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Noise Pop is back and co-producer Jordan Kurland talks about its home, TheNWBLK

‘The new black’ may be a rather hackneyed term used perpetually in fashion to hail the next color or trend du jour. But The NWBLK for Noise Pop is the heralding of something new, exciting and much needed - Noise Pop the festival is a lifeline for Bay Area bands to find their audience in a time where many are leaving the city, and The NWBLK will provide a space for artists to hang, share the amber ale and perhaps network the way the techies do.

San Francisco's independent music festival is back with much-loved indie comebacks Throwing Muses (pictured here), the Bay Area's own - Mark Kozelek and under-the-radar bands like Vetiver and Mattson 2.
San Francisco's independent music festival is back with much-loved indie comebacks Throwing Muses (pictured here), the Bay Area's own - Mark Kozelek and under-the-radar bands like Vetiver and Mattson 2.
Courtesy of Noise Pop
Noise Pop co-founder, Jordan Kurland gets excited about new Noise Pop 2014 headquarters, the NWBLK
Photo by Andrew Paynter

Noise Pop 2014 will for the first time in its 22 year history have it’s own headquarters at The New Black or The NWBLK. It’s a design warehouse space in the Mission that Noise Pop will take over from Feb 25 to March 3 and kit it out to host film screenings, a bar and lounge area for happy hour events as well as live shows and a Sunday market.

In an interview with, Noise Pop co-producer and founder of Zeitgeist Artist Management, Jordan Kurland explains: “We have been doing Happy Hours at Benders for a while now but that was always one of the challenges you have in doing a city-wide small club festival where on any given day you may have 7 to 10 shows in a bunch of clubs. It’s good that we now have a centralized location not only for festival goers but for the artists as well.”

So while TheNWBLK will no doubt be a cool space to see a film, have a beer with friends or catch a live show, for the bands it also has the potential for relaxed, industry mixers like that of other festivals such as SXSW’s Fader Fort which Kurland admits they were inspired by.

It seems like such a great idea and a seamless fit for a festival like Noise Pop that begs the question, why this was never rolled out before? The truth is, it’s an idea that they have put forward in the past but the realities of having a small staff, mean they are mindful of what they can achieve and more importantly, execute well. Bay Area music lovers are already familiar with Noise Pop and its partners, who pride in putting on top rate festivals such as the Treasure Island Music Festival.

Noise Pop which started 22 years ago when Kevin Arnold booked five acts in San Francisco's Kennel Club and gave it the umbrella term Noise Pop, has grown to be the country’s longest independent music festival. Kurland who joined Arnold at the helm, 5 years later, bears a tired look of bewilderment as this fact is repeated to him.

Perhaps it is the challenges that they have surmounted to keep the festival going or just the sheer passage of time? Kurland has revealed in past interviews that Arnold once told him that after 5 years, he would be done with Noise Pop to which Kurland's sentiment at the time was that when Noise Pop hits 20 he would be done.

Well, thankfully both are still around today. "It’s nice that after so long we can still have things like Noise Pop headquarters at TheNWBLK to debut at the festival. And be excited about it.” Kurland also shares what acts he is excited about at this year's festival, what gets his goat and why Noise Pop will endure the test of time.

Why did Noise Pop decide to take-over a large warehouse-design space (The NWBLK) as oppose to a bar or any other kind of space?

This has been a concept that we’ve discussed for a few years now. We wanted a venue that we could use for different types of events. Noise Pop HQ will be hosting live music, DJ sets, film screening, creative discussions, and an art show. We picked NWBLK because we love the space, it’s just a couple blocks from our office and they, like us, focus on presenting tasteful and unique events.

What in your opinion defines ' an independent music festival’?

To me it’s the approach of the festival. An independent spirit in programming and ethos.

20 was big and celebratory and it was reflected in the billing. 21 was about scaling back and focusing on smaller acts and clubs. And 22?

It’s in the classic Noise Pop mold a ton of small club shows and a couple of bigger ones at The Fillmore and Regency Ballroom, very much in line with what the festival offers. Honestly, it’s been a long time and what drives me and Kevin – not only does it feel like this Festival is needed but what’s going on naturally. We are in an exciting time when we can see live music all the time and we can construct it in a way which reflects a certain taste and curative process. On a personal level, most of my time is in the management of my company (which includes managing the careers of Death Cab for Cutie, She & Him and The New Pornographers) and Noise Pop allows me to creatively manage my time differently.

Why is Noise Pop still vital today?

The joy of Noise Pop is being able to have local artists come and play at small clubs when it is a difficult time to be an artist in the Bay Area. We have lost a ton of artists to LA or Portland or where-ever… To have an artist like The Fresh & Onlys – when they performed last year they were a Bay Area band and now their lead singer, Tim Cohen has in this last year moved to Arizona, so it’s a bit bitter sweet for us. It’s sad that even artists who are attaining some level of success cannot afford to stay in the Bay Area.

So what can be done?

The city needs to step up and figure out a way to make it easier, much easier, for artists to live, work and create here in San Francisco. Artist outreach, grants, low cost rehearsal and studio space, etc. If the city can incentivize tech companies to be here, which I understand, then they should also figure out a way to do the same for the creative community. Right now upstart artists can’t afford to be here which leads to an erosion of that community. Therefore bands that are starting to see some success also go elsewhere so they can be a part of a robust music scene. It is more dire of a situation than it was in 1999-2000. We are losing a big chunk of the creative community which is the very reason that so many of us, including the technology industry, settled here in the first place. The creative community is a big part of the soul of the city and we are losing it.

The festival is now large enough to command a following, yet small enough for you to still experiment with the events and this year, there’s a foray into theatre with the play “Hundred Days”?

We have done comedy in that past and we have always said Noise Pop is a celebration of independent art and culture, as much as the music. So we’re trying theatre which will be interesting.

What about a Noise Pop Tour, that idea has been bandied about, is that something that could still happen?

That’s still something that we kick around. We haven’t really pushed it. We are a small staff and have to figure it all out first. And the time has to be right. But we’ve launched Treasure Island a number of years now, and we’ve been adding and expanding. Now that it is a stable thing, we are eye-ing what’s next besides our core festival properties.

How do you rate the success of Noise Pop each year - ticket sales, publicity generated for bands, the amount of sleep you missed out on?

All of those things, really. This festival is a labor of love for us so our biggest driver is knowing that attendees, bands, and the music community value what we are doing. I joke that we are the ‘little indie festival that could’ but in reality we are so fortunate that after 22 years people still want us to keep going.

In the spirit of Noise Pop, any shout-outs to some under-the-radar bands to look out for this year?

“I am very excited to see Cold Cave. I liked their last record and I haven’t seen them live. Matthew Dear Presents Audion: Subverticul the presentation has a lot of production and it’s going to be exciting. And Mark Kozelek who has a new record coming out, is always good. Mattson 2 – it’s jazz at its core but they’re great. Others include long standing Bay Area bands like Vetiver and Paper Cuts as well as a newcomer from Australia, Courtney Bartnett.”

For an updated Noise Pop 2014 schedule and tickets or festival badges, please click here.

Noise Pop 2014 kicks off officially next Tuesday, Feb 25 with an opening party at The NWBLK featuring Shepard Fairey and Jello Biafra. It will offer six days of more than 60 events including its popular Noise Pop Film Series. As some tickets to individual shows have been sold out, it is best to opt for the general festival badge ($150) or the Super Fan badge ($350) which gives you entry into the sold-out shows as well as badge-only Happy Hour events, among other goodies.

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