New York City Popfest, our town’s finest curators of brainy, catchy, twee pop from around the world, launch their sixth year tonight with shows spread across several Manhattan and Brooklyn venues continuing throughout this weekend. Tonight’s show at Cake Shop is headlined by Finland’s Burning Hearts, but the full lineup includes features 27 bands including super-rare stateside appearances from semi-obscure, but fully heroic names like Comet Gain, The Pooh Sticks, and White Town alongside current crush objects like ‘Allo Darlin. The epitome of late-spring swooniness, as usual.
We chatted with festival organizers Maz and Clyde (sticking to cuddly first names in typical twee fashion) about indie-pop, this year’s festival, and day-dreams of the greatest Popfest in history.
The L: What is it specifically about twee indie-pop that you’re so passionate about?
Clyde: What drew me to the genres is that they all contain an element of the “punk” and DIY mindset. A lot of the bands, fans, and people involved have a passion that you won’t find in most bands today. They stay true and real to the music that they love. This is something that I gravitated towards over a decade ago when I first heard “indie-pop” and got involved with others who also listened to the same bands. And musically, there is something cheerful and positive in a lot of the songs. Even the sad songs at times are peppy.
How do you see the state of the genre in 2012?
Maz: The genre is alive and well in 2012, there are more and more wonderful Popfests and events each year around the world. Oh, I recently heard a Math & Physics Club song playing at Chipotle and Camera Obscura at Chase Bank. That was a bit surprising.
C: Like Maz said, the genre is alive and well. Some times even more than alive and well. With the advent of social media, indie-pop fans, bands, lovers throughout the world can stay connected much more closely. Starting out in old school online forums to now staying in touch through facebook and twitter, the music can be shared through a much larger network of distribution. We can bring our music anywhere and share it. And with advertising you’re starting to hear a lot more indie-pop bands in commercials, retail stores, restaurants and like Maz mentioned, banks. It’s wild.
Can you describe your process in building out the individual shows? When did planning for this year start?
M: We usually start planning the festival about 5-6 months in advance. Individual shows usually involve one headliner with a mix of local and out of town bands.
C: Yeah, we usually try to build each show around a main headliner and then work down from there. After that we just announce and the rest is history. Every year more and more people have become interested in New York City Popfest which is amazing.
How does think this year’s lineup measures up to previous years?
M: I think it’s our most international lineup to date. More than half of the bands are coming from out of the country! We try to make an effort of incorporating newer acts (like Pushy Parents, The Holiday Crowd, Seapony, etc) along with some more established acts (like Comet Gain and The Pooh Sticks).
C: This year’s line-up is definitely much more eclectic than ever before and there are definitely a lot more new bands to definitely keep and eye and ear out for.
Are you more interested in new bands that sound “classic” (for lack of a better word), or bands that are actively reinventing the sound?
C: I personally like a combination of both. A band influenced by that “classic” sound but adding a whole new layer of modernation. Is that even a word? It’s really fun to hear something new yet contain nostalgic elements.
Do you guys see yourself as educating younger fans by booking (sort of) obscure heroes like The Pooh Sticks?
M: Not really. We just put on bands we really want to see ourselves. Indiepop is a relatively young genre, but we think it’s important to incorporate the genres seminal artists whenever we can.
C: I agree. We definitely try to bring bands that we want to see. But I do think that after six years New York City Popfest is starting to gain a lot of few fans and followers each year. And of course a lot of newer and younger faces. I think that certain bands that we do try to bring back like The Pooh Sticks, The Radio Dept., The Wake, etc. are exposing some of the younger fans to some more influential bands.
As experts, what differences do you see between American, British, and…let’s say…Scandinavian varieties of indie-pop?
C: Hmmm… I think in my ears a lot more the British bands have an incredibly strong influence from Sarah/Factory Records bands. And although some American bands usually tend to have this influence as well, there are a lot of bands that sound much “louder” and have more of a raucous sound and live act. With Scandinavian bands they too have bands influenced by the Sarah/Factory Records era but some of them also tend to have this more bubbly aspect to their sound. And some even having a much more clean studio sound. They all tend to have a common influence and love for pop in the end.
What the booking you’ve been able to pull off in planning NYC Popfest that still delights you most in retrospect?
M: 2010 Popfest. We invited legendary Sarah/Factory Records band, The Wake, to come over. But it nearly fell apart in the weeks leading up to Popfest, due in part to a volcano in Iceland and a British Airways strike. It was a bit stressful, to say the least. They arrived, nonetheless, and were simply stunning. I still look back on that show as one of my all-time favorites.
C: Yeah, The Wake was definitely one of those bands that kept me on the edge. From their flights to finding particular gear that they needed and then of course taking them around New York. Another band I was kind on the edge for was The Radio Dept. it was a long time since they’ve performed in the states and I just wasn’t sure what to expect. The need for certain gear and then realizing that I didn’t have the right power converter for their secret show at Don Hill’s put me on edge for a little bit. That year too was another great one.
What are your plans for expanding the fest in the future?
M: Our only plans right now are to get through this weekend without any hiccups or surprises!
C: Absolutely agree! And of course there’s Northside, then CMJ and we are going to start presenting even more shows in the future…
What is your dream lineup, with money no object and the rules of time and space no issue? (i.e., All-Time, greatest historical NYC Popfest Bill?)
M: Felt. The Field Mice. Orange Juice. The Go-Betweens. The Siddeleys. (Not necessarily in that order).
C: Every year I usually try to have just one band that I must try and bring over. if I can do that I’m happy. I’m still gunning for Saint Etienne. Then have Club 8 open. Something like that would be fantastic.
Buy NYC Popfest badges and individual show tickets here.