Noise Pop 2013
“I left early again, and drifted off, thinking of times never.”

Day 4: Of Times Never

On Friday evening I walked into one of the City’s newer venues, The Chapel, bypassing all the “big acts” for a night of singer-songwriters. It was probably for the best. The Chapel employs a space originally designed as a church (likely Pentecostal or some other related denomination). As this was my first time in this venue, I was struck at what I was reminded of: not a complete, actual place, but an idea, involving one, that never came to fruition. The Portuguese have a word that is untranslatable in any language, saudade. The closest translation to it in English is nostalgia, but using that word misses the meaning significantly. Nostalgia implies times past that you remember and reminisce upon, perhaps with fondness. Saudade, on the other hand, refers to the desire and reminiscence of times past that didn’t actually happen, or to be more concise, of times never, which is what I was feeling with this place.

Not far from this location is a space my friends and I had set out to move into, and establish as an alternative model to what has been a disastrous housing situation for creatives and families in the Bay Area. We had a vision, and a plan to make it work. We also were, admittedly, a bit in over our heads, since none of us had managerial/logistical experience in building a venue. But the passion was there, and the ideas were solid. However, because of other priorities, the leader of the group suddenly had to fall back on planning. This eventually led to the plan’s unraveling. Now, many of those friends are leaving the Bay Area, or have begun thinking about it. As I looked at this space, again, I thought about what could’ve been with a hint of sadness.

The utter mellowness of the show that night amplified that sadness. Opening up was Emily Jane White, who essentially played the role of average waif-like chanteuse folk singer. This was not inherently bad, but it seemed clear she had not practiced enough, which resulted in a few obvious missteps. Next, the more experienced Peggy Honeywell, performed simple folk songs that served as some relief from previous acts throughout the course of Noise Pop. However, she got mired in the venue’s technical problems, with one song being cut off by the venue’s PA suddenly playing intermission salsa music. Although it was not her fault, it was a setback nonetheless.

Taking the stage next was Aaron Espinoza (of Earlimart), who for a solo act, had an elaborate setup — including video projections that reminded me of Dan Deacon’s Ultimate Reality project (especially Arnie’s appearance). I spent more time watching the screen than the singer (who, though a bit slow and miasmic at times, offered a halfway decent show). It was one of those rare cases wherein the distraction probably helped more than it hurt.

Closing out the night was Damien Jurado, a singer-songwriter whose renown seems to be built entirely on word-of-mouth. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, I felt annoyed for having to sit for 25 minutes after stage setup — which consisted of a guitar rack off to the side, a stool, and a microphone — before the headliner made his appearance. Then, it took on a vibe not unlike that show Unplugged, if anyone remembers it: some storytelling, some funny banter (for example, after a song about Washington State: “Is that song about something specific? Um, yes.”), and some introspection. It was all right, but it could’ve easily lulled people to sleep. Again, I left early, and drifted off thinking of times never.

Day 5: Feels Like You’re Only Backward

One can argue as much as they want about the causes of the mass exodus that is affecting San Francisco (and, to a lesser extent, the Bay Area). To lay the blame on the internet/tech industry, their tribal tendencies, and their utterly dismissive attitudes toward the creative class would be too easy. They have brought money to the area, and are likely the reason the state of California has not reached a Malthusian limit and filed for bankruptcy. To blame real estate developers for cashing in on this “untapped market” at the cost of decent affordable housing would be too simplistic as well. The Feldcos of San Francisco are simply doing their job, and are using their corporate resources to make the most of it.

No, everyone owns a share of this mess. From City Hall’s utter sycophancy toward the business class, to the progressive faction’s utter intent on throwing banana peels in the form of byzantine planning rules designed for corporate workaround rather than attacking the source of the problem directly, to the elitist liberal/moderate faction’s nudging the former faction to do so on account of pretentious NIMBYism and utter detachment from the rest of the city, there is a lot of ball-dropping and contemptuous action going around. But we, the creatives, are just as much to blame. In our efforts to separate ourselves from our childhood communities (because they, admittedly, tended to shun us), we made a very minimal effort in creating our own. Our own “mobility” has become a weakness on the sole ground that, when faced with a harsh conflict in our living situation(s), we tend to flee at the first opportunity rather than create a situation from which we actually build stronger connections.

In our efforts to separate ourselves from our childhood communities (because they, admittedly, tend to shun us), we make very minimal effort in creating our own, and our own ‘mobility’ becomes a weakness on the sole grounds that, when faced with a harsh conflict in our living situation, we tend to flee at the first opportunity rather than create a situation from which we build stronger connections.

Rather than managing what is necessary to have a unified front on matters important to us, we’ve tended to create our own individualist agenda because something that could bring a community together is later seen as too corporate or too elite — or just too “inclusive” — to placate our egos. I recall the fit thrown when Oakland Art Murmur transformed from a compact gathering on 23rd and Telegraph to a block party covering most of Uptown Oakland, citing the loss of exclusivity, even though continuing in its previous form was impossible. One can even see it in people hosting an “Anti-Noise Pop Fest,” which itself was a single-night showcase that, if one were to remove the title, wouldn’t be any different from a standard night at the venue in question. This thinking suggests a desire for self-glory over self-sacrifice, but not everyone can be Captain of Art, just as not everyone can be Captain of Industry.

In any event, such issues are inherent in viewing one of the biggest acts of the festival, Saturday’s sold-out Toro y Moi show at The Independent. After getting there early and sneaking to my favorite spot, while feeling bits of déjà vu from past Noise Pops, I watched the mismatch of a lineup go about. Opening were local act James & Evander, who played decent electro, but with vocals sounding so lackluster that they barely registered as more than a buzz. Still, they played a few decent covers here and there — so there’s that. Ultimately, it all felt like a local act that was lucky to get into a sold-out Noise Pop show.

Then, everyone was sent back to the early-to-mid 90s with Dog Bite. The guitars were jangly, and phasing at levels the likes of which haven’t been heard since Nirvana’s “Lithium,” or the Cocteau Twins’ Heaven or Las Vegas. Right after they finished their set, as if to properly match the era and its excesses, Creed’s “Take Me Higher” emerged from the venue’s PA. It was an icing of piss on a shit cake. There was a demonstrable improvement of quality with Sinkane, but also an accompanying revelation: Broprog exists. Technically, they were solid as any run of Yes or other late 70s prog band, but they were so damn ‘bro’ about it. This wasn’t necessarily “wrong,” and in fact may be useful in broadening taste among bros. But, for some reason, it felt off. Moreover, at that point, the room started to circulate pot smoke, as one person after another took a hit on their pipe. It made one want to legalize marijuana, if only to expand indoor smoking bans to pot.

Finally, Mr. Bundick got on stage with a set of Venetian blinds to serve as lighting (which was actually quite useful, so good play there). Unlike most music journos and critics, I tend to view microgenres with indifference. The overhyping of such things makes me wonder whether this is relevance whoring to rack up page-views and ad money, and whether the notions of genre should be questioned, if not outright done away. Consider Toro y Moi, who is identified as a key figure in chillwave. Just what is chillwave exactly, outside of some fantasy Carles of Hipster Runoff conjured up while smoking some BC Bud? From what I heard during his set, Mr. Bundick’s music sounded like everything from the 70s that required a keyboard, XXXed with the wonders of modern synths and laptops. The way he set things up, he had a solid structure going. It works live. Although, it’s uncertain if it would work as a recording. It’s definitely more dance-party material at its high points, and worthy of the pot smokers who started to light up as much as the flashes from smartphones. It was definitely a decent showing in comparison to the other nights.

Day 6: …partez-vous?

Sometimes you know when it’s time to go. There are times when people have to push you to get out of your comfort zone, and then there are just situations wherein it’s clear there’s nothing left to do but leave. In many ways, San Francisco (and the Bay Area) have become that place — a place to leave. I have been neutral on its existence since moving here nearly four years ago. Part of it stems from leaving Chicago (a city I loved) way too soon for me to hate it. But now, I feel like I — alongside many writers, artists, and musicians — don’t belong here anymore.

Noise Pop has represented some of the greater things that this city has had to offer, as well as great points in my own life. Now, those aspects have vanished. Consider this: at the first Noise Pop I covered, in 2010, I met someone at one of the shows. We hit it off immediately, and became fast friends. Soon, we became like siblings, with the running joke that this person adopted me as their little brother. We have done a lot together — even performed, and worked on art projects, together. It truly became a sort of familial closeness that one could not begin to fathom, except — possibly — with their own siblings. It made the subsequent years worth it. It made Noise Pop something to look forward to.

Now I look to Noise Pop and feel sadness. This person, like others, is abandoning the City, and moving to Los Angeles in the coming days. I get the feeling they will not come back, except for the occasional visit or two. L.A., by its nature, is a city I can’t live in, even if I wanted to, so I can’t just follow them. So I’m spending whatever chance I have to see them. That means I skipped Noise Pop’s closing show to see the conclusion of their own art show. So, I apologize to Caspian, Native, Boyfrndz, and The Dandelion War for failing to make an appearance. But it was necessary.

So it’s necessary, too, that this be the conclusion to it all. I have my doubts about next year’s Noise Pop. I have doubts that I’ll even be in this part of the country next February or March. I have no idea where the winds will take me, and what conclusion awaits me.

But it’s time to go.

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