The crowd was abuzz on Monday night as we shuffled around the Swedish American Hall, excitedly waiting for the music to start. It was the kickoff party for the 26th Noise Pop Festival, an 11-day music and art experience with more than 85 events at venues all over The City. The performers range from legends to ones just getting noticed.
The night was special for a couple reasons. Part of it was that The Dodos were playing their breakout record “Visiter” in its entirety. Another was that Thao Nguyen — of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down fame — was playing a surprise set. For me, though, the thing that really gave it that extra sheen of spectacularity was the crowd that was there. This intimate kickoff was mostly a way for the festival to say thank you to its friends; the folks in attendance were a wonderful collection of people who, somehow, someway, still manage to live and create meaningful things in San Francisco.
Whether writers or artists or musicians or clothing designers or podcasters, most of us in the Swedish American Hall had originally been drawn to San Francisco because of things like Noise Pop. On Monday, we were like survivors of the sinking ship that The City’s culture has become, and all of us found each other on the safe island of Noise Pop.
That’s not to say it was dour; it was quite the opposite. Huddling in the tiny room with the bar, literally and physically bumping into old friends, there was no talk of cryptocurrency or apps or IPOs or any of the other bullshit that’s as prevalent as oxygen in most places in San Francisco these days. Instead, the conversations were about new projects, ways to build community and concepts for collaboration. More often than not, the conversations fell back to the same point: how remarkable it is that any of us still managed to be here.
Tuesday night was something equally special, but totally different. Jay Electronica headlined Mezzanine as part of Noise Pop and put on a show nobody was expecting. Electronica is something of an enigma in the world of hip-hop; people have been heaping praises on his song writing and poeticism for more than a decade, but he’s never actually put out an album. His handful of singles and smattering of guest appearances are so good, though, that his following is doggedly devout. The venue was busy with a love-filled crowd, mostly consisting of people who’d never seen him live. And he was spectacular!
Part rap show, part comedy act, Electronica interspersed clever, heartfelt songs with hilarious crowd work worthy of Sam Kinison. He poked fun of people in the crowd and followed it with inviting some local rappers from the audience to show their chops on stage. He’d hop down into the crowd, bust some more balls, and then perform a song while surrounded by adoring fans, rapping along with him while recording it with their phones. I’ve never anything quite like it. That’s what makes Noise Pop such a wonderful festival.
From intimate indie rock shows to avant-garde rap performance art, Noise Pop is willing to take chances that other festivals won’t. It’s a testament to the San Francisco that birthed the gathering in 1993 — a city where weirder was better and creating art and music was something worth devoting your life to.
The City might be irrevocably changed, but at least once a year Noise Pop can give us a little taste of what that city was.
MORE ART FOR ART’S SAKE
As someone who loves to create, simply for the sake of creating, I’m starting a really awesome project at noon today using the “Stories” feature on Instagram to go on a Choose Your Own Adventure-style outing.
Follow me on Instagram — @BrokeAssStuart — so you can view my Stories, where I’ll be using the “poll” option to let viewers decide what kind of shenanigans I get into throughout the day. My fate is in your hands!
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.