What happened to the Noise Pop festival in 2013?
This is the question of the season among music nerds and fans. Last year, for its 20th anniversary, San Francisco's club-based indie music festival booked headliners like the Flaming Lips, Bob Mould, and Sleigh Bells. Recent lineups have included such major acts as Yo La Tengo, Ben Gibbard, and Built to Spill, along with plenty of lesser-known artists.
Not this year.
The big type on the 2013 Noise Pop lineup is reserved for four acts: Toro y Moi — who is excellent and musically important but hardly has the draw of, say, the Flaming Lips; Starfucker, a run-of-the-mill indie-pop band from Portland, Ore.; Amon Tobin, an innovative local electronic artist who is only playing a DJ set; and !!!, a dance-punk outfit that often airs a thrilling live show but is a decade past its prime. There are still some small, interesting Noise Pop shows this year, but the lack of big headliners is obvious.
Consequently, chatter among showgoers is full of head-shaking about the absence of luster in the lineup. Sam Bartos, writing for local blog Uptown Almanac, declared that "Noise Pop is an imaginary music festival," noting the "complete deficit of noteworthy headliners" and saying the festival is " just a week of San Francisco shows" when "any given week of shows is good." And he has a point: Noise Pop has struggled in recent years (though not last year) to stand apart from the normally vast and diverse menu of Bay Area concerts during any given week in the spring.
It should be noted that while enthusiasm for Noise Pop's lineup may be down this year, most of the festival's shows have sold out — so clearly not everyone is as disappointed as the diehards. Still, the 2013 lineup represents a remarkable downsizing, which brings us back to our original question: What happened?
Organizers say they simply wanted to hold a smaller festival, after putting on such a huge production in 2012. "We made a conscious decision this year to scale it back a little bit," says Jordan Kurland, one of the festival's co-founders. "We wanted to get back to our roots." Kurland says that the Noise Pop organization is trying to decide how to advance the festival in future years, and calmed things down in part to give its staff time to figure that out.
That probably isn't a satisfying answer to the music fans wishing for big headliners this week. But Noise Pop or not, there's no lack of big shows coming to S.F. in the next few months — and there's always next year. I.S.P.