In 1937, as the Great Depression raged on, federal workmen dumped tons of landfill into a shallow spot of the Bay between San Francisco and Oakland, little aware that seventy years later their creation would become an annual Mecca of Bay Area hipsterdom, its imported soil trembling with electronic beats and cranked-up guitar amps.
Last year, after pulling off the first-ever major concert event on this largely overlooked artificial lily pad, the folks who bring you NoisePop, the San Francisco indie music extravaganza, are presenting the second year of the Treasure Island Music Festival. It's a two-day outdoor event that gives bands generally accustomed to dark, stuffy spaces the opportunity to make some noise in the light of day.
TIMF features two stages of dance and electronic groups on Saturday, including French dance-pop remix duo Justice and TV On The Radio, the high-octane, Brooklyn quintet. The bigger names on Sunday's mainly indie rock lineup include Jack White's side project The Raconteurs, the Canadian sister duo Tegan and Sara, and Vampire Weekend, the V-neck sporting recent Columbia grads turned instant radio hit sensations.
On the heels of the successful Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park last month, the much smaller, slightly more affordable TIMF lacks the star-studded lineup, but true to Noise Pop's mission, offers the opportunity to see a collection of promising groups still firmly within the true indie ranks. Along those lines, the draw is less the desire to see a big headliner and more the hope of catching that less-established band before the rest of the world discovers them.
"That's what it's all about for us," says festival co-organizer Jordan Kurland, who joined forces with NoisePop founder Kevin Arnold eleven years ago. He recalls booking at the Great American Music Hall then-up-and-coming acts like Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes, and the White Stripes, the latter of which he's still kicking himself for forgetting to videotape. "It's an opportunity to work with artists early on."
Kurland and Arnold created the island festival last year, headlined by Modest Mouse, with the hope of attracting a wider audience and a bit more cash than Noise Pop generally pulls in. They partnered with Another Planet Entertainment, and although they lost a bit of money overall, successfully drew 18,000 people over the two-day weekend, just short of capacity. With film screenings, year-round shows, and Talking Music, a series of discussions about music at the Herbst Theatre, the festival is a further example of Noise Pop's increasingly expansive presence in the Bay Area.
Despite the obvious logistical challenges of closing the island off to most cars and shuttling in the masses from AT&T Park in San Francisco, the choice of site, Kurland says, was still a goldmine. The island, less than a square mile in area, was built on the north-side shoals of Yerba Buena Island for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, celebrating the completion of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. During World War II, it became a naval base and was only decommissioned in 1996. Although still owned by the Navy, the island and its roughly 1,500 residents are now governed by San Francisco.
"We kind of looked around at all these different places," he says. "We saw Treasure Island and thought, if this could happen, why the hell had no one done it?"
Consistent with last year, the festival is set up on the west side of the island with stellar views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate. The acts are all staggered, so audiences can see every last band and avoid the dreaded fear of missed opportunities, an all-too common affliction at multi-stage festivals.
Aside from music, the state's tallest Ferris wheel will be back in action, as will a vendor village and multiple treasure hunts throughout both days. This year also features an interactive arts tent, showcasing the work of local artists. The festival also has amped up its eco efforts, using a fleet of zero-emission shuttle buses and providing compostable eating utensils along with a cell-phone recycling station.
Saturday's eclectic lineup, which features a number of promising international acts, including Brazilian electro-rockers CSS, also includes a handful of local projects. Among them is comedic DJ Mike Realm, who recently toured with the Blue Man Group performance troupe, and enigmatic SF-based hip-hop artist Aesop Rock. Guitar pop group Loquat and indie-electronica duo The Frail also are among the festival's San Francisco grab bag.
Sunday's impressive lineup includes Austin-based Okkervil River, which jumps from restless alt-country anthems and despondent folk ballads to driving hard-rock renditions. Having produced an expansive collection of albums and spent much time working it on the road, the band is now finally beginning to get some much deserved recognition. Other indie-rocker rising stars to look out for include Tokyo Police Club, the Canadian-based group of early twentysomethings, who already have played the David Letterman show and been featured in Rolling Stone.
Sunday's local selections include the Dodos, a San Francisco drum and acoustic guitar duo whose distinct, rhythmic compositions have earned them a growing following. Also from SF, the alt-country group Or, the Whale will perform their catchy pedal-steel-driven compositions, as will prolific singer-songwriter John Vanderslice, who still owns analog recording studio Tiny Telephone.
Berkeley's own The Morning Benders play Sunday as well, lightening the mood with their consistently sunny pop tunes. Initially a solo project of songwriter Chris Chu, the band, all in their early twenties, met at Cal and performed their first show on campus in Lower Sproul Plaza. From Blakes to the Starry Plough, they quickly conquered the Berkeley club scene and recently completed a cross-country tour that included a show at New York's Bowery Ballroom.
"We're super-stoked," says Chu, who was in the audience at last year's festival. "It's just an amazing place to have a festival, right on the water."
A deviation from indie rock's often somber persona, Chu readily admits his band's music is poppy. But he says it's an effort to "go back to good pop music."
"Festivals are always kind of a different vibe than playing in venue," says Chu. "It's kind of weird. You can't really gauge how many people is watching or just passing by." Asked if he's at all intimidated by the prospect of an audience of tight-jeaned, inexpressive hipsters, he adds: "You kinda just get out there and do your thing."