Spinning Platters Interview: Jordan Kurland of Treasure Island Music Festival, Noise Pop, and Zeitgeist Management

by Dakin Hardwick on July 15, 2016

Photo by Andrew Paynter

Photo by Andrew Paynter

Jordan Kurland has been influential within the Bay Area music scene for over two decades. He helped make Noise Pop a major music festival, and is one of the masterminds behind the Treasure Island Music Festival, currently heading into it’s 10th year. As one of the primary forces behind the mainstream acceptance of Indie Rock, you probably owe about half of your record collection to him. Spinning Platters had the opportunity to talk to this legend about how to book a great festival, the future of Treasure Island Music Festival, and a bit about the new ways bands are getting creative with drumming up revenue.

FYI, Treasure Island Music Festival is October 15th and 16th, and tickets are on sale NOW! Also, Noise Pop 2017 (the 25th year!) Super Fan Badges, went on sale today, and are moving fast. These include admission to 25 shows in the months leading up to next year’s festival, in addition to the entirety of Noise Pop 2017.  You can buy this here!

It seems that this is the last year that TIMF is happening on Treasure Island. What is the future of TIMF?

We’ve known since we started the fest that there were housing development plans for Treasure Island. And, honestly, we’ve been really pleased that we’ve been able to do this, this long, but it’s time for them to begin construction. And that includes the west lawn, where the festival is.

Do you have a space for next year yet?

We’ve been looking at locations for next year, but nothing has been confirmed yet. We’ve been focused on this year’s festival, getting it booked and the line-up out the door. We aren’t far enough up the field to disclose where it will be.

In the 20 years since you’ve joined up with Noise Pop, the sound you’ve been championing has sort of “blown up.” What was it like watch bands like Death Cab For Cutie go from being excited to play Bottom Of The Hill to playing amphitheaters and arenas?

It’s fantastic! I met Kevin [Arnold] when I was working for a management company in 1996. I was managing Creeper Lagoon and Beulah, and that’s how the partnership began. Kevin always had a day job that had nothing to do with music, so since I was working in management, I would incorporate Noise Pop work while working my day job. In 1998, we booked Modest Mouse at Great American Music Hall, [where they had] been playing Bottom Of The Hill before. It was the tour for Lonesome Crowded West, the record that broke them. But, back then, breaking an indie rock record meant 40,000 copies. In 2003, a record on an indie label could sell 100’s of thousands. It was partially public taste shifting, and partially the distribution network opening up. In the 90’s, you had SF Weekly and KUSF and Streetlight Records for introducing you to new music. In the early 2000’s, you had the Apple Store and Pitchfork and movies like Garden State and shows like “The O.C.” And if you hear about a band, you can immediately buy a record on Amazon or iTunes. In the old days, you had to go to Aquarius and either buy a record or have them order it for you.

Two bands in one day, seemingly out of nowhere, came out against YouTube—Nine Inch Nails and The Black Keys…

I think the streaming economy is terrible and needs to be improved. I think everyone who is an artist or works in the major labels knows that the deals need to be restructured completely. The deal with YouTube is that anyone can post anything. It’s really easy to get music out there that artists are not getting paid on. Their business model is that they don’t create things. They have a simple platform to post videos… I’m a little cynical as [Trent Reznor] works for Apple. I also remember him in the 90’s on stage at a European fest talking about the major labels, but he wouldn’t be where he is now without Interscope’s investment. It’s a really complex space. The streaming economy has to become favorable to artists. It has to change.

Death Cab For Cutie doesn’t become a household name without the Internet. I admit that piracy has a little something to do with it, but Death Cab or The Shins or Modest Mouse—none of these bands would be where they are without the Internet. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. And I know people keep saying that, “Don’t you make money from touring?” And yes, you do, but you also used to make money off record sales, and getting paid publishing royalties. Why is [it] okay for us to cut an income stream? Like, what if you worked off a commission and I suddenly said that you aren’t making commission [for] certain types of sales, but guess what, you’re still getting these things, is that okay? No. It’s an insane argument.

Of course businesses are evolving. I do hold out hope that streaming will hit a tipping point and people start subscribing and the pie to pay people out of gets bigger. I am optimistic, and I believe it will get better, but we’ve also been talking about this for 15 years… So, um, we’ll see. It may also just be a correction in the industry. The publishing industry was much bigger before TVs were in every home.

Let’s talk this years line up. It’s both great and fascinating, I’m 36, and it’s the largest number of my peers telling me they don’t know more than two bands playing.

You can throw a stone and hit a music festival. So it’s important that what you do is unique. And we only have 13 slots to fill a day, so each one of those has to be special. I’m not saying we won’t book people playing six other festivals this year, as there are always exceptions, and we also try not to have bands back or bands that have played recently. Each slot has to fill a specific need, so having Ice Cube and Sigur Ros as headliners, we need to skew younger with the other bands. And we just had our strongest first day sales in festival history, so it looks like we are doing something right. I’m really happy with how it’s come together. But I had the same experience—my friends know Sigur Ros and Ice Cube and maybe Tycho or Mac DeMarco. But it was always an extension of Noise Pop: an intimate festival where you can enjoy established and up-and-coming artists. And we are having more crossover between the two days—not all dance on Saturday, and not all rock on Sunday. And if somebody sees Sigur Ros and Mac DeMarco, and they hear Tycho for the first time and realize that they might like some dance music, that’s a good thing.

I like that, even though you are mixing them up, you are mixing them up in the right way. Like last year you had Chvrches open for The National, which makes more sense than, say, Zedd. And that lead to the beautiful duet between Lauren Mayberry and Matt Beringer…

Like with Atoms For Peace in 2013 or Ice Cube this year, I love where headliners can play either day… By the way, did you see that Lauren did a song with DCFC the other day?

Last year you experimented with comedy. Do you think you will do that again?

That went really well, but we don’t plan on it this year. At least that’s the early expectation.

Who is on your bucket list for the festival? What would you like to see on stage that you haven’t arranged yet?

I don’t know how to answer that… I knew LCD Soundsystem were perfect and it took a few years to make it happen. If Boards Of Canada ever did a live show, that would be on the list. I mean, Daft Punk would be amazing, but we could never afford them. A lot of it is catching artists at the right time. We are often catching an artist on the way up.

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