Noise Pop’s annual festival has become a staple of San Francisco’s music scene, taking place in concert venues all over San Francisco and Oakland. The festival is also a launch pad for indie artists like Modest Mouse (1998), The White Stripes (2001), Sleigh Bells (2012) and countless others, who played some of their first shows in Noise Pop’s San Francisco stages. We spoke to Dawson Ludwig, Noise Pop Festival’s General Manager, as he put the finishing touches on the 25th Noise Pop Festival.
This is the 25th Noise Pop Festival. Have you been involved with organizing the festival since the first one?
I actually started with the company in 2009 as an intern. I worked my way up to a paid position (Marketing Manager) within a few months, and two years ago I was appointed to the General Manager role.
How has the feel of the festival changed in all these years?
I wasn’t involved in the early years of the festival, but I can attest to the changes since 2009 — the term “indie” has now become a catchall word for any type of music in any genre that has a sort of progressive bent to it. This has allowed us to book more diverse lineups over the years, to where now our headliner is a hip-hop artist this year (Vince Staples), and last year it was a pop star (Carly Rae Jepsen). The festival has also grown in scale since I first started: there’s more shows, more attendees and more bands.
What are your duties as general manager and festival organizer?
The GM’s job is to very broadly keep the train running on time and try to stay out of the staff’s way. There are a lot of moving parts to executing a festival, and it’s my job to be aware of each of them and make sure they’re interacting in the right ways.
What’s your favorite thing about planning the event?
My background is in PR and marketing, so I have a tendency to take pride in the more forward-facing aspects of the festival. Sales, ads, press, etc. Of course, watching live music is also the reason I got into this job, so that’s the driving force behind all this.
Does planning such a large scale event ever get easier?
It does get easier, especially after such a long-running event. Several partnerships, at this point, are grandfathered in and we can focus on new ideas. This is actually the first year that everyone on the staff has been through at least one Noise Pop Festival, so there is a familiarity that is convenient. There is usually at least one rookie each year that is learning as they go.
How does Noise Pop select bands for the festival?
Our talent buying team is working with bands year round, scouting new acts and developing relationships with them. When it comes time to start booking Noise Pop, we approach our favorites of those artists.
Who are some of your favorite Noise Pop Festival artists? Why?
This is one of my favorite lineups that we’ve had, so there’s no shortage of favorite artists. Vince Staples — we had Vince play twice last year, so he is a festival favorite. His new single “BagBak” is really amazing, so it should be a great show. Tennis — we’ve been fans of this band from the start, so it’s really exciting to have them come back and play a sold-out show with brand new music. Shannon and The Clams — I’m a very big fan of them. They have an amazing and unique style with excellent songwriting to boot.
Who would you love to have perform at the festival?
I would love to reunite Sunset Rubdown. That’s my dream play.
Who is the ideal Noise Pop Festival goer?
Noise Pop is a music festival made by and for music nerds. The festival allows fans to see bands in their ideal setting — clubs and theaters. The lighting, the sound, the atmosphere are all set up for the band to deliver the best possible performance.
What are your goals for this Noise Pop Festival?
It’s our 25th anniversary, so the goal is to execute the best festival to date, on every level. Badges will be sold out soon, so we’re on a good path to deliver this to the largest audience yet.
Noise Pop is kind of a staple of San Francisco music culture, how did you guys build up this identity and relationship with artists?
It goes back to us being music nerds. We love the bands we work with. It’s a simple explanation, but I think our genuine excitement and passion for this music and this culture has allowed us to succeed for so long.
Photo courtesy of Shepard Fairy/ Noise Pop