The student body’s reaction to University Union’s announcement of the Juice Jam 2016 line-up has been overwhelmingly positive as a whole this year. With big names like Fetty Wap and Tove Lo coming to ‘Cuse, there is justification for the excitement. But, as with any concert or music festival with hit artists performing as the main acts, naturally some of the lesser-known artists have been eclipsed in all the excitement. One in particular, Stephen, deserves your recognition and here’s why.
Those who will be in attendance on Sunday will thank themselves for learning a little more about this up-and-coming artist before the concert. For anyone who simply wants to get inebriated and dance mindlessly to “Trap Queen” or “Talking Body,” Stephen may not be your favorite act — and that’s OK. His sound might be a little too sleepy for those who look at Juice Jam as a day to let loose and get wild with the rest of the student body at Skytop Field. But for those who want to appreciate a natural talent and a more alternate sound among the lineup of DJs, rappers and edgy pop princesses, he’s going to be your guy. Plus, with the rate that he’s currently gaining popularity, you might be someone who gets to say “I saw him back then.”
Originally known as Stephen Swartz, this electronic/alternative singer-songwriter has been on the map, slowly but surely gaining traction since 2012. In May of this year, he released his debut album Sincerely. Today, he is best known for his chilling song “Crossfire,” with its haunting, raw vocals, ominous electronic notes and dark lyrical undertones. The lyrics are striking and seem to incorporate elements speaking to gun violence in America. That, combined with skin-prickling electronic effects that sound at times like a life monitor in a hospital or a person mourning, can’t help but conjure images of an innocent person trapped in a corrupt, dangerous world. Yet, the song combines beautifully and ends up feeling more electrifying and spirited than sad. He’s also gained popularity from his cover of “Hello” by Adele, which is certainly worth giving a listen to on Youtube as it is simply a strong showcase for Stephen’s raw vocal talent and capability of producing electronic music that remains unique and identifiable to the artist.
This guy has undeniable talent. Though he is multi-faceted as an artist, he is best known for his voice. His voice carries a subtle mournfulness similar to other alternative artists like Hozier or Alt-J. But Stephen can do more than just sing. He has the creative intelligence needed to be able to stand alone in the music industry and is the sole creator of most of the music he records. He wrote, performed, produced, mixed, and mastered every track off of his debut album, “Sincerely.” He is also skilled at guitar, Launchpad, drums and piano.
There are those who would argue with me here, but I think it sometimes enhances my experience as a listener if the artist themselves has heart and style that I can relate to or look up to. Sometimes it is just about the music. But, other times it is nice to feel proud to be a fan of a musician because of their messages and character, and to want to truly support them as an artist. Stephen is the type of musician who has remained humble and connected to his fans. Just look at this Facebook post for proof. Or this one.
So, whether or not you agree with me on paying recognition to a musician’s character as a human being, this certainly is a good showcase for Stephen’s. He’s never shy about using his voice to promote messages of love, peace, and unity. And, with so much violence and chaos still plaguing our nation and the world as a whole, an artist who uses their platform to promote peaceful ideals should not go without recognition.
I hope my fellow Juice Jam attendees enjoy Stephen’s performance and look forward to it as much as I do. Though his musical style isn’t quite that of typical college “drinking music,” he is a talent that Syracuse University students are lucky to witness alongside the other notable names on Sunday.