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Photo by Jack GouldSomewhere in the grand, global soundscape, amid KROQ's 24-hour white noise of brooding, spell-your-name-wrong-and-sell-a-zillion-units dood-rawk bands, among the Empty-Vee blur of self-obsessed hip-hoppers (please come back, Chuck D!) and Rolling Stone's ongoing parade of if-her-label-publicist-says-she-can-sing-and-she's-got-nice-tits-then-she's-good-enough-to-be-on-the-cover nymphets, you'd think there'd be enough room—just a small, well-kept, sugar-coated corner—for David Bash and his International Pop Overthrow (IPO). And IPO founder Bash, ever an optimist, is determined to carve out such a niche—re-establish one, actually—for power pop (with the emphasis on power, so as not to be confused with the glut of boy-band Muzak that most young'uns call "pop"—more about that in a sec). The sort of pop that thrived on AM radio in the 1960s and '70s—think everything from the Beatles to the Bay City Rollers, the stuff of high harmonies, slick licks and hooks that stick in your head for eons, flexing just enough electric muscle to avoid Carpenters terrain. A tad sugary, maybe, but never sour.
"Pop gets put aside these days," says Bash, who, as we chat on the phone, is in the final, frantic throes of cramming together the last pieces of the fourth annual IPO, a 15-day, 147-band pop orgy taking place in a slew of mostly LA clubs, the lone exception being the fest's dip this Sunday into OC, with lineups set for the Galaxy Concert Theatre and Garden Grove's Eastgate Park. "It hasn't been embraced by the mainstream in a long time, these songs with catchy choruses and strong melodies. But it's music that should endure, really, a timeless entity. And if it's marketed correctly, it could come back."
That's one of the goals of IPO, Bash says: to make enough noise in the Music Capital of the World, if only for two weeks, that labels both major and minor will notice and maybe sign a few bands.
But so far, "success" is typically calculated in near misses. Last year, Bash says, "this band from Norway, American Suitcase, almost got signed off their IPO gig. A guy from Sire came down and caught their set, but they ultimately weren't what the label was looking for."
Another aim is to integrate the worldwide pop scene, he says. That's something Bash's bash easily pulls off every year. Band submissions for IPO 2001 came from Spain, the U.K., Canada, Austria, France and Australia. You know your event's gone international when, as happened last year, a band travels from Japan to play a half-hour afternoon set in a normally placid Garden Grove neighborhood park.
Still, the word "pop" can be a pretty broad term, and it doesn't always translate well, even among the allegedly English-speaking. "What some bands consider pop isn't always right with our vision," Bash says. "We've gotten tapes from funk bands, rap-metal acts, country bands, you name it."
Bash, who writes about music for various magazines, had been involved with Poptopia, another LA-based pop fest (usually held in February but on hiatus this year) when he got the idea to scope out pop bands from outside the region, as opposed to Poptopia's more LA-centric scheme. He borrowed the International Pop Overthrow moniker from the debut album by early '90s Chicago band Material Issue, partly as a tribute to the trio's lead singer, Jim Ellison, who had just killed himself. He then came up with a wish list of pop bands he wanted to see—mostly those he'd already reviewed—and 120 bands later, the first IPO bowed in August 1998. With the help of friend and OC resident John Borack (who now has the official title of IPO administrative coordinator), each IPO has had a de facto Orange County Day. This year, the IPO's OC presence grows a bit larger, as the nighttime sets move from the previous years' claustrophobic confines of Fitzgerald's Irish Pub in Huntington Beach to the plusher digs of the Galaxy. "The Fitzgerald's shows were always packed, and we wanted to branch out," Bash explains. "What we're doing is easily compatible with the kind of shows the Galaxy does on a regular basis, so this year, we thought, let's just make it that much bigger, at a premiere OC venue."
(As in the past, all the money from the door will be donated by IPO to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Orange County.)
Going through the list of bands slotted for IPO's OC segment, Bash likes San Diego's Teacher's Pet ("Very '70s glam rock. They even have cheerleaders with them onstage—or so I'm told"); the Replacements-esque Dipsomaniacs from New Jersey; the B-52's-ness of Bionic Blimp; Chicago's Big Hello; and LA's Teen Machine, who Bash says are like Redd Kross meets the Sweet, replete with lots of campy girl dancers.
My picks, meanwhile, are all OC bands: the sweet, tight harmonies and buzzy guitars of Scarlet Crush; the pretty-darn-perfect Sparkle*jets U.K.; and Walter "King of Pop" Clevenger and his band, the Dairy Kings.
Do not come to the IPO looking for the next plastic, manufactured, disposable, aimed-at-the-teenage-demographic boy band, though—this ain't that kind of pop. "That music is called 'pop' these days by kids who don't know any better," says Bash. "But if they believe in that term, I would think they'd be more likely to take in the other, more guitar-oriented forms of it. While the IPO bands are inspired by bands of the 1960s and '70s, the music is nothing like those boy bands. On the other hand, because of Britney and the boy bands, we've thought seriously about the perceptions of that word. We've even thought about maybe changing our name."