Noise Pop • February 21-26, 2012

"There were literally a hundred other bands playing at almost two dozen clubs around the city for this week."

Noise Pop • February 21-26, 2012

Site Score
Good: Noise Pop has a knack for discovering bands on there way to the top. Don't be surprised if this is your, "I saw them back then" story.
Bad: Attendees purchase tickets to each band individually so bouncing between shows at this festival will take some planning.
User Score
(9 votes)
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Rating: 7.2/10 (9 votes cast)

Every year since 1993, San Francisco’s Noise Pop festival blows through town like a gale and focuses attention on the insular local music community. The range is wide in terms of both dynamics and genre. Indie Rock traditionally plays in the center ring of this festival, and as 2012 was the twentieth iteration, a look back demonstrates how faithful this lineup was in terms of bands are returning this year. The headliners, The Flaming Lips, were featured in 1998, a year before they released The Soft Bulletin – a seminal and influential work in Indie circles that served to transition the band into the wild and theatrical experimentalists that they are today. Indeed, their appearance this year was a long form live performance of that record complete with B sides and all the trimmings. The Oklahoma City natives’ performance also highlighted an essential feature of Noise Pop every year: the intimate club experience. Although usually accustomed to larger venues for their grandiose performance art, The Flaming Lips took advantage of the small, sell-out audience to speak about origins stories and significance of the material. Revisiting older material is a smart manoeuver for an anchoring act leading off a week that showcased so many of the best and most exciting new bands.

There were literally a hundred other bands playing at almost two dozen clubs around the city for this week.

Although internet buzz drove early sellouts, high ticket prices, or both for artists such as Sleigh Bells, Built to Spill, Cursive, Bob Mould, Die Antwoord, Wye Oak, Surfer Blood, and the Dodos, the music was never in short supply. Noise Pop, by sheer logistical determination, is best experienced in hopping all over town and seeing the venue in its proper context. The festival organizers work tirelessly to match local and up-and-coming talent with the larger, more established acts, and as a result, each bill can truly stand alone as a discrete unit. Larger festivals often cram the same number of acts into a single weekend, with stages competing for the attention of those who meander through the throngs. This can lead to a confused concert-goer who has difficulty distinguishing otherwise more varied bands. True, Noise Pop has expanded to a large-format summer show (The Treasure Island Festival), but this allows for the managers to keep the original resonance of juxtaposing smaller, often local acts with the larger national-touring bands. South By Southwest and the College Music Journal festival, to which Noise Pop is frequently compared, have grown into almost unmanageably massive catch-alls for any and every young act looking to prove themselves. This expansion is partially due to the inclusion of trade shows, film exhibitions, and retrospectives. Noise Pop, however, has remained concise and is still able to feature film at movie houses, photography at local art galleries, and even food and wine pairings – in a word, a commensurate experience of Bay Area culture, or at least a taste of what it’s like for locals.

Some of the highlights this year showed the complicated relationship between an artist’s concert and her record in these trying times for the industry. Among the first to sell out were Sleigh Bells and Die Antwoord. Neither has been on the road long enough to garner praise for their live set, yet sailed to the stage a torrent of internet buzz generated around their recent albums. It follows, perhaps, that both performed along to a substantial amount of prerecorded music. Matthew Dear, on the other hand, had already established himself as a DJ yet performed with a full band and delivered a nuanced set with subtle tension build and release, all while maintaining the four-on-the-floor rhythym which reigned throughout. Bob Mould, maybe taking the lead from the Flaming Lips, played a full album: Copper Blue which was, fittingly enough, released twenty years ago.

As with any festival that is replete with talented bands, there will always be simultaneous bookings of your two favorite bands, tickets will sell out astonishingly early, and there will be crowds to contend with, but

a seasoned veteran of the festival circuit should have no problem navigating this ‘Taste of the San Francisco’ meets ‘State of the Indie’ extravoganza.

And, like any other festival worth its salt, the exhilerarting spectacle of it all will leave you exhausted and satisfied. Here’s to another 20!

Review and rating by Samuel Welles

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Rating: 7.2/10 (9 votes cast)
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Rating: +1 (from 3 votes)
Noise Pop • February 21-26, 2012, 7.2 out of 10 based on 9 ratings

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