Noise Pop began in 1993 at San Francisco’s Kennel Club with five bands and $5 tickets. In 2023, the festival celebrated its 30th year with a week of events, more than 25 venues and over 160 musical artists. From Feb. 20-26, Noise Pop featured a diverse range of artists and venues while remaining true to its commitment to the Bay Area music scene.
Since its foundation, Noise Pop has buzzed with emerging talent and experimental sound. This is where Modest Mouse and The White Stripes played some of their earliest and biggest Bay Area shows and where The Flaming Lips performed their legendary “Boombox Experiment No. 4.” Punk mainstay Bob Mould has returned to the festival time and time again, galvanizing San Francisco’s Chapel with his Solo Electric set for this year’s iteration.
Noise Pop was named for the noisy, melodic bands that championed founder Kevin Arnold’s college years at UC Berkeley, but it has grown to encompass so much more. Cal alumna SPELLLING made a splash at Great American Music Hall with her hypnotic musicality and literary lyricism. Over in Oakland, Bay Area born and raised musician Christian Kuria serenaded The New Parish with soothing R&B. Whether artists have already made their name in the music scene or they’re just starting out, Noise Pop has a place for all of them. Read on for The Daily Californian’s highlights from Noise Pop’s 30th anniversary.
— Lauren Harvey, Arts & Entertainment Editor
SPELLLING, the stage name of experimental musician Chrystia Cabral, mesmerized the crowd at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall on Feb. 26. With resounding elements of R&B, electronic music and avant-garde pop bleeding into and out of each other, SPELLLING brought transcendence to the final night of Noise Pop 30.
Haunting, eerie vocals jam-packed with literary references from SPELLING’s latest album The Turning Wheel soared alongside her band’s intricate instrumentation. Each song built to its own hypnotic climax, including the spiteful yet triumphant “Boys at School” and the dreamy, ‘70s-inspired “Under the Sun.”
Throughout the show, SPELLLING’s visuals were as captivating as her vocals. The stage was adorned with the shimmering presence of SPELLING herself, her bright eye makeup complementing the fantastical lights showering the stage. Meanwhile, a large screen behind the band displayed psychedelic animations and abstract, colorful imagery. These added to the otherworldly atmosphere of the performance, creating an immersive experience that left the audience spellbound.
Intricate guitar and keyboard work buoyed SPELLLING, who exuded charisma and confidence with every toss of her head and strut across the stage. Fan favorite “Little Deer” represented the pinnacle of her talents; airy, poignant musicality to entranced the crowd, and wistful, emotional vocals to bound them together.
Throughout her performance, SPELLLING blended contemporary experimentation with undeniable poppy groove while also conversing with the crowd to bring an intimate edge. All in all, SPELLLING successfully transported the Great American Music Hall into her own musical dimension — an undeniable testament to her artistry and vision.
— Kat Shok
It’s not every day that a concertgoer gets the privilege of witnessing their favorite rock star crawl on top of his keyboard and play it dead fish style. At Albany’s intimate Ivy Room on Feb. 25, Quasi frontman Sam Coomes played some punk rock piano with his whole body — his hands, arms, legs and even his feet displayed their musical talents. The keyboardist was joined by frontwoman and gifted drummer Janet Weiss, a former member of the Portland rock duo Sleater-Kinney. Touring for their first album in ten years, Breaking the Balls of History, Quasi played a top-notch show that left its audience’s heads bopping and ears ringing.
With nearly three decades of collaboration under their belt, the pair’s expert musicianship is undeniable. As each of their cascading choruses commenced, Weiss held up a secret signal to Coomes that indicated which song was up next in their queue. With nothing but eye contact, good chemistry and a mastery over musical timing, the band slyly launched into a number of their greatest hits, including catchy oldies like “Our Happiness is Guaranteed” and clever new tunes like the irreverent “Doomscrollers.” Quasi has one of the most distinctive signature sounds in the indie rock scene; their unique melodies filled the room with a quirky, playful Portland spirit and a desire to hear more.
“I like the group of people dancing at the front,” Weiss said, referencing the especially excited fans at the front of the crowd. “We’re gonna put you in a box and take you with us.” Impassioned listeners erupted with laughs and sighs. If only it were true.
— Piper Samuels
In a rousing homecoming, Bay Area born and bred musician Christian Kuria serenaded Oakland’s New Parish on Feb. 24 — the very music venue he used to frequent as a teen. Recognized for his genre-bending takes on R&B, Kuria is best known for the layered instrumentals and mellow vocals in his most popular singles. Kuria led his set with tracks from his latest EP, Suspension of Disbelief, which, released only three months ago, has already reached cult-classic status, with fans knowing songs like “Sunbleach” and “So” by heart.
Not only was Kuria’s set a sonic decadence but a sight to behold. Kuria’s chemistry with his band brought his songs to life in electric technicolor, grounding his set as he traversed his “sad boy music” (verbatim!) and upbeat singles. In a stand out performance of “Deep Green,” Kuria revitalized the track, extending it by almost twice its original length. He reciprocated the crowd’s relentless energy, mirroring each cheer with another riff and yet another — refusing to let them settle.
“Oakland,” Kuria said with a knowing smile, “this sh—t feel good.” And it did. Kuria’s appreciation for the crowd was palpable and his fans cultivated a warm, buzzing energy that only seemed to enhance his acoustics. There is an unshakeable sense that even if Kuria has played this set a billion times, the crowd was witnessing a completely new rendition of each song. Improvised riffs and remixed instrumentals were helmed by Kuria’s steady vocals, making each track both familiar and fresh. Though his music revolves through the same nuances of heartbreak and relationships, Kuria deftly sidestepped redundancy by keeping each iteration of his music unique, showcasing his range in melodies and messages.
Unmistakably, Kuria found sure footing in his home turf set — a hometown hero indeed.
— Vicky Chong
On Feb. 23, STRFKR took Berkeley’s UC Theatre on a total trip. The band — composed of vocalist Josh Hodges and instrumentalists Shawn Glassford, Keil Corcoran and Arian Jalali — began the night with a stunning array of animated, neon-colored background visuals and beams of lights sweeping the audience into their indie rock wavelengths.
The pacing of the show was energetic, with dreamier songs juxtaposed alongside boppier, rockier beats. STRFKR opened with tracks from its latest album Future Past Life. Smooth and funky “Dear Stranger” and lilting “Never the Same” were accompanied by hand-drawn visuals of abstract shapes floating across the background. The band thanked their openers and the crowd for attending before bringing out dancers in cat masks, setting a theatrical tone for the evening.
Although STRFKR is a practiced performance group with over a decade of experience, there was an odd disconnect between the band and its packed audience. Throughout the set, the band had almost nothing to say to those gathered in the UC Theatre, instead strumming dreamy guitar chords as transitions between songs and relying on theatrics.
Upbeat “Mystery Cloud” represented a tonal change in the night, with an uptempo beat and high energy dancing and clapping by the folks in cat costumes. Finally, STRFKR seemed to get into the groove, bopping their heads along to the crowd’s energetic jumping and shouts of “I love you.”
Hodges’ high, angelic vocals strongly carried the evening. The songs’ bass lines were accompanied by different flashes of light: Strobing red and purple lights for bass-heavy tracks, yellow and blue beams for lighter and contemplative tunes. In the background, animations of swimming manta rays became spinning golden rings, which then became twirling skulls and roses. Altogether, the evening flitted between sublime, comforting auras and powerful, meaty melodies.