Meet KennyHoopla, the Wisconsin shape-shifter repurposing indie bangers for the 2020s

On new EP ‘how can i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?’, the new talent presents his brand of what he calls “new wave nostalgia”. Basically indie-disco smashers

There are a lot of contradictions within KennyHoopla. During conversation, the loosely Wisconsin-based nomad apologises for himself, almost every sentence, often for “talking too much” or “sounding cheesy”. The music he’s discussing, though – his upcoming debut EP ‘how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?’ – is some of the most sure-footed and purposeful indie-rock to be released so far this year.

“I don’t even really know how to play guitar,” he tells NME, revealing that the first time he wrote a song on a six-string, it ended up being the new EP’s title track, a truly wonderful, fizzing indie banger that feels like a direct descendent of Bloc Party’s ‘Silent Alarm’.

“I’ve always felt like I understand the guitar,” Kenny – real name Kenneth La’Ron (the Hoopla is a Spongebob reference, he squirms) – says. “There’s an aura about indie rock music, and a sound and energy that I can’t explain, but I feel like I have it in me. It was cool that it came out and other people are feeling it. It was written in a place in which I felt super doubtful.” He pauses. “Sorry… that was so all over the place.”

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Though ‘how will i rest in peace…’ will sound something like a throwback to mid-’00s indie fans, it’s a sound Kenny has come relatively recently to. He says he expected the swathe of Bloc Party comparisons from the EP’s title track, and is still deep in his obsession for Kele Okereke and co, having discovered them around a year ago. Joining them on his list of new favourites are Test Icicles. “It’s the guy from Blood Orange!” he exclaims. “It blew my mind!”

This era of British indie rock arrived with a rather snobby attitude, regarding who can or can’t be in these bands, who you grew up listening to, and when you first picked up the guitar. It’s a set of prerequisites that still linger to this day, and one that makes KennyHoopla’s atypical approach all the more refreshing. His frequently hilarious Twitter account is a document of a youngster discovering mid ‘00s indie mainstays in real time, and working his new obsessions (most recently Two Door Cinema Club and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) into his ever-expanding musical landscape. Aside from making millennials feel positively ancient, it’s an endearingly earnest portrait of an artist with so much still to discover.

Stumbling into one of Kenny’s live shows in New York City late last year, supporting Beabadoobee at a showcase event in Chelsea, the youngster sets himself up with the trademark aesthetic of an emerging rapper. A hype man beckons his arrival and he barrels on stage like a ball of energy belting out bedroom-pop songs and indie smashers being blasted from a set of decks – no band in sight. The juxtapositions are thrilling.

On the new EP, he mixes the straight-up indie disco of the title track with the late-night Burial-influenced glitch house of opener ‘thinkingoutloud’, the endearingly lo-fi ‘plastic door’, which nods to the ruff’n’ready likes of (Sandy) Alex G while offering a peek into something more anthemic, and the driving, widescreen ‘Sore Loser’.

“I wanted to make an introduction to myself,” he says of the debut collection. “I’m sure I’m all over the place and people won’t understand it for a long time, but it’s an introduction to my world. It makes me able to manoeuvre like that in the future. I wanted to set that foreground. Did that make any sense? Sorry.”

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Coming from a generation with access to every era of music at their fingertips, the meshing of genres has become inevitable and omnipresent in the music of Gen Z creators, and Kenny rolls a vision on his debut EP – he calls it “new wave nostalgia”.

“Sorry, I might sound dumb but…” he begins. “I’m trying to capture the feeling of being in love for the first time. It’s a nostalgia in itself. It’s not necessarily me trying to go back, but instead making a new [nostalgia], which is living in the moment. I’m not trying to redefine a genre or a sound – I’m trying to redefine myself through the music. And that’s what creates nostalgia, having a new story and a new mind.

“This is gonna sound corny… but if you’re being yourself, you’re being unique, because no-one can be you as much as you can be you. It’s easy to come across as ‘different’, and in coming across as ‘different’, you can give someone a feeling they’ve never felt before. I’m not trying to go between genres, I’m just showing people that this is Kenny,” he says. “When I’m making indie music, it’s straight indie. I like to keep the essence in everything.”

Shunning the ironic detachment of the music which he’s rapidly discovering, the emergence of KennyHoopla sees an artist earnestly, hungrily seeking out his next musical obsession, before letting it seep into his orbit without any preconceptions, adding another colour to his already vibrant palette. While the music coming out of the mid-’00s indie scene was heavily coated in irony, his approach to both the discovery and creation of music is brilliantly earnest, and it’s a sincerity that’s quickly becoming a calling card of the Gen Z scene – nothing’s cooler right now than being open and honest.

“I’ve been writing music for three years, and I still don’t really have a process yet,” he says, instead acting on instinct and gut feeling. Adding structure and order to this erratic, impulsive and wildly exciting formula, though, might just take the magic out of it. On this debut EP, KennyHoopla dives without pretension into the thrill of spilling your guts on the page while taking on any genre or style that feels right. There’s nothing to be sorry for.

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