.Noise Pop 30: A Conversation with Festival Organizer Jordan Kurland

This weekend kicks off the roughly 100 concerts that make up the massive celebration of independent music that has been the pride of San Francisco’s alternative music scene for 30 years.

In this landmark anniversary year, I spoke with Jordan Kurland, festival organizer since ‘98.

Giotis: I’m a huge fan of the festival. In 1993 I was definitely deep into noise and it felt so good to have San Francisco be the place where that whole genre and ethos found a home. 

Jordan Kurland: I appreciate that you appreciate it so much. That’s certainly why we keep doing it at this point. You know, it’s hard to believe we’d still be doing this 30 years on. It’s really great that we’re still able to do it and people like yourself still appreciate what we do. It’s certainly not a get rich quick scheme. 

G: Yeah. Neither is journalism. 

JK: [Laughs]

G: It’s fun though and here I am getting a festival pass to Noise Pop. The festival is in its 30th year. What was the “Why” of getting the thing started and what is the “Why” now?

JK: Well, you know, Kevin [Arnold] started it in 1993 to shed light on some bands and genres of music that weren’t getting a lot of attention in the Bay Area, with no intention of doing it ever again. Just sort of booking some bands like the Fastbacks and the Meices on a Saturday night at the Kennel Club during a slow time of year and it ended up selling out.

And then when I got involved, he was at a crossroads, [ready to grow from] one or two shows a day for a five day week. The reason why we’re still doing it is the community. We’re not Outside Lands. We’re not Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. We’re not catering to tens of thousand people a day, we’re catering to a small community of people.

G: At the time there was this genre of noise pop or noise—and you’ve got the Flaming Lips new Bubble Concert movie playing this time—in 1998 there was the classic “boombox experiment” where Wayne and Steven of the Flaming Lips orchestrated the audience who played different cassette tapes of noise on an assortment of boomboxes. To create a space for something like that was really important in what was a really cool period for rock experimentalism and the scene in San Francisco. I’m looking at the line up now and it’s very different from that. There’s definitely some eclecticism in there. Could you talk about the evolution of style over the years?

JK: Originally it was kind of like that noisy pop, punk, type stuff and then it kind of evolved to be more encompassing, more about ethos, than about the exact style of music. From the 2000s for sure we started doing more independently-minded hip-hop and dance music, for example. [Still,] there’s always going to be those more like core noise pop bands. Bob Mould is playing the festival again this year. I mean, [his band] Hüsker Dü is the definitive noise pop band.

G: Looking at your own career, you’ve been active in music organizing even in college. Why?

JK: I love the community. I love the curatorial aspects of putting together a multi-act show or festivals like Noise Pop or Treasure Island. For me that’s always been a big driver. Being very passionate about the arts community of San Francisco and the Bay Area.

G: You’ve taken your experience in organizing and brought it into activism. Can you share some of your work there?

JK: [SF author] Dave Eggers, and I had been working on kind of politically-minded projects, [which lead to] serving on the board of 826 National.

G: And that led to work with the Obama and Biden administrations.

JK: Yeah. I manage artists who are really passionate about causes. They want to get involved [at the national level] and it’s intimidating in order to start. They don’t know how to get a hold of someone in the Biden camp or any camp, you know? We can say to both sides, ‘yeah this person is legit’ [and make connections]. That’s really gratifying work. 

2020 was the most impactful. Some of the records we put together netted six hundred thousand dollars for voters’ rights organizations which obviously proved to be very helpful. I’m in a position where I can reach people and help them to donate their time or their music. I’ve been inspired by my clients who do that all the time. 

Suggested Noise and More

  • Bob Mould — guitar legend and older brother of post punk noise pop plays The Chapel, 777 Valencia Street, San Francisco. $27.50–$30. All Ages.
  • Duster — the original slowcore duo plays the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on February 24. Sold out but maybe you can slide in if you gaze at yr shoes.
  • Overwhelming Colorfast — plays a life tribute to SF scene photographer Peter Ellenby at The Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St, San Francisco. $20–$25. All Ages.
  • Tommy Guerrero — skate phenom turned instrument loop art guitarist plays at The Chapel, 777 Valencia Street, San Francisco. $20. All Ages.
  • Spellling — who Kurland calls “one of the stories of the BA music Scene in recent years,” plays slow-fly funk music at the immortal Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St, San Francisco. $25. All Ages.

Check out NoisePopFest.com for the full concert schedule plus festival films and gallery shows.

Pacific Sun E-edition Pacific Sun E-edition