The few shows I attended out of more than 40 under the umbrella of the 2022 Noise Pop Festival felt friendly, like real connections were being kindled, both on and off stage. Spread out across various city bars and venues, different musical niches were stitched together in the name of the event. Each set had its own disposition, whether it be Dorian Electra at August Hall and their anime-loving, maid-outfit-wearing audience; The Greeting Committee at Bottom of the Hill with their young, alt-styled fans; or Naked Giants at The Chapel and their crowd full of, what San Francisco State University student Lili Hernandez called, “too many straight white dudes.”
Hernandez seemed overjoyed to be attending the Naked Giants show on Feb. 26, despite her playful annoyance with the composition of the crowd. She approached me because we were both alone, as she was waiting for her friend to get a last minute COVID-19 test at a Walgreens down the street from the venue. Throughout the concert, she was the one instigating mosh pits, screaming at the top of her lungs, and making friends.
“My friends from home had just seen them in LA,” she said. “And they said I was gonna have a great time, so I was really excited.”
Naked Giants is a charismatic indie-rock music group, said to be a “rip-roaring good time,” according to their Noise Pop biography. Their most prominent album, “SLUFF,” was described as “a candied and insanely catchy blast of unhinged pop-punk-garage-surf rock,” which seemed fitting based on their electric, jam-band-esque performance. You’d expect them to be from California from the way they sound and look—the drummer, Henry LaVallee, was wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt, cut-off jean shorts, and a paper clip chain necklace his wife made for him—but they actually hail from Seattle, Washington.
Hernandez’s energy matched that of the band’s rip-roaring members. LaVallee refused to stay seated behind his torn up, old drum kit. The spirit in the room was palpable. Other attendees did the worm in the middle of the pit and spun around the crowd ring-around-the-rosie style.
“Playing live is pure joy,” LaValle said after the show, pausing in the middle of signing the broken pieces of his drum set to answer my questions. When asked how the instrument had deteriorated, his answer was simply, “love.”
They ended the night with a collaborative encore between them and their opening band, Enumclaw, performing the feel-good song “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis. Overall, Naked Giants’ performance and attitudes were representative of the affable nature of every show I attended. It could just be the way the indie music community is, or the city’s influence, or maybe the residue of Valentine’s Day affection, but it did feel as though every space was especially kind and welcoming.
Bottom of the Hill’s interior fit the same loving feelings, as many of their Valentine’s decorations still adorned the venue. Red and pink hearts lined the walls and hung from the ceiling for both shows of The Greeting Committee on Feb. 23 and Hunny on Feb. 24.
For Jade, a 16-year-old who made the trip from Sacramento to San Francisco with their mom, The Greeting Committee’s sold-out show was their first-ever concert. Many attendees had X’s on their hands to clearly mark them being under 21, making the band’s fanbase relatively young compared to other artists in the festival. The indie-rock band’s members themselves were still attending high school in Missouri when they rose to fame with the release of their edgy, dream-like EP “It’s Not All That Bad” and scored a record deal in 2015.
“I heard The Greeting Committee’s songs for the first time a while ago,” Jade said while waiting in line to buy merchandise. “And then I forgot about them, and then I remembered them when they released their new album last year so I’ve been listening to that and some of their older stuff again.”
They played many of the songs from their 2021 album Dandelion, such as “Can I Leave Me Too?” and “Float Away,” with airy sounds and youthful, romantic lyrics. LGBTQ couples could be seen swaying together in the crowd, something Addison Sartino, the band’s queer frontwoman, couldn’t help but address.
“Are there any queer people in the audience?” Sartino asked mid-set, and was met with roaring cheers and claps from the crowd. “Okay, good, I was worried y’all came to a Greeting Committee show and somehow weren’t gay.”
Maggie Gently, the frontwoman of the local indie-pop group that shares her name, was one of the opening acts for The Greeting Committee, and said that the welcoming allure of the festival can be credited to the artists and their fans.
“Seeing [The Greeting Committee] selling out shows all over America and having the opportunity to be here with them is really special, it’s really mind-blowing,” Gently said. “I’ve gotten to meet so many awesome Greeting Committee fans here tonight, everyone is so nice, and I just feel really grateful to get to share this space with them.”
The members of alt-rock band Hunny and their opener, Small Crush, another Bay Area-based indie-pop quartet lead by Logan Hammon, both said they enjoyed the musical communities live shows bring together. Small Crush first started writing songs and playing DIY shows around the Bay when Hammon was still in high school. They kept making music as they gradually built up a fanbase.
“We played a show together a few years ago in Berkeley, and then last year we got to go on tour with them across the U.S.,” Hammon said about Hunny. “We’ve been good friends for a while.”
That connection showed when Hunny’s bassist Kevin Grimmett and guitarist Jake Goldstein took a second during our interview to say goodbye to Hammon, exchanging “I love you’s” as Hammon headed out of the venue.
Hunny’s high-intensity performance included a lot of movement around the stage, a microphone stand that was always teetering on the edge of tipping over from lead singer Jason Yarger’s enthusiastic renditions of their songs old and new, and a crowd that never had all feet on the ground.
“We love the Bay,” Goldstein said, making the point that it is one of the major cities close to their hometown of Newbury Park, California. “It’s always been super supportive, and there’s a culture ingrained here of just really fun shows. We missed it, and I think the fans did too.”
Singer-songwriter Dorian Electra and their opening acts, Death Tour and Lil Mariko, were a great way to kick-off the weekend of the festival, which officially began on Feb. 22. Their Feb. 25 show was captivating, and attendees, in neon clothing, wigs, and “catboy” costumes, made up the liveliest crowd of all the shows I went to.
Each of the artists and their music in some way challenged social and gender norms, whether it be through their outfits, lyrics, and accompanying performances. Death Tour’s Demi Yoko at one point wore fishnet tights and practically nothing else; Lil Mariko wore a baby doll dress and her hair up in pigtails while directing her “catboy” counterpart, which is a half-cat, half-boy who wears cat ears and a tail as a form of androgynous self-expression; and Electra themself made multiple outfit changes including a leather dominatrix ensemble complete with a large cowboy hat, a sword, spiky shoulder pads, and thigh-high boots.
Unlike the previously mentioned artists, Electra and their openers were more hardcore. Dorian Electra belongs more to the hyperpop community, like similar artists 100 Gecs and Charli XCX. Their music is composed of heavy, punchy beats and fast-paced, catchy pop lyrics, and is reminiscent of a mix between dubstep and metal. Their show was not completely dissimilar from other acts, though. Like The Greeting Committee, Dorian Electra is a queer artist with a largely queer fanbase. Like Naked Giants, Death Tour members destroyed a drum set on stage (though more purposefully).
“It was a cheap drum set,” said Sage, Death Tour’s drummer. The band mixes both hip-hop and punk elements, wrapped up in an edgy, glamorous bow. Their music touches on anti-capitalist themes laced with political angst. They and the second opening act, Lil Mariko, a rapper and songwriter, were a perfect fit for Dorian Electra’s show.
Lil Mariko is best known for her songs “Hi, I’m a Slut,” and “Where’s My Juul??” that mix pop elements with hardcore, screamo vocals. Much of her bold discography makes light of female stereotypes, pop culture fads, and online memes; similar to the themes of Electra’s music, which deconstructs and critiques gender norms and toxic masculinity.
“I was really looking forward to Dorian Electra,” said Allison Lu, a SF local and general access badge holder for the festival. I met Lu at The Greeting Committee’s show, where she managed to snag their set list. We made plans to go to Dorian Electra together, with a shared love for their music.
Noise Pop Festival’s 29th year was a success, bringing together emerging and established artists to a city with its arms open wide. “I feel like all of us have been getting an itch to see live music,” Lu said. “I have loved feeling this energy of everyone being here for the same reason, for the music.”