As Noise Pop Festival 2015 takes over the Bay Area this week, we chat with Dawson Ludwig, General Manger of Noise Pop. Our interview with Dawson includes Noise Pop's origins, the focus on local talent, the Tech Booms' impact on Bay Area music, expanding the festival to Oakland and where Noise Pop sits in the greater festival landscape. With dozens of shows across the region this week, you should scope the schedule. You can still pickup individual tickets to shows as well as the late-comer festival badge. Apes on Tape: So there's a mythology to the origins of Noise Pop? Noise Pop (Dawson Ludwig): Yeah, so Kevin Arnold started Noise Pop in 1993 at the Kennel Club, 5 bands $5 bucks. It was local bands. But the idea behind it was to break down the wall between the audience and artist and just have it really accessible. So, that was the start––the seed. Local music has been a huge part of Noise Pop and it’s always been a bait and switch tactic for us, in terms of having a national headliner draw crowds and then bringing in local bands that we like to support it and exposing an audience to great local music. So local music plays a very important role in Noise Pop. In many ways, you could argue it’s the role of Noise Pop. AOT: Absolutely. Obviously you have to pull in the national acts for draws and I imagine that’s a balancing act. Is there like a percentage of say “hey we gotta have 10% of the bands on the list be nationally touring bands and then we can cover the rest with local bands?” Or does that switch from year to year depending on what’s available? NP: It depends on what’s available. And no we don’t necessarily approach it with a specific proportion in mind. But a couple years go we did a quick count and, I believe, 60-70% of our lineup has been local. We tend to function around that give or take a percentage or two. AOT: That’s awesome. I know you said that you weren’t around in the beginning, but looking back at the timeline, SXSW was 5 or 6 years before Noise Pop. Do you know if that was an inspiration for Noise Pop? Looking at the format, the urban setup, the multi-venue approach. Or did they evolve independently? NP: Early on they evolved completely independently. And one of the reasons why SXSW grew into the thing that it is, and Noise Pop grew into the thing that it is, is very much the city scape. Whereas San Francisco is very spread out and Noise Pop becomes a tour of the music venues in San Francisco. Whereas....because University of Texas Austin is so concentrated in downtown that SXSW is able to really become a “homogenous monster.” AOT: Ha! Good term. NP: Yeah, whereas Noise Pop is a bit more of “exploring the city” as opposed to just “exploring 6th street." All due respect to SXSW, we love them. But it’s different. AOT: I notice that having gone in past years, getting around to the different venues you really get a taste of the different neighborhoods. Whether you’re at Bottom of the Hill or heading to Rickshaw Stop. I like that element of it. You’re going all over the place and get a tour of San Francisco amidst all of it. NP: Yeah that’s one of the benefits of it. Some people look at it as a chore, but I think people, badgeholders, realize what that opportunity is and they take advantage of it. AOT: Yeah, it’s an adventure. You’re probably familiar with the whole narrative of tech pushing the music out of San Francisco with the housing prices, etc. Have you noticed a direct effect the last few years in your work with Noise Pop and obviously being tied with the music community? NP: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that San Francisco has lost quite a few great bands. But at the same time San Francisco has always been a carpetbagger town where bands start off and then end their careers in New York or LA. It’s just the size of the city and the nature of the city. It’s always been people who’ve come in, stake their claim and move on. At the same time, there’s obviously a very real problem that artists are facing. But I think there’s a lot of great music out there still, so if you were to look strictly at the bottom line of artists out there and talent, it’s still really, really rich. I think a lot of people focus on John Dwyer or Ty Segall moving. AOT: Yeah, that’s well worn. NP: Yeah exactly. And that’s what it symbolizes. To be honest with you, tech or no tech, I’d imagine that artists, once they get to that level they often have to move on for career reasons. Not to make light of what’s going on, but I do think that it is not anywhere near as dire as people think – in terms of producing great artists. AOT: Right, right. Were you here during the first bay tech boom during the early 00's? NP: You know I was not, but I sit in an office with all the Noise Pop posters, and you can see how Noise Pop grew in tandem with that tech boom. The 2000-2001 lineups are definitely a huge step up from the 1998 lineups. AOT: Really? See that would go against the detractors that say that tech’s ruined it. It’s interesting to hear that actually played a beneficial role. Something that I was talking about to people the last few years, you would talk to people in line about two dueling narratives: One, the sky is falling, tech’s ruined it, yada yada. But then it seems like there’s another outlook, that I’ve seen both from artists and fans: this money is here and if you can channel that in and get tech people with the income to do that, that opens doors. And artists too are excited about it. They like that idea that amidst a lot of drying wells in the music industry, that potentially in the Bay Area there could be all that disposable income for the entertainment industry. NP: Yeah, absolutely. And I think a lot of it is getting that disposable income excited about the independent music. We’re inclusive, we want to make sure everyone enjoys the show. We’re not going to put up a sign that says: “Only hipsters allowed, techies get out.” The city is going through some growing pains, but there are also opportunities. And the people who are actually making good changes are the ones who are quietly finding out how to adopt these changes to the benefit of the arts community. AOT: Yeah. I think it was last year, Oakland was integrated into the mix for the first time. For all of us over here that was really awesome. Because, for as many artists that live on this side of the Bay, sometimes Oakland doesn’t get involved as much. Was there a bit of initial hesitancy to take Noise Pop events to Oakland and spread it out even more? Maybe you could talk about how that strategy shifted and when you decided to go a more full boar with it. NP: We started doing Oakland shows 2009, 2010 maybe. A lot of that was what was available. The Fox Theater was the first big step, and obviously the New Parish. And now with Leo’s, there are finally venues that we are comfortable putting artists into and encouraging our SF fanbase to go over there, but also extending our fanbase and growing it into Oakland. Oakland has had good venues but in the last 5-6 years the caliber of venues that we usually work with has moved over there which has allowed us to book in Oakland. A lot of it is really opportunities that we are finally taking advantage of because the opportunities are there. AOT: That makes sense. I was talking to Michael O'Connor (New Parish, Brick & Mortar, Leo's) last year. He liked the idea of using Noise Pop to work collaboratively and cross that Bay boundary that sometimes exists of “Well I’m not sure that I want to go over there.” It’s a good way to introduce San Francisco people to Leo’s or New Parish in a way that opens the door for later in the year, they can check it out again too. It’ll likewise introduce Oakland people to Noise Pop that may not be open to going all the way over to SF for a few shows. NP: Yeah. Half of our office actually lives in Oakland and they commute into the city. So in our mind, it’s becoming less and less a vision of two cities. It’s more like, alright here’s the Bay Area. It’s turning into the NY model where there are boroughs as opposed to two opposing cities. AOT: That makes sense. It’s cool to see Oakland embraced as well. For as long as Noise Pop has been around there’s been a number of other festivals come and go, with Outside Lands and Treasure Island working in a different role with Noise Pop. I know they have different demographics, but have you changed Noise Pop's role as those festivals have come into the scene? Do you think that you had already established your role and said “we don’t need to change, Outside Lands is a different deal.” NP: I think it’s changed largely because festival culture has changed. Noise Pop will now always be viewed as the elder statesman. Starting a new festival in this day and age is really challenging, so we feel very fortunate of where we stand. But yeah, I would say that the new rise of festivals and festival culture has helped turn Noise Pop into the gray haired silver fox, whether or not we deserve that. But it’s helped elevate us to something that’s a little more established, and a little more Roger Sterling-esque. AOT: That’s a good metaphor. And I think Noise Pop is reliable too. If you want to invest in getting acclimated to a new festival and all that, maybe it won't be there the next year. Whereas with Noise Pop you’re going to be able to see the same things, maybe get involved with that community a little bit. NP: Exactly. There is continuity to it. Where a lot of festivals celebrate 5 years in or 6 years in--which actually, we just did for Treasure Island. We just celebrated our 7th year. And it felt like a mile-marker. You know 23 years in is a totally different phenomenon. AOT: It’s interesting to look at Sasquatch or Coachella, the Goliaths of the industry. They’re only at year 10, something like that. So that makes what Noise Pop has done, quietly, very impressive. NP: "Quietly" is probably the best descriptor. We’ve been the ones who keep our heads down. We’re the music nerds who just keep listening to music and throw a steady, consistent festival over the years. We’re not really interested in turning the city into Vegas for the weekend and putting wristbands on everybody and getting everybody high and drunk. It’s very much about the music and that quiet steadiness has helped us be successful while at the same time helping us to maintain our identity.