Steeped in Colorful Tradition, Noise Pop 2011 Continues Celebration of Independent Culture

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As any struggling musician knows, the hardest step is getting your name on the public's radar. Perhaps you can follow in the footsteps of bands like Fleet Foxes and Wolfmother, whose careers escalated after a simple invitation to play at Noise Pop. An annual festival, Noise Pop prides itself on promoting lesser-known talent. From February 22nd to the 27th, San Francisco's beloved venues will play host to an assortment of artists, both established and obscure.

The first Noise Pop festival originated back in 1993 and is the brain child of Cal alum Kevin Arnold. During his Berkeley years, Arnold was a part of SUPERB, an organization that provides entertainment on campus, and began his humble beginning in music promotion with Bear's Lair shows. Post-graduation, he decided to host an impromptu concert back in 1993. Inexpensive and intimate, the night successfully gave fans the opportunity to hear local acts, whether familiar or new. Since then, Noise Pop has courted every big name in the music industry - often before the bands have even attained success - including Death Cab for Cutie, the White Stripes and Modest Mouse. 19 years later, the festival is now a week-long event, featuring 100 artists spread out across 18 venues.

The original objective of Noise Pop is to alert the Bay Area community to acts that are unheard of but still worthy of one's attention. Based on recent trends, however, it seems as if the festival is shifting its efforts to the bigger names on the lineup while the more obscure bands can easily slip by unnoticed. "The headliners get the attention," said Stacy Horne, Noise Pop's executive producer. "They are the more nationally recognized acts and that's what helps sell the tickets. What happens is that out of that (is that) people go to these shows and they get to (hear) the newer local bands that they might not know."

Horne breaks down the strategy behind organizing the shows - For each show, Noise Pop slips in two or three under-the-radar artists with one of the major attractions. As a result of the press, Noise Pop showcases the bands, giving them the push they need to quickly accumulate recognition. "If you look at the list of bands who played over the years, those that start out as opening acts are now the headliners, and not just at our festival but on a national level," said Horne. "These bands really do consider Noise Pop as an important stop along the way in their career."

The credibility that Noise Pop has built up over the years reaches a wider range than simply the Bay Area. "A few years ago, the Guardian had a poll of your fave genre of music and they had independent, alternative and then they had "noise pop" as a genre," said Horne. "Certainly we don't consider us a genre of music but I think there is a kind of world that Noise Pop inhabits and people know 'oh that's a noise pop band'."

But is Noise Pop stuck in a rut? There is a certain demographic that pops into mind when briefly glancing at the lineup, as it typically centers around a particular genre. Because it's too easy to picture the sort of crowd that flocks to these shows, some are a little put off by the image. To combat the seemingly monotonous scene, they are focusing on establishing more diversity and expanding in different directions, moving away from - in Horne's words - "straight-up indie rock (to) electronica and hip-hop shows." Take the Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson collaboration, something that Noise Pop is excited about. "(They are) two artists coming from two really different genres performing together," said Horne. "I think to have bands doing exciting things like that brings together lots of different groups (of concertgoers)."

To further distinguish itself from the plethora of festivals spanning the music scene, Noise Pop has been incorporating visual art and film into its program. Though films have been a part of the festival since back in 2000, Horne would like to have it as a separate event so there is no competition between the two aspects of Noise Pop. "At times, we have wonderful films and people have to make a hard choice in deciding whether to see a film or go to a show," she explained. "(Instead, the films) could be a separate entity."

There is also a new addition this year, the Noise Pop Culture Club, which places fans and musicians together through a series of hands-on workshops. From video-making seminars to drawing while DJ Koala mixes in the background, the Culture Club, as Horne described it, "reaches into a lot of disciplines of independent culture."

Though Noise Pop 2011 introduces groundbreaking features, it also follows the tradition set by its predecessors. Boasting a typically impressive lineup, this year features headliner Yo La Tengo, power couple Best Coast and Wavves, indie sweetheart Kimya Dawson as well as SF's colorful, electronic trio Butterfly Bones. "People might not know the band names," said Horne. "But they know Noise Pop, and they know that they're going to get a good show no matter what they go to." From its humble beginnings as a one-night event to the spectacle that it is now, Noise Pop has established itself in its celebration of the arts. So whether you're in the mood to bask in the glory of your favorite artists or discover new obsessions, drop by San Francisco sometime next week to experience one of the city's oldest indie music traditions.

Tags: NOISE POP 2011

Cynthia Kang is the lead music critic. Contact her at [email protected]

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