The 17-year anniversary of Popscene, a favorite San Francisco weekly and one of the longest running indie club parties in the United States, arrives August 29 with a special sold-out show with Washed Out. We had a chance to chat with Popscene founder Aaron Axelsen, also program director at Live 105, about the party and its history.
Since it was first introduced to the San Francisco scene the crew behind Popscene has prided itself with showcasing new and exciting music that wanders between brit-pop, indie, electronic, soul, and whatever else might fit with the party. Everyone to underground cult acts to Amy Winehouse and Mumford and Sons have graced the Popscene stage.
This Thursday will be your 17th anniversary. What has the journey been like to this point?
Obviously, when we started the club we never fathomed that Popscene would become the longest running weekly indie club in the country, we just loved music. It was as simple as that. We wanted to create an outlet to share new music with others. We never would have guessed we’d be having a 17-year anniversary, much less a one year (laughs).
How is the 17-year anniversary going to be different than the first year?
That’s a good question. I think Popscene when it started was more rooted in pure brit-pop. It sort of evolved over the years to encompass other styles of music. The aesthetic is still the same—the demographic has always been 18-36, and with that music changes. We as promoters love new music so much that we’re always trying to keep the club fresh, always seeking out new stuff that we’re all personally passionate about whether it’s DJs or bands.
It’s always been an outlet to hear new music first. That template has never changed. Our proudest thing is still launching British bands. It’s crazy, a year ago this month we debuted Alt-J in SF and now they’re playing two sold out shows at the Fox [this weekend].
What does it mean for Washed Out to be playing the show?
It’s so funny, Washed Out is an artist we’ve wanted for a long time, it just never really worked out. I actually did a Popscene party with him in Austin for SXSW one year. He played First City in Monterey last weekend and it was sort of serendipitous, like”‘wow, we can finally get him.” It worked out timing wise for the anniversary; it was meant to be.
Between street marketing, booking and custom visuals for every show, how do you keep everything about Popscene on point with so much to handle?
We try to treat each Popscene like its our first and last party.
Popscene is purely a labor of love. The Popscene family that operates the club from our marketing to our visuals to our door girl to our DJs to the Rickshaw staff—we all come together and its fun. We try to treat each Popscene like its our first and last party. We want it to have its own unique ineliminable print that the party is going to be. Its hard to do that with a weekly party, but that’s essentially what we do in layman’s terms. Every part of the party is focused around introducing new music. We try to treat each week as uniquely as we can.
What were some of Popscene’s early challenges?
Popscene has always been cyclical as music trends are over the years. There were times when Popscene first started with Blur and the Dandy Warhols and Oasis during this 90s brit-pop wave where it was getting mainstream. It was a big part of underground culture, and that was a huge jumping off point for us. Then the trend kinda [turned to] shit (laughs).
There was a time between ’99 and 2004 where there wasn’t a lot of good Popscene bands. With DJs we had to rely on our library. During that time there was also a lot of backlash. It’s funny too, the amount of clubs that have started after Popscene is mind-boggling.
You go to Popscene as a fan of music, Popscene kind of embraces everything from indie to ’60s soul to electronic to post-punk to goth, it runs the gambit of independent music culture and lifestyle. Then you have people that really like one segment and say “oh I really like twee! I’m going to start a club that plays nothing but twee!” (laughs). Its amazing to look at all the clubs that have come and gone. We’re flattered by that.
Any last words about the anniversary tomorrow?
We love doing this club, we love the people that support us and the Popscene family and the music and the bands. I still to this day am just as excited for doing Popscene tomorrow as I was 17 years ago. I look forward to Thursdays and putting together an event that we’re all excited about. In that aspect it hasn’t grown tiresome. We’re stoked—it’s crazy, 17 years. I think my goal is to get to 20 and call it a day.