Published on February 8th, 2023

Yo La Tengo

It’s low-key funny that Googling “San Francisco noise” produces an autocomplete drop-down menu of municipal-sounding options such as “ordinance,” “map,” “complaint,” “curfew,” “permit” and “quiet hours,” and right there in the thick of it — near the top, in fact — is “pop festival.” The big hometown search engine has obviously learned a thing or two, but it’s no real surprise that the acclaimed Noise Pop Music & Arts Festival has been chugging along since its pre-Google founding back in 1993.

Produced by Noise Pop, San Francisco’s fiercely independent music promoter, the festival has grown from the humble beginnings of “$5, five bands” to a weeklong indie bazaar staged all across the Bay Area, and gone on every year save for a pandemic blip in 2021.

For its 30th anniversary, Noise Pop is pulling out all the stops with reunions and out-of-left-field choices that will wow and amaze even the most jaded alt-rock hipster. Headlined by New Jersey indie rock legends Yo La Tengo, Georgia-born electro duo darlings Boy Harsher, and San Jose’s own Duster, this year’s 160-plus strong lineup of music and more will stay in the hearts and minds of attendees for years to come. A seemingly impossible feat, given Noise Pop’s already matchless record of hosting early-career performances by emerging artists such as The White Stripes, Modest Mouse, Joanna Newsom, The Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie, the Shins, Fleet Foxes and Grimes. Here are some highlights.

Formed in 1984 by the now-married duo of Georgia Hubley (drums, vocals) and Ira Kaplan (guitars, piano, vocals) – and featuring more bass players in their first eight years than days in a pay period – Yo La Tengo are simply one of those acts that everyone loves. Coinciding with their headlining of the Noise Pop Festival will be the 31st anniversary of their current bass player, James McNew, and the release of their 17th studio album, “This Stupid World.”

The Reds, Pinks and Purples

Kicking off on February 20 with a multi-act showcase featuring Chisel, Everyone Asked About You and 20 Minute Loop, Noise Pop will also make the region quake to the sound of resurgent San Francisco punk legends CRIME. And over the following week indie shows will proliferate as Bob Mould, Slow Crush, Fidlar, The Reds Pinks & Purples, Fake Fruit, Chime School and Tourist, among others, descend. Even Singaporean rockers Sobs are scheduled to make their North American debut!

This balancing act of promotional savvy and mayhem follows last October’s 20th Street Block Party, another Noise Pop production with a more pronounced neighborhood vibe, whose 20th edition unofficially closed out S.F. summer with one raucous afternoon featuring over a dozen bands and chefs/restaurants sharing in the glory of Noise Pop’s hyper-localized love for its surroundings.

Noise Pop Festival attendees curious about the region’s music scene should take note of artists including Maria BC, an Oakland-based “folkie” operating within the environs of doom metal, avant-garde pop and darkwave; former pro skater Tommy Guerrero, whose discography goes back to the West Coast skate-punk ’80s; and the genre-bending stylings of Oakland’s Chrystia Cabral, aka Spellling (three l’s), whose 2021 album, “The Turning Wheel,” is described as a “celestially twisted, Fellini-risque pop masterpiece” by local news and culture site 48hills.


Recurring festival events including a multi-night series at the SFJAZZ Center and an international music showcase, He.She.They, are back in 2023. A newcomer to the festival, but not the area, is “The #HellaFunny Comedy Night, a mainstay of the Bay Area’s entertainment scene, with Noise Pop Festival stand-ups in store by Stroy Moyd, Chris Riggins, Allison Hooker, Emily Van Dyke and some promised surprise guests. There film screenings, multimedia demos, and organized happy hours, under the banner of a 30th anniversary poster designed by Shepard Fairey.

There’s a good chance the Internet will be awash in Noise Pop chatter and clips once the dust settles on this edition, and all that data will be gobbled up by the aforementioned machine learning entity over in Mountain View. With any luck then, the first row of hits for “San Francisco noise” will be links to great music, amazing experiences and what happens when a promoter cares about its community.

The 30th anniversary Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival runs February 20-26 at various venues across the Bay Area. ~ Abel Folgar