Saturday night at the Sett started quietly. FOANS opened up with a half-hour set of ethereal samples and muted bass before being joined by *hitmayng for another half-hour of chilled-out beats supplemented by subdued samples and electronic squiggles.
His face obscured by a black bandana, FOANS bobbed around behind a MacBook while *hitmayng gradually added synth flourishes and keyboard riffs.
The growing crowd talked and laughed, trying out the occasional dance move before blending back into the audience. A screen in the background played static-obscured videos, most notably a young Drake getting shot on an episode of Degrassi.
Switching between easy, self-deprecating banter with the audience and impassioned rapping, Milo held the stage for more than an hour, touching on the majority of his discography. Fitting under the umbrella category of art rap, Milo’s music deals with themes of loneliness, sexual insecurity, nerdiness and, above all, staying fiercely true to himself.
Live, Milo brought a fierce determination to his music, rapping with a fervent flow while clutching at his shirt or strangling the mic chord. Milo broke the spell between verses with bouts of self-aware interpretive dancing, his head down, arms akimbo.
References to literature, video games and pop culture flew by in a blur. One song calls out both Miley Cyrus and Pokémon in the span of a few seconds. His lyrics are dense and introspective, well worth a deeper reading than a live performance offers.
The anxiety apparent in his music belies his easy confidence on the stage. His relaxed banter set a laid-back tone to counter the anxiety in his music and carried him through stumbles, such as cutting a song off half-way through. Asking the crowd to pick their favorite beat or calling out a collaborator in the crowd kept the mood informal and engaging.
A standout moment was the Riley Lake-produced track “Geometry and Theology.” Sampling America’s “A Horse With No Name,” Milo raps about impending fame and the growing pressure associated with it, his words flowing over insistent acoustic guitar strums and warped violin. The production on this song is a high point, but live, Milo injected a ferocious energy into the track that counterpointed the themes of isolation and despair.
Milo is something of a kindred spirit to the narrator of America’s 1972 chart-topper. As a rapper talking about his love of WWE and Mewtwo he is far from the mainstream. However, Milo turns his uniqueness into a strength, confidently asserting himself as a rapper in a genre defined by Rick Rosses and Jeezys. He may be in the metaphorical wasteland, but his music nevertheless burns with life.