By Whitney Phaneuf
Over the course of its 22 years, the Noise Pop Festival has expanded its definition of indie beyond rock and into genres like hip-hop and electronic music. The festival had to evolve with its audience’s eclectic tastes, its general manager Dawson Ludwig explained in a recent interview, without sacrificing the aesthetic that celebrates alternative, DIY culture.
“As the term indie rock has expanded and been redefined, it’s opened itself up to mean a lot of things,” Ludwig said. “Those who buy tickets to Bob Mould are just as likely to buy tickets to DJ Rashad.”
Ludwig said the litmus test is often what music gets played at the Noise Pop offices. One of this year’s headlining electronic acts, the London-based duo Digital Mystikz, has been on heavy rotation. Although they’re considered a pioneer of dubstep, their interpretation of the genre is much more dark and difficult. The remainder of the electronic lineup is as far-flung and experimental. Here are our top five picks:
Matthew Dear Presents Audion Live: Subverticul
The New York-based producer Matthew Dear is responsible for some of the most innovative dance music of the past decade — as a solo artist, under multiple aliases, and as the co-founder of an independent record label. When Dear was still in college, he started the Ghostly International label (the home to another artist on the lineup, Com Truise) and began releasing his own albums. As Audion, he produced dance-floor friendly songs inspired by hard-hitting Detroit techno, but took a break in 2009 to focus on his avant-pop solo efforts. Dear revived Audion late last year, dropping the singles “Motormouth” and “Sky” and promising a new album in the spring. Those who attend his Noise Pop show will be among the first to hear the new album in its entirety and witness his ambitious new live show. Collaborating with the design team behind Amon Tobin's groundbreaking ISAM tour visuals, Dear said on his Facebook page  that “it is equal parts kaleidoscopic light and LED show, as it is a moving visual sculpture." You’ll have to be there to understand exactly what that means.
Wed/26, 7pm, $20
119 Utah, SF
At a time when dubstep is a dirty word among music snobs, groups like Digital Mystikz prove that there’s plenty of creativity in the genre. In the early 2000s, when Mala and Coki started making music from classic dub (a subgenre of reggae), their odd rhythms and sinister basslines sounded like nothing else at the time. That’s still true today, even as countless producers have tried to emulate their sparse, almost meditative style. The duo is highly revered in London club circles, where they built a name doing shows that boast massive sound systems, but little spectacle aside from a strobe light. They’ll bring that same underground sensibility to their rare US appearance at Noise Pop. Bring earplugs.
Thu/27, 10pm, $17.50
1015 Folsom, SF
If his name doesn’t give you a hint — a spoonerism of Tom Cruise — Com Truise is obsessed with the '80s. Brooklyn-based producer Seth Haley (Com’s real name) uses analog synthesizers to achieve a sound that belongs on a sci-fi film soundtrack. Appropriately, in 2011, he was tapped by Daft Punk to remix a song on its TRON: Legacy soundtrack. His recent live sets have featured remixes of Sky Ferreira, Twin Shadow, and Neon Indian and music from his entire catalog, including his latest EP, Wave 1, which strikes a balance between chilled-out atmospherics and funky four-to-the-floor booty shakers.
Thu/27, 9pm, $20
444 Jessie St, SF
Scene Unseen III with Majical Cloudz and Mr. Carmack
Less is more when it comes to Montreal synth duo Majical Cloudz, which layers delicate synths, loops, and samples to create emotionally resonant music. The mood is further set by Devon Welsh’s baritone vocals and personal lyrics about mortality and loss. Unlike many electronic acts who excel more in the studio, Majical Cloudz’s live sets crackle with intensity and spontaneity. On the lighter side of dance music, Mr. Carmack combines his love of hip-hop, house music, and heavy bass into a versatile sound all his own.
Fri/28, 9pm, free with RSVP
1015 Folsom, SF
Musician Wesley Eisold has been producing darkwave under the moniker Cold Cave since 2007 — long before it was cool again to be goth. His pop instincts have earned him comparisons to Depeche Mode and New Order, but his influences also span hardcore, industrial, and noise. For his live performances — usually as a duo — Eisold delivers high-energy vocals over live percussion and '80s-style synths. It’s a deceptively simple set-up that yields a big, brooding sound.
Fri/28, 8pm, $16
333 11th St, SF