KennyHoopla comes roaring out of the traps. Less than two minutes into his lunchtime set on Reading Festival’s BBC Radio 1 Dance stage, the Wisconsin-based artist – real name Kenneth La’ron – screams as he cannonball jumps into a bulging moshpit. His sudden leap into the unknown encourages swarms of curious, eager, adrenaline-fuelled punters to race from the peripheries of the tent to get involved in the unfolding chaos. Bucket hats, shoes, water bottles, and anything not tied down gets volleyed towards the stage, with all the mayhem seeming a twisted token of appreciation from this rowdy lot.
The next 30 minutes are a frantic voyage through the crunchy guitars and anxious hooks that make up Kenny’s Travis Barker team-up ‘SURVIVORS GUILT: THE MIXTAPE//’, and the run of stellar, emo-leaning singles that the 24-year-old has drip-fed to fans since 2017. ‘plastic door//’ (use of forward slashes in song titles are Kenny’s own, it’s not a typo) makes the most of his gruffly intense vocals, which reach an emotional peak on the surging ‘estella//’. Later, ‘hollywood sucks//’ finds the experimental Hoopla addressing the ego-driven toxicity of Los Angeles: “You are not fucking Jesus, he hates LA,” he yelps.
Frenetically pacing the stage with the speed of the Duracell bunny, Kenny is a constant exchange of energy with the audience, feeling every moment. “When I was a kid, I used to perform to the posters on my wall as if they were a crowd, so this is a real dream come true,” he says, visibly tearing up. By now, he is shirtless, and pounding his chest. “I really can’t believe that I’m here. I love you all so much.” After the rapid-fire nothing,nowhere. collab ‘blood’ sees him grab the hands of adoring fans that make up the front rows, you quickly get the sense that many more here today will soon become followers of Kenny’s inclusive pop-punk ethos.
It would be a real understatement to say that Kenny received a hero’s welcome this afternoon; there are plenty of headliners that could only wish for the type of raucous reaction that his scrappy and tuneful songs worked up today. After gleefully letting a team of security guards fret for the safety of the front of stage barrier throughout the soaring ‘how will I rest in peace if I’m buried by a highway?//’, he takes a defiant bow, his first UK festival appearance conquered.
Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Reading & Leeds 2021.