Milwaukee native John Brander has been making cleverly titled hip-hop instrumental music with a futuristic feel for 15 years. Five years ago, he teamed up with fellow instrumentalist/DJ and artist Zach Chappelle to form Spacecrime.
These days, Spacecrime is a solo project for Brander, although Chappelle still contributes artwork. Brander’s latest album, Night Of The Beats, with cover art by Chappelle, will be available for streaming on all major platforms, including Bandcamp and Soundcloud, June 15.
Since leaving his 9-5 job several months ago, Brander has been working full-time on his music. Besides his latest album, he is working on several EPs, which he plans to release by the end of summer. Milwaukee Record caught up with Brander to talk movies, Milwaukee’s electronic music scene in the early ’00s, the city’s hip-hop scene today, and his latest video, “Angered Entity,” produced by Wendy Norton of Norton Video.
Catch Spacecrime in action June 23 at Landmark Lanes—for a birthday and album release party for Milwaukee rap artist Spaidez, featuring a performance by Shle Berry—and July 7 at Cactus Club, where Brander will DJ Midsummer Cactus Lemonade, a show featuring local hip-hop artists Dana Coppa, Dad, Fushi, WillTheGlide, and Deonte “Weekend” Neely.
Milwaukee Record: You’ve been busy lately, producing Night Of The Beats, making a music video, and setting up shows. Tell us about your latest album.
John Brander: Night Of The Beats features 30 instrumental tracks you can purchase for $10 total. You get 30 songs you can rap over—some artists charge as much as $20 per track. This way you can afford to make a whole project. I wanted the album to be a tool for artists, but people who are fans of instrumentals can also enjoy this, too. Starting June 15, the album will be available on every streaming platform. I either played or programmed every instrument on this album—to avoid copyright infringement, I didn’t use samples. I’ll say this album is 99.9% sample-free.
MR: How did you get into hip-hop production and making instrumentals? Do you come from a musical family?
JB: Yes, I do. Mom plays guitar; my sister, cello, piano, and viola. I played the violin for five years, but when I got to middle school, I chose sports. In high school, I had a friend who was into DJ Shadow, Massive Attack, Portishead, lots of trip-hop. I remember thinking, “I can listen to these beats for hours.” By the time I was in my late teens, my friends and I would buy records and discover instrumentals on the B-sides. We thought, “We could freestyle over this.”
I looked up to the older electronic guys in Milwaukee, like Doormouse, who owned Massive Records. I remember being starstruck by all the talent in the area. I really miss places like Atomic Records.
MR: How did Spacecrime get started?
JB: I’ve been putting out music publicly for five years and have made lots of beats for friends. Zach and others would come over to my place and scratch. Zach had a great apartment above Honeypie and a great DJ setup. All I had to do was go over there and plug in my laptop.
After I left my job, I got a great feeling of happiness. This is the first time in my life I’ve learned stuff on my own, without a curriculum. I watched a bunch of YouTube tutorials during the day on how to use autotune, how to produce music, etc. At night, I’d read about audio production, making music, stuff like that. In the past, I’d never felt all that comfortable playing keys, but every song on the new album was created by me.
MR: Your music reflects a film score and ambient music influence. Who are some of your favorite artists and composers?
JB: Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack was the first one I ever bought. Besides cinema, my music is also influenced by comics and ambient artists. Some obvious ones, like Brian Eno. I’m a big fan of the Canadian musician and DJ Richie Hawtin, a.k.a. Plastikman. Lately I’ve been listening to the score for the movie Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The movie is great. It’s so real, so visceral. Oneohtrix Point Never, a.k.a. Daniel Lopatin, does the film score. I’d never heard of the dude before, but it turns out he’s been around for 20 years. It’s very emotional music.
MR: Tell me a bit about your latest video, “Angered Entity,” produced by Wendy Norton?
JB: I really want to give Wendy the shine. None of us have much money, and she really made things affordable. The video looks professional quality. My friends that appear in the video are so shy, but Wendy edited it to make us all look like awesome dancers!
MR: Lastly, how to you feel about the hip-hop scene in Milwaukee today? Is there a lot of competition?
JB: There’s still competition, but it’s getting better. I can say I love the new generation of hip-hop artists. Kids in their teens and 20s are open-minded and all about diversity and being inclusive. Also, the internet makes it easier for artists to trade music. It’s great for shy people!
MR: What are your future musical plans?
JB: I’m working on a few collaborative EPs. One is a compilation for Arthaus Bando, a hip-hop collective started by Fushi, Hot Science, and Spaidez. Another is a project with Fushi. A third is with Hey Zeus, Fushi, and Hot Science.