Noise Pop is a place where magic happens. No, the odds of Beyoncé hopping on stage aren’t high, but the festival is rife with unexpected collaborations and dream bills stacked with artists that are meant to perform together. In 2018, one such highlight is the union of Brooklyn’s San Fermin with the Bay Area’s own Magik*Magik Orchestra.
San Fermin frontman Ellis Ludwig-Leone knows the value of surrounding oneself with the right talent. The eight-person band has no fat to trim, with everyone from standout vocalist Charlene Kaye to trumpet maestro John Brandon adding something to the moody but spirited song-craft. Allen Tate’s rich baritone serves in much the same way Matt Berninger anchors the work of The National, a specter of gloom in constant search of the beauty just beyond.
Since forming in 2013, San Fermin has delivered three albums, each one a carefully crafted arrangement that never favors one element over another. On “Bar,” the boom of Tate’s voice dissolves into elevated strings that seamlessly weave through a sublime crescendo of female harmonies. Meanwhile “Parasites” — the first single from 2015’s Jackrabbit — opens with Kaye’s hushed warnings before splitting open into an electro-hoedown that also dabbles in moments of gospel and a saxophone solo.
A true chamber-pop outfit, there are few artists that could add much more to the layered sound San Fermin crafted — but Minna Choi’s Magik*Magik Orchestra is one of them.
A staple of Noise Pop, the “made-to-order” orchestra has previously performed with the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, The Dodos, and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. As artistic director, Choi has an uncanny ability to discern the perfect formula for blending symphonic elements into other mediums of music. It’s why Pop Up Magazine wisely uses the Magik*Magik Orchestra for all its shows and why this forthcoming collaboration with San Fermin has expectations running sky high.
If you sense a bit of circa-Illinois Sufjan Stevens in the proceedings, don’t mistake it for coincidence. Before San Fermin began, Ludwig-Leone worked with composer Nico Muhly, who himself worked with Stevens and other avant-pop acts like Dirty Projectors and Antony and the Johnsons. While his eventual band’s sound would unmistakably owe a debt to these acts, the sound of San Fermin was one wholly of its own.
However, just as Stevens required help from symphonies to bring some of his more ambitious works to life, San Fermin will now also turn to a orchestra to punctuate this one-off performance. What precise shape this union will take is hard to say. What we know is that all the ingredients are present for a sumptuous feast of the ears that Noise Pop continues to serve on the festival’s menu year after year.
As the bows prepare to rise, there is no telling what musical sorcery might transpire — only that magic of the rarest kind will soon permeate the air.
San Fermin and Magik*Magik Orchestra, with Alex Edelman, Friday, Feb. 23, 9 p.m., at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd. $25; 415-346-6000 or thefillmore.com
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