And the bands play on. Despite the much publicized exodus of San Francisco bands in recent years – even acts that have decamped for warmer or less financially oppressive pastures return to play at Noise Pop 2015. It will be held from Feb 19 to March 1, in venues across the Bay Area.
Kicking off next Thursday with much fanfare at their Opening Night Party in the newly re-launched Swedish American Hall, the festival boasts indie favorites Best Coast and The New Pornographers as headliners. Local stalwarts such as Geographer, guitar heroine – Thao Nguyen and Giraffage will also be headlining some of the bigger venues.
In its 23rd year and the longest-running independent music festival in the country, Noise Pop’s 2015 roster seems to be heaving at the seams with more than 150 bands playing over a dozen venues across the Bay Area.
The highlights this year include a healthy contingent of electronic music such as Sydney duo Flight Facilities whose smooth R&B-infused tracks have included “Sunshine”(featuring Reggie Watts) and “Crave You”; Caribou aka Canadian producer, Dan Snaith whose latest and most personal album, “Our Love” has resonated with critics and fans; Ireland’s James Vincent McMorrow playing an intimate solo set; and the Bay Area’s Christopher Willits who will play a live score, set to some stunning images from his visual album. “Opening”.
Proving that the rock scene here is not giving up the reins to EDM that easily is Tony Molina – a Bay Area hardcore veteran whose latest project, “Dissed and Dismissed” has a delicious pop sensibility and Weezer-like lyrics. Another local band creating some buzz is Craft Spells. They recently released their album, “Nausea” – a haze of melancholic and completely addictive tracks. They will be headlining at The Great American Music Hall and are definitely worth the ticket.
Other rock acts include Florida surf-rock quartet, Surfer Blood; metal outfit, Deafheaven; and the familiar-sounding Cherry Glazerr from LA. But the show not to be missed has to be the one and only PPL MVR. The trio with rocking psychedelic jams play in yeti outfits, grunting at interviews because they don’t speak English (though they sing perfect) and have managed to keep their true identities a secret. Make a beeline to see them before the masks and platforms come off!
Exciting as it is to be at the helm of such an eclectic festival, the elephant in the room remains – how long before music fans start to see the damage of acts leaving San Francisco? Noise Pop co-producer and founder of Zeitgeist Management, Jordan Kurland speaks to zoomdune.com, shining a spotlight on the Film Series, some of this year’s acts and wonders how long before City Hall does something tangible to stem the tide of young artists and musicians forced to leave the Bay Area.
Noise Pop 2015 – it seems like a massive lineup? And you seem to still be adding acts. Is it bigger this year with more acts?
Yes, it is bigger this year. It’s interesting with Noise Pop in general, some years really fall into place pretty easily and others you feel like you are butting your head against the wall. And this year it’s definitely been the first case. And yes we are still adding shows – that’s not unusual for us to keep adding shows heading into February. I think last year there was a focus on smaller shows and up-and-coming bands – we didn’t have as many big name artists from our community. We’re also excited to have some new initiatives like the film festival that we have moved to the start of the festival. We’ve always wanted to give the film festival aspect more attention because it’s always buried under 100 or 125 bands and this year we have managed to pull it off. Noise Pop this year will also host the grand opening of the Swedish Music Hall which is going to be very exciting.
Last year, NWBLK created a lot of buzz as Noise Pop’s headquarters and this year it’s elsewhere at the Swedish American Hall?
Yes, we’re now promoters at the Swedish American Hall. So the venue will not only serve as homebase for this festival but throughout the year, we will be booking bands and events there. NWBLK had its ups and downs and we learnt from it. Some of it worked and some didn’t, we’re going to apply all we learnt to the Swedish Music Hall this year.
The Zeitgeist roster seems to have grown too? And there is this great symbiotic relationship between Zeitgeist and Noise Pop – it seems like everyone benefits when The Zeitgeist roster grows, is that the truth?
We picked up Best Coast – they have a new album that is expected out later this year so we’re excited. There is a symbiotic relationship mostly because my musical tastes as a manager are in line with what we book during the festival. Clients have played the festival while I’ve been working with them and I’ve also built relationships with artists that later became clients through Noise Pop. Not often, but it has happened a couple times.
How has the tech boom displacement affected Noise Pop and its artists and bands, one year on from since we last spoke? Has anyone – City Hall, Google, other tech companies stepped in to do anything to help?
There is chatter, I hear there is talk in City Hall to try and do something so there is discourse about it but I am yet to see anything delivered. Honestly, I would like to be doing a lot more. There is not a lot of free time when you’re running two businesses but with Noise Pop and the other 2 events we run every year we hope it gives young, local musicians, artists and bands a platform to perform and find an audience. Kevin Arnold and myself always talk about how we can devote more time on top of these festivals than we already do to help out.
Is that why the 20th Street Block Party has grown so much?
That’s certainly part of the reason. More outlets for local acts to play is needed and by adding a stage dedicated to local talent at the 20th Street Block Party we are able provide one.
Just last week it was reported that New York Mayor, Bill de Blasio was planning to create 1,500 new units of affordable housing for artists by 2024 in order to stem the tide of gentrification that has been pushing artists/musicians etc.. out of the city and even State. Nashville and Minneapolis have similarly announced housing and live-work and community spaces set aside for the arts – why has City Hall here in SF been so slow to take up this gauntlet?
I wish I knew the answer to this but my best guess is that it simply isn’t a priority. The city is booming: there’s money coming in, new construction everywhere, tourism is, as always, strong. But what City Hall fails to realize is that a cornerstone to any world class city is an arts community. And I’m not talking about the Opera nor the Symphony. Both are great institutions but cater to such a small sector of our population. We are losing a big part of the soul of this city and, to quote a friend of mine, I don’t want San Francisco to become a city consisting solely of billionaires and homeless people. No one does. When Mayor Lee was on KQED’s forum recently he stated that tech workers have the same problems as anyone else that lives here and cited that some of them had to live on $40k or $50k per year. Let’s just pause for a second and think about the fact that a single person in their 20s is struggling to live in this city while making $50k annually. I know very few artists that can count on that base income each year.
Why do you think it’s so important to celebrate this independent culture of music, film and art – people seem to love mainstream culture and pop?
If people didn’t appreciate what we do, we wouldn’t do it. We also do enjoy it and continue to have this platform, and to present local, national and international acts who are more independent-minded. We are very supportive of our local community.
The changes in San Francisco mean more artists are displaced but there are also more young people with money looking to be entertained. Part of our job with Noise Pop and Treasure Island is to educate people to what music they could be listening to, and not just EDM. (laughs) It’s the genre du jour of the young and the tech community.
What do you think it is about the Bay Area that makes this community such a fertile ground for the independent, slightly left-of-field artist or musician? And do you think we are in danger of losing it? For example, all sorts of displacement is now happening in Brooklyn’s water’s edge and the community is sad but many artists have already started looking elsewhere in the Borough.
San Francisco is in a unique situation that there is nowhere to go. We are a city surrounded by water on three sides and Daly City on the fourth. In Chicago they can keep spreading West. In LA, where a lot of our artists have now gone to, it started in Silver Lake, then Echo Park and now Highland Park. Williamsburg in Brooklyn is like a theme park now. LA has really benefitted from SF musicians and bands from our community – it’s cheaper and the weather is great. You also want to be somewhere where there is already a creative community that can support you and LA has that. Ty Segall, Jessica Pratt and that scene – they all moved out there together.
Though it’s sad that there has been a mass exodus of SF bands, there will always be these fantastic SF curated events such as Noise Pop, Outside Lands and Treasure Island for them to come back to – that must be rewarding in itself, are you happy for SF to serve as a sort of incubator for young bands – is that a worthy cause or not sustainable as an end goal in itself?
The irony is that although the creative community is suffering due to the economy in the Bay Area that same economy provides concert attendees with more money to spend on leisure activities. In other words there is a large paying audience around these parts. I definitely don’t consider us to be an incubator of young bands these days though. If you can’t afford a place to live or rehearse than that’s not going to help a musician develop. Additionally, even though Treasure Island and Outside Lands are doing well many of the smaller clubs are having a difficult time filling their calendar as there simply are not a lot of local bands that draw.
How do you pick acts to join the Noise pop bill – a matter of who’s in town already doing a show and has got a new record or has to have something else – what is your criteria?
There are a number of factors. We send out e-mails over Spring and Summer to remind booking agents and managers of the event. We also contact bands we know who have a record coming out. We have a lot of young staffers – 20 year olds, like I was at that age, going out all the time and checking out new bands. As far as local acts go, we’re looking at our local community all year. We are happy to have acts like Cathedrals this year and Geographer who will be playing at the Fox Theatre in Oakland, it’s very exciting for us to watch our young bands grow and play these bigger venues.
What are the stumbling blocks to staging the festival in those early years and today – the landscape from 23 years ago has changed so much?
The biggest change is that it just use to be Kevin and I, and we did everything. And now we have staff and we need to cover cost. It’s only a small staff but we have to do payrolls, etc… When it was just Kevin, I and another part-timer, it never was profitable but we made a little money. Now we make more money but it’s still not profitable. There is a lot of red. After 20 years we have to decide how to evolve. We can keep just throwing a bunch of shows together but that is not so exciting for us. So this year we moved the film festival to stand on its own, we gave it all a bit more thought but that has been in discussion for three years.
The festival always premieres great music documentaries, the Film Series this year presents features on Devo, Spike Jonze’s skate videos and Lance Bangs music videos – can it be quite difficult to get these films for the festival, or have you got a reputation that film-makers generally want to coincide with Noise Pop?
I think it’s a little bit of both. We never put a huge emphasis on the films but people realize it’s a good outlet for them. Sometimes, it’s a sales job and sometimes not so much.
And members of Devo are actually going to make an appearance at the screening?
For Devo that is the plan but from what we’ve learn with running festivals, is that people get busy. There will also be special guests at Spike Jonze retrospective.
What are you looking forward to seeing this year?
I’m excited about the Swedish American Hall and the acts performing there like Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World. He was at Noise Pop from the very beginning, he was on the bill in 1998, and came back again in 2001. He’s become a friend and he’s back at this year’s festival. Then there’s The New Pornographers and How To Dress Well. I’m also looking forward to Geographer, they are now at the point that they can headline a large venue like The Fox in Oakland, that is no small feat. I’m a big fan of Christopher Willits and I didn’t even know he was local. He’s doing the film and live scoring at the Swedish American Hall – these live scores, it’s exciting to be involved.
Any really new or young bands that you would like to give a shout out to?
Chaz from Toro Y Moi. A band like PPL MMVR who are just crazy and fun. I am happy to have Tony Molina headlining a show. And smaller acts like Jessica Pratt who has just been signed to a label and have a new album out, plus Doe Eye and Craft Spells. Seriously, there are so many bands.
On a different more ‘international ‘ note, Australian band, The Church is part of Noise Pop this year – how did that come about and do they already have a fan base here?
The Church was routing through so it made a ton of sense. Plus we really liked the idea of presenting the Church at the Chapel. They are very much a cult band in America but a legendary one. This, I believe, is their 25th year of being a band. The show is already sold-out so they definitely have a fan base here.
Get your Super Fan ($350 to $400) festival badge here. The General Badge ($200 to $230) and Film Badge ($50) have sold out. Check out the Noise Pop site here, browse through the schedule to see what tickets are still available or Free Events that you can still RSVP to gain entry.