Meet the Artists Pushing Pop-Punk into the Future

EKKSTACY, Meet Me @ the Altar and KennyHoopla have a new sound but a familiar attitude

Photo: Stephen McGill

BY Matt BobkinPublished Oct 20, 2022

Pop-punk isn't just a sound: it's a mindset. That mindset of flipping off the status quo and unite the misfits against monocultural forces — plus a love of crunchy guitar riffs and radio-friendly hooks — unites artists like the Ramones, Bad Religion, Green Day and Avril Lavigne, who have all channelled and subverted the dominant musical trends of their time in pursuit of authentic self-expression.

Today's cohort is no different, whether including electronic and metalcore influences or cutting their teeth online rather than in dingy clubs, resulting in another pop-punk renaissance that's pushing the genre in fresh directions while keeping the original spirit alive.

With Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Willow Smith and Machine Gun Kelly recently racking up millions of plays with their own takes on the genre, here are five favourites holding down the fort on the ground level.

Compared to the other artists on this list, the Halifax quartet are a little more old-school in their influences and approach: lead vocalist Matty Grace is a bonafide punk historian, and her encyclopedic knowledge of the genre's many facets comes through in each song from the band's short and sweet EPs: this summer's Enemy Us collab with Toronto band Talk Show Host is a tribute to California punk band Enemy You, while the forthcoming Transgender Dystopia Blues (out October 6, Grace's birthday) is named after Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me!, whose lead singer Laura Jane Grace (no relation) is a noted fan.

The Vancouver breakout embodies both sides of the genre's name, mixing the former's clear and catchy hooks with the latter's "no seconds wasted" approach, and song titles like "i want to die in your arms" and "i wish i was dead" (from his new album, which is of course titled misery) speak to the genre's themes of inescapable alienation. Though his jangling guitars recall the Smiths and the Drums, EKKSTACY continues walking down the path set out by his influences, emo rap pioneers Lil Peep and XXXTENTACION, as proof of the way the pop-punk ethos has evolved over the years to be found in all facets of modern rock music.

KennyHoopla's earliest releases energetically roamed around the worlds of drum and bass, dance-punk and emo rap, but teaming up with Travis Barker on 2021 joint release Survivors Guilt: The Mixtape gave the Clevelander the focus to allow his own style to develop. While the Blink-182 timekeeper has been meticulously replicating the sound of his mid-aughts glory days for his recent work with Avril Lavigne and Machine Gun Kelly, KennyHoopla's penchant for versatility keeps things exciting throughout. Here, it's heard in his vocal deliveries, from sultry whispers to full-throated belting to screamo shouts. Barker's not the only 2000s pop-punk star paying attention — when I asked Sum 41's Deryck Whibley earlier this summer if any new stars had caught his attention, KennyHoopla got an immediate shoutout.

Meet Me @ the Altar
Pop-punk's past and present collide with Meet Me @ the Altar, who found each other via YouTube covers of songs by Twenty One Pilots and Paramore before signing to those artists' label home, emo powerhouse Fueled by Ramen. Speaking with The New York Times last year, guitarist Téa Campbell said about the signing, "That was always the goal, the end goal … everything happened so fast that I feel like we didn't even truly have time to realize, 'Damn, we've been thinking about this since we were 14 years old, and it's actually happening right now.'" They're not content to replicate their idols' sound, like when their trademark fuzzed-out guitars, defiant vocals and absolutely filthy low end give way to a glitched-out breakdown on "Now or Never."

Pinkshift fit right in with bands like Sum 41, New Found Glory and the Wonder Years, and not just because they're now all labelmates on Hopeless Records. Ashrita Kumar's pleading lyrics are clear and heartfelt, providing enough grounding so guitarist Paul Vallejo can go absolutely wild with metalcore riffs. The Baltimore trio's story of putting their med school and engineering dreams to the side — at least for the time being — when their music video went viral has become instant lore, and upcoming debut album Love Me Forever, due October 21, is going to keep them at bay for at least a little while longer. As Kumar recalled to Kerrang! in July, "We all have immigrant parents, and they were like, 'What did we come to this country for? We didn't do it for you to play in your little band!'" We're glad the band members remain confident in their decision.

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