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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Miltown Beat Down Gets Electronic

DJ Shadow headlines the producer battle’s 2013 finale

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DJ Shadow
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When Jordan Lee, aka DJ Madhatter, started the Miltown Beat Down in 2005, Milwaukee’s hip-hop scene was as segregated as the city itself, divided by geography, race and culture. For years the chasm between East Side rap and North Side rap dominated the conversation about local hip-hop, but these days it’s no longer much of an issue. Thanks to events like Lee’s annual producer battles and the dozens of city-spanning rap bills that other promoters now host every year, Milwaukee’s rap scene is more inclusive and better connected than it’s ever been. None of this is to say that the Miltown Beat Down has stopped building bridges, though. In recent years the events have found themselves traversing a very different kind of divide: the one between Milwaukee’s hip-hop and electronic scenes.

Perhaps it was inevitable that EDM artists would be drawn to the city’s high-profile beat battle. Electronic music is, after all, a producer-driven medium. Lee says that when electronic producers first started registering for the Beat Down several years ago, they were a novelty, but this year they’ve been a bigger presence than ever. “Over the last two years, in the national scene it’s become very cool to be an electronic producer with a background in hip-hop,” Lee says. “That stuff has real mass appeal, and now that it’s out there in the mainstream, it’s really encouraging these young Milwaukee producers to step up. For some of the young guys we’ve got entering the Beat Down, all they know is this stuff, because they were teenagers listening to dubstep.”

And, for the most part, Lee has found that the hip-hop factions and the electronic factions at Beat Down events actually have a lot in common. He says that’s especially apparent when viewing photos or videos of fans watching the competition. “You have people that you would not expect having the exact same response to what they’re witnessing on stage,” he says. “You’ll see some super hood-looking Waka Flocka guy next to some girl who’s probably only into electronic music, and they’ll both be making the same face. These events have a way of unifying people.”

After claiming victories in the preliminary Beat Down battles held at the Jackalope Lounj this spring, several electronic producers will advance to the competition’s championship showdown at the Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday, May 3, including a club-minded teenage upstart called Auggie and FreshTaste producer McThree, whose electronic trap music Lee compares to Flosstradamus. “These guys are good,” Lee says. “They’re doing this stuff better than a lot of the artists I’m hearing who are plugged on some of the electronic blogs I follow.”

For the Beat Down finale, Lee and co-organizer DJ Bizzon sought a headliner and guest judge who held appeal with both hip-hop and EDM crowds. They ended up securing a name near the very top of their list: DJ Shadow, the omnivorous producer who did more than almost anybody else to establish instrumental hip-hop as an art form with his 1996 debut, Endtroducing......
The event will begin with a video recap of this year’s battles leading into an elimination round, followed by an intermission DJ set from Kid Cut Up before the final battles between the remaining four producers. Once the winner is crowned, DJ Shadow will perform a full set.

The organizers also say they put more attention than usual into staging this year’s finale, which will include elaborate video projections by the Video Villains. “Our goal was to try to throw a better looking, better presented show than we ever have before,” Lee says. “We know these battles are a good time on their own; in fact, we hear from a lot of people that they’re some of the most fun events they go to all year, but we really wanted to do something special for the finale rather than just serve it up on a paper plate. Everything is better if you put a little shine on it.”

Turner Hall Ballroom hosts the Miltown Beat Down championship on Friday, May 3. Doors open at 7 p.m.