Bells & Whistles, Vol. 16: quannnic’s first show

Over the weekend, as I nibbled at a sandwich on a boat in Miami, my phone slipped out of my pocket and sank to the bottom of the ocean. DJ Khaled on the jetski was my muse as I navigated South Beach using the stars. Millan was missing-in-action as well; I’m not so sure why but allegedly he was running around in Florida too. As such, we have no new music thoughts or takes to report. Instead, in this week’s column, we are featuring a lovely review of quannnic’s first-ever concert from friend of the blog Mason Stoutamire, who told me he discovered the budding Florida internet rocker through his 15-year-old sister. – Mano

Two weeks ago, I read an article in Vox that quoted the media CEO Lucas Keller: “Streaming is a great way to make an artist faceless.” I’ve been chewing on it for a while. I hardly know what a pop star is at this point. There’s plenty of talent without an omnipresent face. 

Last week, on May 17, I visited the Moroccan Lounge to see quannnic, an 18-year-old Florida kid whose face I couldn’t previously describe at all, but whose sense for sludge-filled shoegaze stood out among the rest. The pop star may be dead, but the powers that drew me to buying a ticket to see quannnic’s first live show had that kind of gravity. 

A line of crossed arms, messy wolf cuts, and all-black outfits joined me on 1st Street of LA’s fashion district. We all wanted to experience the confessions of this anonymous, brooding teen that poured their heart out on tracks so full that they could burst at any moment.

There are videos of Modern Warfare 2 lobbies that resemble the gain on quannnic’s breakout single “life imitates life,” which has rallied fans of Jane Remover, Slowdive and Crystal Castles in the last few months. A booming lullaby outlining quannnic’s strengths, it sounds like a tattered El Camino driving off of a cliff and growing wings before hitting the ground. 

On first listen, I heard something familiar, yet revelatory in quannnic’s debut album kenopsia, released last year. quannnic’s music executes slowcore tropes with post-hyperpop maximalism. Reaching for a spectrum of textures and frequencies across songs almost fit for radio, quannnic uses pop to bring the mix to its brink. kenopsia carries the adolescent, emo/hip-hop melodrama of the first Scream Soundtrack with viscerally self-destructive lyrics between crumpled mumbles.

I wondered how quannnic’s giant digital wall of noise would translate to a venue.

After the opener’s last song around 11pm, someone walked in front of the mic, arms length from the crowd, wearing a graphic white tee depicting Tweety Bird and Sylvester the Cat. 

“What’s up LA, I’m bout to play some shit you never heard,” they said. 

We couldn’t really see quannnic’s face, but they could see all of ours through wispy strands of hair. After opening with an unreleased song to a muted response, they played the kenopsia cut “snarky.” A few shoulders started grooving, but people seemed to notice quannnic wasn’t sending their voice through the grainy, smashed-up sound bed native to kenopsia. Their voice was all alone. I started to worry there was a disconnect between the versions of quannnic’s music we knew and the bare versions we heard them play. 

Three songs in, nobody in the crowd could really figure out how to move. Was quannnic visually shutting us out to avoid stage fright? Did they play songs the crowd didn’t know in case they botched the performance due to nerves? 

Fans gathering before the show. Photo by Mason Stoutamire.

About half an hour into their set, quannnic had played about six unreleased songs and a cover of Jeff Buckley’s “So Real.” Ironically, they seemed very comfortable playing that one — something about the sharp howling and the strum-heavy rendition the band was playing. Their voice control was economical and each lyric came straight from their gut like an emo Care Bear shooting morose into the crowd from the Belly Badge. 

Things took a turn once quannnic parted their hair to reveal a set of proud, clear eyes and played “life imitates life,” with its burning chorus and scream-worthy earworms (like “it’s all his fucking fault”). During the song’s final moments, quannnic let out a scream for the first time in the show. They never sang like they were afraid but the sheer volume was new; we knew that it would be the key to conveying “kenopsia” in its blood and thunder. 

“We’re gonna run that one back,” they said. 

The next time, they didn’t wait until the resolution to scream. quannnic screamed from the first chorus, “EMBED, IT FEELS / LIKE ETERNAL ACHE.” 

“One more time,” quannnic said, returning to the song’s opening verse. Phones floated and caught everything. This is what they came for. 

quannnic performing “life imitates life.” Video by Mason Stoutamire.

Leaving the show, I overheard a group of adults walking to the exit. 

“What’d you think?” one asked. 

“Y’know what? I get it. I wouldn’t listen to it now but I get it. The clothes, the music, all of it.” “I get why they all came to see him,” the other replied. 

There are things that quannnic can improve about their live show. But for someone with two days of practice and limited material to perform, quannnic’s first show opened a world for us to escape whatever drew us to the music in the first place. There was a scream buried beneath all of us. quannnic released everything in our place. 

Popstars usually embrace the limelight and wear faces that look all-appealing. But quannnic’s first show was raw and honest, a glimpse of the world behind their eyes. Kicking, screaming and thrashing at their first crowd, quannnic put a memorable face to their name. That night, we got the grit of expression without the smoke and mirrors. That night, we saw the birth of an emo pop star.

Thoughts? Let us know