few weeks later I was DJing one of five birthday parties that he was having in five different cities for his birthday.
Tell me about the president’s tastes and your challenges for creating a playlist he’ll like.
I got some insider information. It’s not a secret where he comes from and how old he is. It’s a little different now but back in the day, if I was going to, like, somewhere in Texas and I was doing a hip-hop party, I’d do research for a week figuring out not only what the popular songs were down there on the radio, but what the underground songs were in that region. It’s the same thing you do when you do a private event for somebody, whether it is the president or anybody. For Obama, I put together a small list, and then I got some information from somebody who had apparently seen one or more of his iPod playlists. And I just kind of made this playlist. It’s also based on the type of people that were at the event in general, and those parties typically tend to be kind of '60s and '70s soul-heavy. Everybody likes to hear Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin.
Have you hung out with him?
I met him that night at the House of Blues and he said, “Thank you for being my DJ, Adam.” And that was mind-blowing in so many ways it is hard to even explain. But just the fact that we have a president that not only said that, but understands what the word “DJ” actually means. I thought, “He really is our president. He is one of us in certain ways, and he gets it.” And not only that, but it blew me away that I was standing their shaking his hand mainly because of trusting my instincts. I’ve always followed my gut as an artist and as a DJ, and doing so has taken me in different directions and driven me to do very different kinds of things. There’s more to come.