Everlasting Noise

Noise Pop 2012: It's 20 years for the massive music and film fest -- tender memories with Archers of Loaf, Cursive, Thao, and more

Newcomers like Grimes may be sold out -- but there's still plenty of Noise Pop 2012 to go 'round


NOISE POP Thao recalls hosting impromptu beer trivia with Mirah during their joint show a few years back, a festive moment she says is telling of Noise Pop. Cursive vocalist Tim Kasher retained playing one of the "most hungover shows imaginable" many years ago at Bottom of the Hill and it still being one of his favorite shows. Archers of Loaf bassist Matt Gentling has a fuzzy memory of playing the fest in 1997 with Spoon and Knapsack. Roddy Bottum and Jone Stebbins of Imperial Teen once declared themselves "King and Queen of Noise Pop" due to a tireless week creeping nearly every show.

Chances are, if you've been in a touring band at any point in the past two decades, or you're a Bay Area music fan, you've got a Noise Pop memory or 20. My own? That incredible moment a couple years back when Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon were rejoined on the ornate Fox stage by Deerhoof, Petra Haden, Harper Simon, and a half dozen more for a stage-audience sing-along of "Give Peace a Chance."

Longtime Noise Pop co-producer Jordan Kurland clearly has endless stories from the fest. Sitting casually in the bright, spacious Mission office of his own Zeitgeist Artist Management, he smiles as he quietly recounts his life within Noise Pop; Guided By Voices at Bimbo's in 2002 playing an encore of the first eight songs off 1994's Bee Thousand, taking duel legends Frank Black and John Doe out to breakfast the morning after their co-headlining show, watching Joanna Newsom — a soon to be star — play her third ever show opening for Cat Power.

He then begins methodically ticking off great shows of NP past: Flaming Lips, Grandaddy, Creeper Lagoon, Death Cab, Rodriguez (M. Ward's early act) at Great American Music Hall, Two Gallants, Superchunk at Bimbo's, Wolf Mother at Bottom of the Hill — Lars Ulrich happened to be in the crowd for that one. "When you look back at some of the bills, it's pretty amazing — and the fact that people still come and appreciate it, it's gratifying," he understates. Later he mentions, "we've had some misses over the years too, stuff that just doesn't connect." But he's too polite to indulge those.

The Noise Pop festival began in 1993, founded by Kevin Arnold who continues to this day, along with Kurland, to produce it. That first year, there were five bands playing one venue, one day. This year, there are 128 bands, playing 19 venues spread out over six days. Plus there's the Noise Pop-Up pre-events, and the Thurs/16 pre-party with Class Actress, a Painted Palms DJ set, and Epicsauce DJs at the California Academy of Sciences.

"It's changed so much," Kurland says. "When Kevin started [Noise Pop], it was about celebrating a scene that really wasn't well recognized, and most of the bands were like Hüsker Dü or Replacements, you know, noisey pop." Now, he says, "it's really just about independently-minded artists. It doesn't mean that every band that plays the festival is on an independent label, it's just a certain approach to the craft."

He adds that they've expanded over the years to include electronic music, dance music, and underground hip-hop. "I feel like we're all getting older — I know, weird. But our staff is immersed in the culture of this so we have a good sense of what people are listening to — I mean, we're not going to start booking yacht rock."

Kurland joined Arnold in 1998, the sixth year of Noise Pop. "At that point, Kevin had been saying for the past five years, 'this is the last year,' 'this is the last Noise Pop, I can't do it anymore.' He had a day job in the technology industry, but I was working for another management company so it was easier to weave [booking bands] into the fabric of my day."

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