Christmas in April for Syracuse concertgoers

Rapper Michael Christmas and electronic music producer Sweater Beats' concert at Skybarn on South Campus features Christmas' eccentric hip-hop stylings and Sweater's tripped out brand of EDM.

It’s a rain-drenched Thursday night, and Michael Christmas is moving and mingling through the small crowd at a South Campus venue, cutting a striking and colorful figure with a large build and puffy hair that easily dwarfs the biggest afro you’ve ever seen.

 “I think I’m inspired by everyday life,” Christmas, the 21-year-old rapper from Boston, Massachusetts, said before performing at Skybarn along with rising electronic music maestro Sweater Beats on April 2.

“I think so many cool things are happening right now,” Christmas said. “I just wanna tell those stories.”

Just before taking the stage, an audience member gets Christmas’s ear, telling him he’s only first heard of the rapper today.

“My friend showed me a couple of your videos in his dorm today,” said Elisha Jackson, a high school senior who says he took a Greyhound bus from Buffalo to Syracuse that morning to visit friends and see Christmas perform. “But I’m excited for the show.”

“Yeah, it's gonna be lit,” Christmas said, jovially slapping hands with the 18-year-old before heading to the stage.

Christmas said he takes more cues from comedians and movie actors than he does from musicians – something easy to believe when experiencing his live show.

It’s an affair that is a cross between a stand-up comic routine and what one imagines it might feel like to visit a cartoon universe for a night with two flat-screen TVs on both sides of the stage soundlessly playing old "Dragon Ball Z" episodes nonstop throughout the entire performance.

Christmas is no Christopher Wallace, but he can spit hard and his rhymes are often surprisingly clever.

Christmas’s music is heavily saturated with pop culture references that seep into his unique persona. His most popular song, the oddly appealing “Michael Cera”, exemplifies this quality. The song’s video has garnered over 225,000 YouTube views and features both deadpan singing and rhymes littered with "Superbad" references.

Confronted by the spectacle of this rapper, who loudly claims that Michael Cera is his “spirit animal” mid-set and whose monstrous afro bounces when he roars lines after sharing the heartrending details of a seventh grade romance gone wrong, one wonders whether a rapper like this could only exist in 2015. He’s also one of the few buzzing rappers to come out of Boston in the city’s entire history, a fact Christmas blames on a lack of rap industry structure in the ancient Massachusetts capital.

Christmas was born and raised by his Puerto Rican mother and African-American father in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, also incidentally the same area from which Bobby Brown’s group New Edition first launched their takeover of R&B in the late '70s.

Christmas said he led a sheltered life, and didn’t start going out much until he was 17 or 18 years old.

“Growing up in Boston didn’t really do much for me,” Christmas said. “It was more growing up around my family and being isolated, because the only time I was with other people was in school.”

Christmas said his mother and father’s personalities mainly built him up in his high school years. During that period, he made music and consumed movies, television, and hip-hop before beginning to tour roughly two years ago.

Since then, Christmas said recent successes such as his nomination for XXL Magazine’s 'Freshmen List' still feel surreal. He said he’s planning out a roughly 15-song project to follow 2014’s "Is This Art?,"  of which four or so tracks are produced by his friend and collaborator Goodwin, a beat-maker that served as Christmas’s DJ during the show and also created the musical backdrop for “Michael Cera.” Christmas’s musical aesthetic owes a good deal to Goodwin’s lo-fi sensibilities, which have helped craft signature songs like “Daily” and “Taco Truck.”

Before leaving the stage, Christmas ended what had been an unorthodox but cinematic show with his signature ad-lib, “Tick, tick?”

The Hypnotic Sounds of Sweater Beats

Like many of the rising talents within the burgeoning and wildly unrestrained world of modern electronic music, the music of Brooklyn-based producer Sweater Beats is an immersive experience.

Sweater Beats, whose real name is Antonio Cuna, stood at his DJ table and swayed to and fro with the rhythms of his music. While his simple clothes, glasses, and understated demeanor are a far cry from the elaborate dystopian facelessness of EDM superstars like Daft Punk and Deadmau5, the music shares some overarching elements.

The music of Sweater Beats and others of his electronically driven generation is less an appeal to the psyche and humanity of the audience than it is to physicality. The looping tones and warped future-funk samples gradually blur together until there are no tracks, there are no hits; just psychedelic manipulation of constantly morphing sound, and a beat that never ends. One can see an artist like Sweater Beats fitting in at the music festival circuit — indeed, the self-proclaimed beat junkie is set to perform at the “What the Festival” in Oregon and Delaware’s Firefly festival this summer.

Altogether, Sweater Beats is a skilled producer with a freewheeling style that combines samples of smooth, occasionally disco-inflected R&B with a trippy sonic energy that is very of-the-moment. This package of qualities gives Sweater Beats interesting pop appeal that didn’t always translate well during his performance in the unfilled space of the Skybarn, but one can imagine him leading thousands of festival-goers in ecstasy-crazed dance this summer with thumping success. 

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