Growing Noise

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Now in its eighth year, San Francisco's Noise Pop festival provides a week of great rock shows right in the very doldrums of winter. Last year's fest, highlighted by great performances from Creeper Lagoon and Guided By Voices, was probably its best and most wide-ranging yet.

Until now. Noise Pop 2000, for the very first time, is expanding beyond the Bay Area. In early May, an eastern version of the festival will be held in Chicago. In addition to great concerts, this year's model will also add some film screenings and a few panel discussions. Adding all this to an incredible lineup - Bob Mould, Beulah, The Magnetic Fields, and most notably the reunited X - this year's schedule ought to establish Noise Pop as one of the nation's preeminent independent rock festivals.

Eight years ago, all of this was quite in the distance for Kevin Arnold, a Berkeley graduate and longtime show organizer. "I had just gotten out of Cal and was working as a booking agent and tour manager," Arnold begins the Noise Pop story. It was the end of January, a notoriously dead time for bands touring, and a local club had nothing else planned. They asked Arnold to set up a show, and he decided to take the opportunity to give a bunch of loud but catchy bands he liked a chance to play to a slightly larger audience than they would normally get.

"It was one show in 1993 at the Kennel Club, which is what the Justice League is now. It was intended to be a one-night show to showcase all of these bands that I liked. There wasn't much attention for these types of melodic rock bands." Kevin gathered five bands - Overwhelming Colorfast, The Meices, Corduroy, Carlos!, and Bitchcraft - and put on the show. It went so well, the next year, he did it again, this time over three nights at the Bottom of the Hill. San Francisco indie history was made.

Over the years, Noise Pop has hosted some amazing bands - Jawbreaker, Archers of Loaf, Modest Mouse - and also nursed the careers of some developing ones. Bands like Creeper Lagoon and Beulah have grown from unheralded Noise Pop openers to headlining superstars. The number of shows and bands has grown each year - this year's Noise Pop will feature ten shows and 41(!) bands. "It's grown pretty organically," Arnold says. "It's gotten a little bit bigger every year."

Like the bigger annual festivals it can't avoid being compared to, Austin's South By Southwest and New York City's CMJ, this year's Noise Pop will also feature a discussion with musicians and other industry folk. Although these conferences sometimes seem a little elitist, Kevin says Noise Pop is trying to avoid this. "We're trying to differentiate what we're doing from ‘panels'...we're focused on musicians and fans. There will be discussions on different ways you can make money without losing credibility." The film aspect of the festival, another new addition, will adhere to the Noise Pop aesthetic with selections like The Unheard Music, a documentary on X, and Songs For Cassavetes, a movie featuring several Pacific Northwest bands.

The other big change this year is the planned second series of shows in Chicago. "In some ways it's an obvious sort of thing to try and do it in another city. It makes sense for us for a couple of reasons. Chicago is good because it doesn't have a big music conference and Jordan [Kurland, Arnold's Noise Pop co-conspirator] is from there." The Chicago schedule isn't set in stone yet but the one definite is a big one - wildly influential protopunks Wire will be playing. Kevin is optimistic about Noise Pop's expansion, partly owing to their alliance with the Chicago booking agency who counts among its clients Pavement, Jon Spencer, and Will Oldham. "We have the best potential partners for this in Billions. We're totally fortunate and happy in this."

Ultimately, though, Noise Pop's success hinges on its bands. With a lineup this year that might be their best ever, the prognosis for NP2000 looks very good. "The closeness to the music is the great thing about independent bands," Kevin Arnold says. The great thing about Noise Pop is how it brings more fans into that community.

Noisepop Schedule

Tues., Feb. 29: Man Or Astro-Man?, I Am Spoonbender, Fluke Starbucker, Electro Group (8 p.m.; Great American Music Hall; $12; all ages)

Wed., March 1: X, Limp, Earlimart (8 p.m.; Slim's; $25; all ages)

Thurs., March 2: Beulah, Track Star, Sunset Valley, Dealership, Shimmer Kids (8 p.m.; Great American Music Hall; $10; all ages)

Fri., March 3: Oranger, Carlos!, Sunless Day, Secadora (5 p.m.; El Rio; $6; 21+)

Fri., March 3: Bob Mould, Mountain Goats, John Vanderslice, Nuzzle (8 p.m.; Bimbo's; $15; 18+)

Sat., March 4: Death Cab For Cutie, Fiver, Rumah Sakit, Jim Yoshii Pile Up (2 p.m.; Bottom of the Hill; TBA; 21+)

Sat., March 4: Crooked Fingers, Franklin Bruno, Jonah's One Line Drawing, Kyle Statham (5 p.m.; Cafe Du Nord; TBA; all ages)

Sat., March 4: Fastbacks, Groovie Ghoulies, Alien Crime Syndicate, Nar (8 p.m.; Bottom of the Hill; $10; 21+)

Sun., March 5: Chixdiggit, Me First, Peter Parker, The Get-Go (2 p.m.; Bottom Of The Hill; TBA, 21+)

Sun., March 5: The Magnetic Fields, Loud Family, The Aislers Set, For Stars, Mates of State (8 p.m.; Bimbo's; $15; 18+)


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