By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
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The carpet is strewn with soaked record sleeves. They look as sodden as a paperback book after being dropped in the bathtub: wavy at the corners and whitened in spots. This messy stack seems curiously out of place when viewed in juxtaposition with the faux flowers and the slate-blue country-home décor of this otherwise orderly duplex. Avoiding the slippery deathtrap of cardboard jackets, a human cyclone circles the living room, moves to the kitchen and foyer, then spins back into the living room, shouting something about house keys. Stationed obediently out of the way is 20-year-old Ryan McMillan, his head of coarse blond hair resting against the wall, hands nestled in a baby-blue Triple 5 Soul hoodie. The smirk on his face suggests, This happens every time.
The cyclone slows to reveal 25-year-old André Bennington, keys dangling from one hand. Bennington, who lives here with his mom, excitedly recalls the battle his records lost to an obviously leaky storage garage. As he tells his tale, he shuffles dry vinyl into a bag that sinks his shoulder like tire swing on a thin branch. Together behind the turntables, Bennington and McMillan are DJ Madkid and MC Crow, and tonight they are fumbling to catch up with the clock. They have less than two hours allotted for dinner and drive time before their presence is required at the Gay 90's, where they'll open for U.K. jump-up jungle king Aphrodite. It's a good thing Bennington found his keys.
Unlike the über-ambitious, ragga-infused melodies of Aphrodite, Madkid and Crow's approach to technical mixing, down-to-business basslines, and hyped vocals in the right places has made them living trophies of the dance-music community in Minneapolis. Along with his young MC, Bennington, a self-appointed Midwest Architect (as he calls himself on his series of mix tapes), creates drum 'n' bass that's murky and wicked, with off-kilter percussion. Their goal: to spin tracks that are real to their own tastes and to their crowds'.
The duo's musical backgrounds didn't exactly foretell their collaboration, let alone predict that they'd have such chemistry. When they first combined talents, McMillan was fresh out of high school and had played in a Nirvana cover band. Bennington had already established himself as a DJ and promoter for the local production company Allied Substructure. Coincidently, both Bennington and McMillan were simultaneously undergoing what McMillan calls "mutual breakups" from their respective turntable mates. After parting ways with DJ Mikey (now known as Alias), McMillan sent Bennington a hopeful e-mail suggesting a confab.
Bennington recalls that he was hesitant at first to join forces with someone so young--"especially in the rave scene, [where] older people often act like they're 16," he says. "But Ryan was more mature at 18 than half the people I work with."
The connection between the two men, Bennington proposes, lies in their similar distaste for drug use (McMillan foresees incorporating anti-drug lyrics into their sets) and in their mutual experience "dealing with shady promoters"--which, Bennington points out, is "an art." "Some people have tried to pay us in drugs or loan us their girlfriends to eliminate the professional boundary between [promoters and DJs]," Bennington adds with a disgusted shake of the head.
As for those sketchy promoters, McMillan boasts, "I'm getting really good at pointing them out." He smiles, and for a nanosecond, it seems corrupt that this wet-behind-the-ears boy went from singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in a garage somewhere to grunting nearly indecipherable, throaty rhymes over warbling, evil basslines at parties.
Which is exactly what he's going to do tonight at the Gay 90's. But before Madkid and MC Crow head over to the club, they stop to check out Cheapo's selection of dance vinyl. Bennington seeks out an Aphrodite record for autograph purposes. McMillan gawks at the old rap tapes: The concept of 69 Boyz (of "Tootsie Roll" fame) and Arsenio Hall's alter ego, Chunky A., has never been so funny.
With minutes to spare, Madkid and Crow finally make it to the 90's, situating themselves in front of a medium-sized crowd that grows with Crow's every rumble. He grips the mic like it might fly away, yelling for the d'n'b massive to "get down to the sounds of the DJ Madkid." Because they keep their basslines mean, their mixing precise, and their rhymes swift, Madkid and Crow enjoy a receptive crowd even at 10:00 p.m., a time when other locals might consider pairing "Tootsie Roll" with Aphrodite's underground hit "Woman That Rolls" to maintain the club's attention. Madkid and Crow love the crowd. And as they've proven in the past two hours of frantic preparation, no lost keys, wet records, or rap tapes covered with parachute pants and thong-strung booties can keep them away.