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Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012

Miltown Beat Down Finals @ Moct

Sept. 7-8, 2012

miltown beat down
Troy Benz
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Arguably Milwaukee’s most notable hip-hop event, the Miltown Beat Down wrapped up its seventh year highlighting the depth of local production talent by taking over Third Ward club Moct this past weekend for the final installment of its month-long series of beat battles.

The high energy, playoff-style competition opened with 32 prequalified producers (mainly hip-hop, some more electro) who were then narrowed down during weekly preliminary rounds that took place at a full-capacity Jackalope Lounj throughout August. The finals, held in conjunction with Yellow Phone Music Conference, moved the Beat Down to a larger venue for back-to-back nights of closing battles intertwined with live performances.

Beat battling works like this: Two producers swap three 60-second beats from their catalog, leaving a panel of judges to decide who moves on to the next round. With a rating system that favors audience response above all other criteria, the energy of the crowd (and of animated hosts DJ “Madhatter” Lee and DJ Bizzon) becomes a big part of what makes these events continuously exciting.

Maintaining the collective enthusiasm needed from a proper battle crowd isn’t easy and often requires a packed room. The decision to move the event from Turner Hall Ballroom, home of the 2011 finals, to Moct this year was a huge improvement in that respect—even with a few hundred people, Turner Hall can feel pretty empty. The one drawback was that the sound system at Moct is less than ideal for an event focused on sonic quality.

While the energy remained high most of the time, the newly-introduced, Yellow Phone-sponsored performances seemed to push the limits of the crowd’s attention span at points both on Friday and Saturday nights. Although, during a lull on Saturday, it was Los Angeles transplant and Milwaukee native, Kid Cut Up, who revived the mood with a party-rocking DJ set just before the last two battles.

The final four producers—Professor Problems, Trademark, Klassik and CAMEone—kept things going by saving some of their most banging beats for last. Without fail, those with glass-rattling bass won out. More traditional boom-bap beats remained popular, but it was trap (a trending hip-hop hybrid that incorporates EDM’s build-and-drop bass mechanics) that seemed to go over especially well among younger attendees this year. In the end, newcomer CAMEone (an alumni of the hip hop-focused youth organization, TRUE Skool) prevailed by appealing to fans of both styles—and of course by bringing the bass.

The contribution producers make to hip hop music doesn’t usually translate to performance art, meaning it also doesn’t translate to the same level of public recognition or appreciation as say, rappers. The Miltown Beat Down succeeds in bringing their skills out from behind the scenes. It also succeeds in bringing the city’s stylistically and culturally diverse hip-hop scene together for genuinely good time.