[Keanan performs on The Funky Bazaar stage in December. PHOTO: James Browning]

Keanan Eksteen is a Kraaifontein-born musician strumming charming indie tunes with an old-school rock ‘n roll attitude. An impressive first year of performance in 2022 saw Keanan take his hip-shaking, arm-flinging energy to stages in Europe, sell out local hotspot café Roux, and collaborate with the internationally acclaimed electronic duo, GoldFish

We met up with Keanan and his manager/producer, Jeremy Farber, before his performance at The Funky Bazaar on 17 December. We sat down at The Wolf House down the street from the venue to chat about how he ended up touring overseas, the success of his ‘Dixie Clouds’ music video, and what it was like getting on stage with GoldFish.

Finding the fire

Keanan started learning to play the guitar when he was 11, taught by his father who had experience playing in bands and teaching classes at Jamrock Theatre.

“I started writing at about 16 or so, but then I ended up writing something that sounds like [my] favourite song or referencing from something because I didn’t know where to start. But I’d say around 18 I struck gold with a song called ‘Be Free’,” 22-year-old Keanan explains.

Keanan Eksteen
[Keanan stands next to his merch at The Funky Bazaar. PHOTO: James Browning]

Keanan took the song to the only musician he knew at the time — his dad. They got into contact with For Tomorrow Studios through a friend, where Keanan was introduced to Jeremy Farber. What started as a once-off recording favour turned into talks of an album, and Jeremy put Keanan to the test with open mic nights at The House of Machines.

Keanan tells us he hadn’t performed since he was 14, playing in academy bands, but after a couple of open mics, he knew it was something he needed to do. “Three songs stopped being enough for a night, so I knew there was a fire burning [in me],” Keanan adds.

Material for the Forever EP started coming together in late 2019 with The Lumineers-inspired track ‘Lovin’ Too’. Next up was ‘Dixie Clouds’, which Keanan recalls putting out into the world a little early. “When I still had a YouTube channel, unboxing stuff and making covers, I made this awful video where I was belting off in the wrong key,” Keanan laughs.

Keanan Eksteen
[From left to right: Armand de Vries, Steven Jarvis, Jarid Swart, and Keanan Eksteen. PHOTO: Brett Field]

Keanan tells us that starting to work with a full band opened his eyes to what was possible for his songwriting. “When we started out, I thought I was just a folk musician. I still like a good amount of folk, but then when I got on stage and saw what the band was capable of — I felt there was a lot more potential,” he explains.

The Keanan Eksteen band is made up of three seasoned Cape Town musicians – Armand de Vries (lead guitar and backing vocals), Jarid Swart (drums), and Steven Jarvis (bass).

A promising first release

Keanan’s first real live gig along with his band was a show at District to launch the ‘Dixie Clouds’ music video. “I didn’t play with a pick back then, so I played until my fingers bled — literally. So that was fun. But then I knew I’d have to start learning to play with a pick,” Keanan tells us.

Released on March 20 2022, the ‘Dixie Clouds’ music video quickly gained traction, and currently has 410 000 views on YouTube.  “In the beginning, I couldn’t believe it. It took us two days to get to 1 000, and that was the first song I’d ever released,” Keanan tells us. 

But the views showed no sign of slowing. “It was quite overwhelming to see — when we reached 100 000 I thought maybe we’d stagnate from there. Then we hit 200, 300, now we’re on 400 and we’ve been pretty stable there,” he adds.

Embracing the showman

Quite surprisingly for a fresh-faced musician, Keanan found himself playing his fifth-ever show all the way in Düsseldorf, Germany, to kick off a solo European tour. “He had never even been on a plane before,” says Jeremy, who was able to put the tour together with the help of an old friend in Berlin. 

Between August and September 2022, Keanan played in cities across Germany, France, and Austria. While an intimate evening show on a beach in Biscarrosse came in a close second, Keanan says his stand-out moment was a day off in Munich, visiting friends. 

“We were so busy and on the run in Europe that it was nice to just be around family and chill. Have some cigars and champagne and a nice, wholesome experience. But all in all, I’d go back and do every day over again,” he tells us.

Keanan Eksteen
[Keanan on stage in Berlin, August 2022. PHOTO: Jeremy Farber]

Not content to simply start his career with an overseas tour, more achievements were waiting for Keanan back home. After returning to the Western Cape, Keanan and his band sold out a show at café Roux by themselves in October. 

“That was a very cool one. I actually, beforehand, was not too keen on doing a sit-down venue because once I had a taste of people standing and dancing — what’s it gonna be like playing for people who are sitting down and watching?” Keanan explains.

But Keanan says he was certainly not disappointed by a great crowd that was up and dancing by the end anyway. That’s no surprise to us — it’s hard to imagine sitting still while Keanan gyrates on stage, belting out a Rolling Stones cover.

Keanan has hips that must have escaped straight from 1956, animated with the vigour of a young man who loves to perform. “’I’d say my favourite part is being able to show people what we’ve been working on and seeing them enjoy it. And being able to move — I feel like that’s been a big moment of realisation, that I enjoy being a showman,” Keanan explains.

Keanan Eksteen
[Keanan’s hands take no time to rest when he puts down the guitar. PHOTO: James Browning]

Keanan’s musical style and dance moves echo old-school sensibilities. His dress sense of slick shoes, classy stripes and larger-than-life hair are no different. “I wouldn’t say my style is intentional in terms of searching online for trends, but I definitely have — I almost said a ‘passion for fashion’,” Keanan laughs. “It took me a long time to find something that was quite right for me, but I’ve always enjoyed getting dressed up,” he adds.

Striking gold

Continuing to leapfrog his way to success, Keanan kicked off 2023 by playing with the iconic electronic duo, GoldFish, in front of a sold-out 6 500-person crowd at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.

The opportunity came after Keanan had been collaborating with the duo behind the scenes on their latest track, ‘Sing With Me’.

“My biggest dream has been to perform a stadium show. Something powerful, big, with lights and sparks and a filled-out venue. Getting to experience that in the first year of my musical career has been overwhelming and unreal. I’m still waiting to be pinched so I can wake up,” Keanan laughs.

Keanan Eksteen & GoldFish
[Dominic Peters, Emily Bruce, Julia Church, Sakhile Moleshe, David Poole, Keanan Eksteen. PHOTO: Jeremy Farber]

‘Sing With Me’ is expected to release on 10 February, and we’re excited to hear how GoldFish have married Keanan’s vocals to their sax-filled electronic production.

Touch wood

Keanan plans on releasing a full album before mid-2023. With around 13 tracks to work with, he is excited for the chance to showcase more of the depth and diversity that he and Jeremy are interested in exploring. While he still loves the Forever EP and all the work put into it, Keanan tells us it was playing it a bit safe.

“It was bare-bones, but in a good way. We didn’t need bells and whistles for that project, whereas for this new one, we went broader. We’ve got a bit of rock ‘n roll, we’ve got a bit of strings, there’s a ballad. It’s a broad span of music coming from this album, and I’m very excited to see what people like,” Keanan says.

You can catch Keanan’s pedal-to-the-floor stage performance, complete with passionately-clenched fists and sprints on the spot, on 14 January at Triggerfish Brewing out in Somerset West. After that, he’ll be playing another show at café Roux on 20 January, where he and the band will be looking to one-up their previous outing at the venue. 

Keanan Eksteen’s career has only just gotten going, but his evident commitment to performance, off-stage humility, and unassuming work ethic have us convinced that he’s going far. “It was a slow start at the beginning but now I’d say the snowball is definitely starting to turn. It’s really good to see our strategy is coming to fruition — touch wood,” Keanan tells us.

Author

​​I write about the tech sector in hopes we can find human-centred alternatives to the mess we’ve made for ourselves. I get involved in the music scene because leaving passion unpursued is a sin. When my feet aren’t busy on the sokkie floor, you can find me chasing silver linings.

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