This Memorial Day weekend brings the Bay Area the 2009 San Francisco Popfest, a series of concerts showcasing over thirty international indie pop bands performing over four days and nights at various SF venues. The festival's rich list of bands offers a broad taste of indie pop in 2009, a genre that has maintained a fervent cult for over two decades.
Unlike an overly expansive and therefore meaningless categorization like "indie rock," indie pop is rooted in a common set of influences which continue to inform the genre's musical identity and DIY approach today. Those commonalities begin with early 1980s British pop-rock and post-punk bands like Orange Juice, Television Personalities and, most popularly, The Smiths, who shared jangly electric guitars and yearning pop melodies despite individually drawing from other influences like funk, soul and psych rock. British music magazine NME captured these sounds on its 1981 cassette compilation C81, and, five years later, C86 celebrated equally influential groups like The Pastels, The Wedding Present and Primal Scream. Indie pop has since been referred to by many as, perhaps inaccurately, "the C86 sound." In the United States, independent labels like K Records and Slumberland emerged to foster and develop domestic stripped-down pop and in the years since, countless bands and labels have carried the indie pop torch worldwide.
The first Popfest was held in New York City in 1995, a one day festival celebrating the global indie pop scene. This year marks San Francisco's fifth installment, and features a diverse lineup including some of the city's latest crop of talented indie artists. Local highlights include Still Flyin', whose debut full length Never Gonna Touch The Ground creates party-starting danceable songs with a dozen-plus members who incorporate elements of reggae and world music. Magic Bullets, another San Francisco band, drew more closely from post-punk on their debut a CHILD but in life yet a DOCTOR in love, but the band's recent Times For Romance EP benefits from a shift to more fleshed-out and textured pop-rock.
On the international front, Popfest features three bands from Sweden, including performances by Suburban Kids with Biblical Names and Pelle Carlberg. The Suburban Kids excel at giddy, ubercatchy songs and may be best known in the states for being featured in a Prius commercial. They've got a new EP, #4, out now and a new full length expected later this year. Mr. Carlberg's songs are similarly infectious, but couched in an often dark wit as he tackles topics ranging from relationships (see "Clever Girls Like Clever Boys Much More Than Clever Boys Like Clever Girls" and "I Love You, You Imbecile") to small moments like feeling old after taking a quiz on Facebook.
It's the Suburban Kids' first SF show, and some of the performances by the festival's other big names also have special significance. For Toronto's The Hidden Cameras, its bandleader Joel Gibb's first solo performance, a departure from the band's several albums of layered chamber folk-pop. The band recently completed its first work in three years, titled Origin: Orphan, which does not yet have a release date. Cult favorites Tullycraft recently announced that they will soon take an indefinite hiatus from live performances. The band has long excelled at driving, understated anthems, including the indie-pop-celebrating 2002 track "Twee," whose lyrics read like a laundry list of the genre's high points.
All told, the 2009 Popfest offers a number of intriguing potential highlights. With most shows featuring five or six bands, it's a chance to check out some of the up-and-comers and leaders in this thriving global scene.