To command a crowd at The Sylvee, an artist must be able to draw fans to feel like they are connecting at an intimate level with the performer on stage, going deeper than the grip of groupthink and ascending into a higher state.
This was of no issue for deM atlaS when he opened up for Atmosphere prior to our Thanksgiving feasts. The rapper turned in one of the most mesmerizing sets you could attend.
His energy was infectious, drawing the audience into a singular conscience lost within the vocal soundscape of what seemed like a full orchestral backup. As the lyrical poet bounced around the stage, he integrated the feeling of a rock show — and the crowd was loving it.
Walking into The Sylvee, the openness is the first thing that catches the eye. Some artists may have trouble in the space if they are unable to project themselves properly. It’s easy to get lost in the swell of the crowd, losing focus of the performer on stage.
Although there was an opener before the Minnesota rapper, it seemed like the fans were still shaking off the cold and kick-starting their energy. With a voice which can only be described as “silky-smooth heat,” deM ignited the room. It wasn’t long until hands were in the air and the congregation was moving back and forth to the beat.
Outside of rap, the 25-year-old is Joshua Evans, a very intelligent individual who is constantly being inspired — but does not allow himself to conform to the fluctuations of popular culture. Evans is driven to create his own sound and occupy his own space within the culture, blending genres together to form an incredibly intriguing style.
From a young age Evans was determined to be on stage. He used to spend hours in front of a mirror dancing along to old James Brown concerts, losing himself in the flow of the dancing and music.
“It might sound crazy, but I wouldn’t see myself in the mirror, I would see myself on a stage performing in front of a crowd,” Evans said. “I would be up early in the morning before school even going at it.”
The James Brown influence can still be heard in Evans’ music today, as he frequently uses jazzier, upbeat instrumentals which drive the listener to bop around and move however they see fit. Evans has been able to channel passion and energy, naturally imbued in disco and incorporated into his own live performances. All of the time and effort that was put into his personal performances in the mirror served as a jumping off point for Evans.
In high school Evans was the frontman of a genre-ranging band, playing heavy metal to alternative-acid rock, a role which helped him cultivate his onstage presence. The group called themselves The Argonauts, playing at local venues in Minneapolis as well as school dances.
It wasn’t long before Evans became deM atlaS, venturing out on his own, eventually self-producing and releasing his debut album Charlie Brwn.
“I was mainly playing in dive bars and little venues with maybe 20-30 people at the show,” Evans said.
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This eventually caught the attention of none other than the frontman of Atmosphere himself, Slug. For a kid who had spent many of his formative years in Minneapolis, there was no greater honor than to have a city legend sign him to the label Atmosphere founded back in 1995, Rhymesayers.
He kept working on his skills as a solo performer, honing his abilities to control a crowd and connect with them at the same time. In a moment this all changed when deM signed with Rhymesayers and was immediately thrown on tour with Atmosphere around Minnesota.
“I’m an acute observer, it was awesome to be able to watch Atmosphere night after night rocking the crowds,” Evans said. “Their team is so skilled and proficient, they’ve been doing this for so long that they have it all down and ready to go so for me it’s pretty much just plug in and play.”
Fortunately for all of us, Evans was able to make the transition seem easy. Over the last four to five years, he has continued to refine his skills to the point where one would have to question why he isn’t headlining his own shows.
Evans says the punk scene influences the ways he performs live, bringing raw energy and emotional intensity to the stage, emptying himself out by the end of the night.
“Punk is freedom, it is come as you are, be yourself,” Evans said, an ethos clear to any follower of his music.
The remainder of the Minnesotan’s tour travels down south, and Evans can’t complain with winter looming over the Midwest like a grey wool blanket. The rapper’s latest release, Bad Actress, is available on all streaming services, including Atmosphere’s Mi Vida Local.