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Interview: Dawson Ludwig of Noise Pop

February 22, 2011
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[photo via the Owl Mag]

A few days ago, Bay Area Bourgeois caught up with Dawson Ludwig, the marketing director for Noise Pop. He shares his thoughts on the festival and live music after the jump.

Where do you hear about new bands for the Noise Pop line up?
As a rule we’re already tapped into the local music scene. Outside of Noise Pop and Treasure Island, we’re putting on shows constantly and we’re always in touch with venues and blogs have become our friends. So Noise Pop was really a part of the community already so we’re very in touch with what bands are performing well, what bands are opening up for national acts. And obviously we get a lot of recommendations from friends. But the entire staff just goes to concerts often enough that we come to the table with more ideas that we can actually hold.

What makes a band right for Noise Pop?
The type of band that is right for Noise Pop is definitely going to be independent. I mean it’s an independent festival and we kind of pride ourselves on that. That’s kind of a buzzy word. And a large word but it has to have something to do with some sort of indie aesthetic. And luckily, that has really expanded over the years. So the definition is growing. I mean, we have anywhere from a DJ set from Peanut Butter Wolf to someone like Ben Gibbard who is arguably mainstream but still has his independent roots, really. So, yeah. I guess it would be kind of a general indie aesthetic.

If you could only go to three shows for Noise Pop, which ones would they be?
Tough, very tough. My top three would be in order, How to Dress Well with DJ Shlomo opening up. It’s gonna be really cool. After that, Kid Koala at Mighty. I’ve always wanted to see Kid Koala. So, it’s a dream for me. And let’s see, it’s gonna be tough. Ben Gibbard at Great American. The marketer in me wants to say a slower seller but no, it’s Ben Gibbard.

The festival has included more electronica in the last few years. Can you tell me about booking a mix of indie and electronic bands?
We come in with a lot of ideas and it’s kind of a team effort as far as suggestions. And I think the way that we approach electronic versus indie versus rock ‘n roll is really what is the balance. More often, it’s going to be rock but I think they probably seek out certain electronic artists like Four Tet, Peanut Butter Wolf this year to you know, kind of tap into a similar culture but almost in a parallel universe. These electronic kids are a different breed, almost.

How is Noise Pop festival different from other festivals?
One of the defining factors about Noise Pop that separates it from most national acts or festivals is the way that it’s set up to really promote local, independent artists. The way that it was originally, it is to essentially bring in national headliners that will attract a crowd and throw on some local acts that can then draw attention. And we’ve really stuck to that formula. We’ve grown in scope from, the original show which, I think took place at the Kennel Club in 1993. And now we’re at the Fox and the Masonic Center. So our scope and our ability to reach bigger audiences has grown but we still maintain our roots of promoting local, independent artists. We just have a better platform to do it now.

Noise Pop has grown a lot over the past 19 years. How does the Noise Pop team feel about that?
Great. Growth is never anything that we shun. So the Noise Pop team in terms of our growth is constantly excited. We never shy away from any opportunity to really expand because the way that we see it, the larger our brand, the more opportunity there is to help bands. And to really keep this thing going and make it as big as is possible.

What’s your favorite event in this years line up that isn’t a live show?
My favorite non-music show at Noise Pop this year is probably the Feist documentary. We saw an early screening of it and it was fantastic. I’m also very excited for the Jose Gonzalez film. And then… actually, our biggest thing, I take that back. The biggest thing, I’m most excited about that’s non-music is Culture Club. Which is our weekend-long event at Public Works and it’s kind of a DIY workshop event that brings in all of these artists to conduct these workshops, panels, and allows audience members to participate. It’s really kind of turning into our flagship event.

What’s the coolest part of your job?
That’s such a trap for cliches. Well I have to say, I mean, I wish I wasn’t with my co-workers right now. My favorite part of my job, honestly, is working with Stacey Horne and Julie Zelinksi and Kelly-Ann and Allison. And we are the staff at Noise Pop. And we’ve just turned into a really good family because it’s such a small staff that puts on such a huge festival, that we get strained and we get pushed and pulled and we still like each other so. I think there’s something there. And also just the opportunity to be a part of Noise Pop, which is already a local institution. And to be able to kind of ride that wave, I feel very fortunate and the subject of some people’s envy, I would imagine. Which is also nice.

Do you have any crazy Noise Pop stories?
My favorite Noise Pop story happened when I was an intern. This was during the festival and everyone was completely allocated. And I’d only been here for like two months. And someone needed to pick up Lou Barlow at the airport. So I raise my hand in the meeting. I’m like ‘I’ll do it’. I love Sebadoh. I’m a huge Dinosaur Jr. fan. So the entire drive over there was a little surreal. So when I picked him up, actually the entire drive down there was just like I can’t believe I’m doing this. My palms are sweating. And I picked him up from the Oakland airport, so we had forty-five minutes in the car. And I’m thinking this is so glorious. And then I got a call and they had postponed his talk at Industry Noise. So I ended up having like two to three hours with him. And we went record shopping and by the end of it, we were holding hands and eating the same ice cream. It was fantastic. I mean, that’s a joke but it was a surreal moment for me.

On any given night during the festival, how many shows do you guys go to?
It’s actually more of a question of like how much energy we have than physically being there because it’s all over the city and there are so many shows. I think on Friday alone, I looked at it and there are, I think, fifteen events that night. Between films, concerts, a pop-up shop, happy hours. There’s a lot goin’ on. So, I can only speak for myself. I probably hit up maybe three or four a night. That’s a good night. As I get towards the end of the festival, it’s one show. And that’s, you know, the show that I’m at to close and work at and you know, preserve my energy.

And do you guys get to watch and enjoy live music during the festival?
Between like noon and eight o’clock, it’s scrambling to just get things done and make sure everything’s alright. And then usually, by the second opener slash headliner, there’s kind of an eye of the storm moment. It’s complete silence. And you can really enjoy the music, which is nice. Then after that, then it starts all over again. You have to pay out and do all of the business stuff. But there is a two to three hour gap of everyone’s watching live music. There’s nothing really, to attend to so enjoy.

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