Every year, avid local show goers eagerly look forward to seeing what Noise Pop, the annual SF music festival celebrating the best in indie music, will offer. They know to expect a wide-ranging well-picked and inclusive lineup of many local favorites, and with each year that passes, much much more. This year's 15th anniversary festival not only provided a comprehensive lineup of music acts, but also featured art exhibits, film and comedy as well.
And as Noise Pop's festival grows, so does its calendar. Chris Appelgren joined the staff last year when the event went from a two-person operation putting on a six-day event to organizing and sponsoring events throughout the year with a full, year-round staff. He met with me at the Noise Pop offices in the Mission on Tuesday shortly before Freedm Night kicked off the festival. I was a little let down to discover that the office was not the frenzied mess of nerves and shouting I was expecting, but a constant stream of phone calls and inter-office questions did provide an appropriately industrious aural backdrop for our conversation. Chris described how Noise Pop has shifted its focus in recent years to accommodate changes in the music scene.
"As we've gotten bigger, our mission shifted to not only celebrating what's great about the city, but also teaming it up with great national artists in a way that's more intimate. We want the shows to feel carefully created and considered."
This year, I scanned the roster of over 110 bands playing over 30 shows, and felt pretty overwhelmed, but was excited to find Hella headlining aBottom of the Hill show. I'd been introduced to Hella, a math rock outfit from Sacramento with a steadily growing fan base around the country, a couple of years ago, but had never had the chance see them live before. The show was entirely packed, with the body heat inside beating the frigid chill creeping in from the outside and confirming the show's sold out success.
Like many other fans who came out expressly to see Hella, I knew next to nothing about the other bands that would be playing that night, which made it all the more of a special noisy treat to discover three killer acts -- each absolutely nothing like the previous.
Bay Area-based Tartufi started off the show with a thirty minute set of fascinating live loop-based songs, which combined layers upon layers of vocals and reverb with alternating slow intense passages and hard/fast rock drumming. With a four-year history as a three-piece group rather than the two-piece that played, some fans didn't know what to expect, but they were pleased with the results. I got a chance to corner Lynn Angel, who provides guitar, vocals and live looping for the band, just as she had gotten her parents (who are evidently very good sports) into a cab after the set. She confirmed that Tartufi would be remaining a two-piece for now. Many Noise Pop openers move up through the ranks to become headliners, so expect to see more of Tartufi in the future, as part of Noise Pop or just around town.
Macromantics from Australia kept things going with a dark yet goofy hip hop set that conformed to many of the conventions of hip hop without sounding like any particular act I'd heard before. There was the command to get your hands in the air as well as the song written only to spell out M-A-C-R-O-M-A-N-T-I-C-S. But there was also gritty beats mixed with references to Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown and a refrain from the nursery rhyme "Baa Baa Black Sheep." While fans were enthusiastic about the set, Macromantics convinced me about her potential by working the merchandise table after performing. For a rising artist on her way to South by Southwest, she was willing to put in the time and the effort to win over every fan she could.
Pop Levi turned it out for a genre-bending set of classic rock with elements of glam, funk and pretty much everything else thrown in. Hailing from Los Angeles, Liverpool and lately, his van, Pop is clearly destined for hipster stardom, with appropriately obscure listening tastes (wax cylinder recordings from the Bahamas) and a pedigree to match. He boasts a long-standing gig with electroclashers Ladytron, and before that, time on NinjaTune Records with his band Super Numeri. Despite a distinctly retro edge to his sound, the music is far from derivative. And Pop isn't interested in being a throwback. While his music draws on an extremely wide variety of influences, he mentioned just two artists he particularly admires -- Bob Dylan and Sun Ra -- neither immediately evident in his sound. Another artist fitting in a Noise Pop gig before landing at South by Southwest, Pop is currently in the middle of a punishingly lengthy tour. Be on the lookout for him to come through SF again soon.
Hella is probably best known for the genius drumming of Zach Hill, who has also been part of other excellent Northern California acts including Crime in Choir, who played an epic, sweaty show at the Hemlock just last week. His drumming, while it confounds the average show goer by making it nearly impossible to dance -- much less bob your head to -- for longer than a three-second spurt, inspires the truly dedicated fan to new heights in rhythm. This is where I would normally place my choicely worded description of Hella's sound -- but I really can't top the Wikipedia entry, which describes it as a "technical, Nintendo-influenced blend of math rock, noise rock and avant-garde."
The show last Wednesday (Feb 28, 2007) featured this sound front and center, but added a new element -- a full complement of vocals on every song. I'd heard snippets from the recently-released full-length album, There's No 666 in Outer Space, before heading out to the show, and was struck by how the addition of vocals made for a dramatic, wailing rock sound approaching the Mars Volta. But in person, the vocals were even more raw and echoey.
Without a doubt, as Noise Pop continues to grow, you can expect some very exciting treats throughout the year. For more on this year's festival and future events, visit noisepop.com.