Turn, Turn, Turn

Have wheels of steel, will travel: DJ Andrew Broder of Cropduster and the Fog

Have wheels of steel, will travel: DJ Andrew Broder of Cropduster and the Fog

The difference between the untamed urban beast and the domesticated office drone may come down to when he administers his daily dose of caffeine. The day-dweller pondering eight hours in front of a static screen hits the cup as close to waking as possible; the nocturnal musician pondering his Saturday night might swallow his first swill at 10:30 p.m. So it is with Andrew Broder, a busy young man with rumpled clothes and dark rings under his eyes, and a demonstrated ability to brew a fierce cup of night coffee. He also has more projects percolating than an Iron Chef with five minutes left on the clock. On his kitchen table is a doodle of a robot he scribbled atop the cover sheet of a thick recording contract. He's too coy to discuss the specifics buried in the paper's legalese. He will reveal, though, that some unnamed label is offering to rerelease The Fog--a CD that Broder initially self-released--which stands to date as his hip-hop/indie-rock everything. That is, when he isn't DJing around town at hip-hop shows, or playing with the pop-jazz experiment Cropduster, or dwelling on the typical distractions of a 22-year-old--such as redefining the role of the turntable in the new century.

"I'm more into the idea of making the turntable an instrument that can act as part of a unit, as part of a band, and not sound like it's contrived," Broder says. "Or that it's brought in for the hell of it so that a band can say they have a DJ." The label interest is just another occurrence in what Broder describes as a "weird week": He's been nominated as best turntablist for the Minnesota Music Awards; and two of his outfits--the Fog and Cropduster--have landed in the top five bands chosen for this year's Picked to Click poll. Which probably accounts for some of the weariness Broder is now transferring to the couch of his south Minneapolis home, where he is slumped with a television remote, switching between Black Entertainment Television and a basketball game before finally shutting the set off.

A couple of years back, when this writer last checked in with Andrew Broder--a crew member of the popular local graffiti zine Life Sucks Die--he was a skinny, comical, 20-year-old white kid fresh out of St. Louis Park. His days of being a teenage punk rocker who played in a number of local bands, including Shampoop, were just about finished. While writing for LSD, he attracted attention for his sarcastic columns, which took the piss out of wannabes with crummy taste in music, those who spoke in beginner-level Ebonics, and other aspects of what LSD called "shit-hop" culture. Broder was also a fledgling hip-hop turntablist known as DJ Andrew.

These days Broder is a markedly more somber character (though he remains as polite as ever). He talks about "being in the moment"--a powerful maxim that is most frequently learned through life's more wretched experiences. Broder had his own tough turn back in the winter of 1998 when he came down with a serious case of pneumonia.

"Everybody has bad times, and I don't want to overdramatize," Broder says. "It was a transitional time, a real defining time for me. Like, 'Everything I have been doing up until now is bullshit.' And then when I came out of that, I was like, 'Okay, I have to figure out what I am going to do that is going to be worth something.'"

And so he dropped out of art school at the U of M and applied his college fund to working on a CD, originally conceived as a scratch album with guitar solos. The final product is The Fog, featuring Broder on all sorts of instruments--guitars, keyboards, even a revved-up furnace. Such sounds match his turntable moves, sound effects, and samples. The album begins with "A Word of Advice," featuring MF Doom--the underground legend (formerly of KMD)--delivering a how-to-live-your-life-right rant. It's a perfect introduction to a record filled with Broder's youthful influences, such as the hip-hop styles of the mid-Nineties and layers of noise. The Fog does contain some punchy politics, best evidenced by a picture of Broder in the CD liner notes. His head is cropped off, and the rest of his trunk holds a turntable with a Woody Guthrie-inspired message scratched on its disc plate: "This is not a turntable. This is a fascist-killing machine."

For the ladies, The Fog also nakedly shows Broder's sensitive side. The most infectiously catchy track, appropriately called "Pneumonia," is a melancholic pop confessional, with Broder playing acoustic guitar, singing in an almost Damien Jurado-style voice about taking a shower with his clothes on and having a revelation: "I figured out that I hate you all." To bring this whole concept to stage, Broder enlists guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker (who also helped record the CD), Martin Dosh on drums and keyboards, and Mark Erickson, who plays bass and keyboards.

Sitting up straight, Broder becomes calmly intense, allowing only a bit of deadpan to slip into his voice: "The CD is like the quote-unquote Real Me. It's totally honest. It's a serious thing. That's why it has a new name. That's why my picture's not on it. That's why I'm not calling myself DJ Andrew anymore." The CD is definitely a break from the three hip-hop, downbeat-heavy mix tapes Broder self-released under the name DJ Andrew: The Money Shot, Born to Lose, and Happy Birthday Party Time. Broder says that while he enjoyed that period of making music, which ended in late 1998, he often felt that pure DJing lacked the emotional release he craved.

With his work in Cropduster, Broder is also pushing himself to think beyond the house party. Featuring two members from the now-defunct local groove-funk act the Sensational Joint Chiefs--J.G. Everest and Bryan Olson--as well as Broder and Dosh, Cropduster is more of a poppy jazz experiment. Judging by the two self-titled EPs the group has released, the sound is neither gritty nor abrasive, nor is it particularly swinging. It's not acid jazz, or jam-session fare either, Broder says, lauding instead its improvisational element as well as its concrete songwriting.

For now, Broder's main frustration with Cropduster is how little time he has to devote to it. But that's not going to happen tonight. The phone that's been ringing sporadically is finally answered--and from one side of the conversation, it's not hard to figure out that the caller is wondering why Broder isn't down at the Dinkytowner yet. He will be soon: There are still a couple of hours left until bar time, and whatever comes after.