Move your newfangled EDCs, BPM's and CRSSDs to the side, San Francisco's Noise Pop Festival has been at it since 1993. What was originally conceived as a celebration of lefty guitar music, everything from noise rock to riot grrrl to shoegaze, has now grown into a twelve day circuit of performances that showcases the best of the indie-rock underground.
A trend that's been creepingly evident over the past number of years at Noise Pop is the increased presence of dance-or-dance-adjacent acts on the lineup. This year, newfound club music icon Caribou headlined alongside The New Pornographers, whereas Flight Facilities, !!!, Giraffage, Mystery Skulls, Lemaitre and Dan Deacon all brought elements of the untz to some of San Francisco's most guitar-reverent audiences and venues.
THUMP got in town for the closing weekend, but Flight Facilities and Giraffage's standout performances in the week prior were much lauded. The former, dressed as pilots, dropped a high energy set from their freshly released debut album Down to Earth at The Regency, where guest vocalist Micky Green brought their performance to life. Elsewhere, sets by Giraffage pulled the festival into deep rave territory by closing his set with Darude's "Sandstorm."
Dan Deacon is one of the most unique propositions in all of music. The portly Baltimorean trundled on stage at the arch-ceilinged Chapel on Saturday, admitting he'd been asleep 15 minutes earlier, and proceeded to deliver the kind of performance only Dan can. In between breakneck barrages of his characteristic ultra-super-hyper blast pop littered with interactive crowd dance games, Deacon paused to ramble through half-hatched philosophical musings to great comedic effect.
Deacon's music is so upbeat and intense that people just lose their shit at his shows with fast-paced bobble head dances. Although he's largely still unrecognized in the dance world, A Dan Deacon performance would leave bodies strewn on the dancefloor at any rave (and we mean that in a good way).
The great irony of that evening, and one that perhaps is definitive of Noise Pop, is that prior to Deacon's performance, Dutty Wilderness DJed an entirely competent set of club music and not a soul in the venue was dancing. It was bizarre. That's the thing: Guitar hipsters don't go out to dance, and when they do move their feet, it's only after explicit permission given by the community-at-large that it's okay to be into an artist. Well, here it is. THUMP is giving you permission to dance. Try it. It's fun!
In the midst of the endless blur of gigs, THUMP found a moment with Noise Pop founder Jordan Kurland, who explained some of the festival's unique positionality. "It was the early 2000s that the indie-rock community started to pay attention to dance," he explained. "Y'know, stuff on Ninja Tune, maybe Boards of Canada. That was a phase of indie-dance that made dance music acceptable in the indie scene. That was gateway. If you listen to college radio now, it's such a mixture of indie-rock and electronic, but the the indie aesthetic is still about being more complex, finding a unique way to interpret or present something. That's what ties all the programming at Noise Pop together."
The festival's closing nights, Sunday and Monday evening at The Fillmore, were a testament to one of the most talented musical minds in this generation. After developing a reputation for making lush, driving psychedelia for the majority of his career, Caribou's Dan Snaith finally let influences from his adopted London seep in and his music has became markedly more club-influenced since then. His 2010 album Swim cheated strong dance influence, but his latest, Our Love, paired with an Essential Mix of his own and that famous Tale of Us/Mano le Tough remix, has seen him catapult to relevance in the dance world.
It was at Caribou that I found myself grooving in between two furries and a bearded lady. No joke. That's why San Francisco is fucking awesome. Elsewhere, people have to get weird, psych themselves up and self-harm with a cocktail of intoxicants to reach that level. Not in The Bay. Respect.
Caribou's performance veered often into disparate sonic landscapes as Snaith's band of four, all clad in white and set to the backdrop of Our Love's color-splash artwork, expressed Caribou's musical vision with deftness. One moment, the performance was as a double-drum set, guitar-laden psych stomp, the next an Ibiza-ready tech-house beat. The band's encore was straight-up techno until they broke into a ten minute jam to close, and all the while, kids danced like they actually cared.
Nobody else is even close to fluidly appealing to different ends of the musical spectrum, and that's why Caribou's tour for this album has been a victory lap of sorts, a celebration of a long, iconoclastic career that is just now seeing him at the top of the heap without compromising any creative vision. Further, caribou's unique positioning and ability to make the crowd move whether he's playing indie tracks or dance tunes, whatever, threatens to break down this cultural wall that exists between the two cultures.
Jemayel Khawaja is THUMP's Managing Editor - @JemayelK