“I really can’t believe it’s been 30 years. It’s quite a surreal thing—something that kind of just happened,” says Kevin Arnold.
Arnold is the founder of San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival, which marks its 30th anniversary this year. What began as a modest six-band, one-night event three decades ago has burgeoned into a 100+-band, weeklong celebration of music, art and community.
“It’s been a really fun ride and a crazy thing to see where it is today. It’s nice to be able to celebrate it a bit,” Arnold says.
The annual festival brings together indie rock and other genre-leaning bands and performers to share their sounds and songs with Bay Area audiences. Noise Pop 2023, from Feb. 20-26, spans San Francisco with shows at spots such as the Regency Ballroom, New Parish, Rickshaw Stop and Great American Music Hall.
“We’re definitely kind of a unique animal when it comes to music festivals. We aren’t booking one venue or one large show; we’re booking dozens of shows across dozens of venues,” Arnold says.
One aspect that has remained consistent through the years is a focus on Bay Area bands. The first Noise Pop, in 1993 at The Kennel Club (now The Independent), was the initial shining of the spotlight on the local music scene, on San Francisco bands that were influenced by American punk rock and independent music pioneers such as Hüsker Dü and the Replacements.
Explains Arnold, “They were starting to get some following around town, but they hadn’t really played together. The predominant scene—although San Francisco has always had a really diverse scene —was kind of especially all over the place back then.”
The inaugural festival brought together six of those bands, showcasing the city’s musical depth, diversity and unique sounds.
Bay Area bands continue to be a part of the Noise Pop Festival lineup, as Arnold and fellow Noise Pop organizers remain committed to giving them the opportunity to get onstage.
Arnold adds, “It’s kind of where we started and kind of where we want to keep our roots and keep ourselves grounded. It’s basically like taking care of your backyard, helping the new bands grow and eventually hopefully succeed and move on to become headliners and more.”
Some of the many local acts in this year’s Noise Pop lineup include Duster, Covet, Fake Fruit and No Vacation. They’re featured alongside nationally recognized groups and artists such as Yo La Tengo, Boy Harsher, STRFKR, Bob Mould, Junglepussy, FIDLAR and Tourist.
Greg Bertens, lead singer and guitarist of Film School, which plays The Chapel on Feb. 24, describes Noise Pop as one of the best local festivals because it focuses on bringing in standout Bay Area bands and putting them with great national acts.
Bertens recalls, “When we first played Noise Pop, it was really exciting because we were finally playing with some of the bands that we idolized, and we got a chance to do something that most bands don’t really get a chance to do unless they’re on tour a lot.”
Film School, formed in San Francisco in the late 1990s, are Noise Pop veterans at this point, as they’ve often performed in the festival and grown as a band due to the experience.
“When we were first starting out, we were totally a local band. … Noise Pop has been one of those festivals that’s given us the chance to kind of think bigger about our audience and our music,” Bertens says.
Punk band Tsunami Bomb, formed in Petaluma, is also another Bay Area band in this year’s lineup, playing Bottom of the Hill on Feb. 25. Lead vocalist Kate Jacobi, who lives in San Jose, appreciates the festival’s attention: “Local music means a lot, and to be able to actually get to see some great local music is particularly great. For me, I like that camaraderie. I’m very proud to be a California kid.”
Jacobi also recognizes that the Noise Pop Festival offers a means to promote their music and increase their fanbase.
She notes, “We see a lot of the same artists that are at least trying to put together a bill and get people out, but so much is reliant on social media and on who you can actually get out to your shows. So it’s nice to see that people are starting to go out to shows again post-COVID and are not afraid to be around each other. I think that’s the only way that we’re going to keep growing and get more exposure.”
Both Film School and Tsunami Bomb have setlists ready to go. Both are pulling from their vast catalogs and looking forward to playing to supportive local crowds.
Says Jacobi, “To be home, to be back in the Bay Area, with a festival that cares about good music and about making sure that people can experience all kinds of art—it’s exciting.”
Film School appears at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 at The Chapel, 777 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20; visit seetickets.us. Tsunami Bomb appears at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., S.F.; Tickets are $17-$20; visit bottomofthehill.com. General admission badges to all Noise Pop shows are $257.67, and super fan “no restriction” badges cost $375.62. For the full Noise Pop Festival 2023 lineup and individual tickets, go to https://www.noisepopfest.com/.