It’s an hour before EKKSTACY performs in New York City for the first time, and he’s been drinking. He’s pacing around Brooklyn venue Baby’s All Right before the show, dressed in black pants, black Alexander McQueen sneakers, a studded belt, and a black Suspiria T-shirt with the neckline cut out, revealing the top half of a starfish-sized heptagram tattoo just below his throat. Black dreadlocks hang over his face, and he’s got chunky silver rings on most, if not all, of his fingers. He drinks before shows to take the edge off, but he’s especially anxious about this night in New York.

“I don’t really like New York really in the first place,” the 19-year-old artist from Vancouver explains, recalling the day. “I was with my friends and we had a room at The Standard, East Village. I didn’t want to do the show because I was so nervous, because I didn’t think it was going to be good. I was in the hotel room just drinking and being like, ‘Oh, fuck, I have a show tonight, fuck fuck fuck fuck.’”

While early fans are filtering in through the front door, EKKSTACY and his friend Pastel Drip slip outside and sit on the ground about 30 feet away, right outside the reach of the lights. Slumped over with backs against the wall, they vape for a few minutes and then circle around the small crowd by the entrance and walk back in. 

When the show starts, EKKSTACY looks like he’s in the zone. At over six feet tall with broad shoulders, he’s a physical presence. When his upbeat songs come on—unifying post punk melodies with SoundCloud rap-era scrappiness—he turns on the energy, bouncing up and down on stage while his hair does the same on top of his head, giving brief glimpses of his face. On the slower tracks, he sits on the front edge of the stage surrounded by the fans who already know all the words to his songs. He seems confident and in control of the space around him, but there’s also something fragile and withdrawn about the way he carries himself. When he’s not yelling ad-libs and wailing out hooks, he’s soft-spoken and reserved.

As a kid, EKKSTACY was hyper, happy, and had a pretty typical upbringing. On his first day of high school, his parents got divorced and he started to become more isolated and detached. For the first time in his life he didn’t have many friends. He describes his younger self as an outcast and a loser who wanted to make music but lacked the confidence required, and he didn’t feel like he had anything to say.

One night during high school, he tried drugs for the first time (he chooses not to disclose which substance) but it backfired and threw him into a temporary psychosis. In a state of drug-induced panic, EKKSTACY attempted suicide by jumping out of a window. He ended up in the hospital and was left with scars from the broken glass, but he survived. He says the traumatic experience triggered a change in him overnight. His mental health was at an all-time low, but he needed something to do and music became therapeutic. Plus, now he had something to talk about.

If EKKSTACY was a little bit older he might have been part of the SoundCloud rap movement of the 2010s, but by the time he was releasing music during his final years of high school, that wave had broken into three groups of artists: the few who became commercial stars, the many who remained mostly obscure underground acts, and the ones who passed away far too young. When EKKSTACY started taking music seriously, the SoundCloud scene as we know it was mostly a thing of the past. EKKSTACY and his friends knew they needed to develop their own sound if they wanted to stand out.

For the past years, he’s been doing just that. When he was in his early teens, he was listening to acts like Lil Peep and XXXTentacion, but more recently he’s gotten into indie rock, post punk, and songwriters like Elliott Smith. Since his first SoundCloud releases a couple of years ago, his style has changed drastically from track to track, and he struck gold with 2020’s “i walk this earth all by myself,” a lo-fi indie hit that has over 10 million streams on Spotify alone.

When I speak to EKKSTACY the week after his New York show, he’s back home in Vancouver at his dad’s house. As we talk through FaceTime, he sits in a dark room with blue lighting and chooses to stay mostly off camera while opening up about anxiety, his upcoming project Negative, and the nightmarish experience that made him turn to music in the first place. Despite some difficult topics coming up, he’s open to talking about it all, including the fact that on this particular day, he’s thinking about his ex-girlfriend.

EKKSTACY’s debut EP Negative is out November 12. Pre-save here.

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