From July 25 through August 3, the International Pop Overthrow – an annual janglefest featuring the latest in power-pop talent – returns to Los Angeles for its 17th year.
IPO, as the event is affectionately known, remains the number-one showcase for global bands in the mode of Badfinger, Big Star, the Raspberries and Cheap Trick. Credit for its continued presence on the underground scene goes mainly to David Bash, the one-man operation who conceived IPO and continues to oversee its tiniest details without a trace of corporate sponsorship.
Born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., at the end of the Eisenhower era, Bash first turned onto Big Star during his college years at Syracuse University in the late '70s. He earned a Masters in cognitive psychology after moving to California in 1982, a time when power-pop fell heavily out of favor with the mainstream.
By the early '90s, with the onset of alternative rock and grunge, few if any bands dared label themselves “pop” any longer. Bash, however, saw in fanzines like Yellow Pills, Audities and Amplifier a growing (if yet unnamed) revival of melodic, harmony-laden music. Then a college psychology professor, Bash moonlit as a journalist for these and other like-minded zines.
By the mid-'90s, a number of vintage music styles — lounge, swing, surf music, alt-country — had taken root in the alternative imagination. Mod was everywhere in England. In the U.S., bands like Olivia Tremor Control, Apples in Stereo and the Flaming Lips were cutting psychedelic pop albums in the Brian Wilson mode. While dining with a lawyer friend in Sherman Oaks in December 1997, Bash had an epiphany.
“I said to my friend,” he recalls, “'I should do a worldwide pop festival as a way of getting all these disparate acts under one umbrella.'” IPO launched that summer.
By summer '99, Sire Records and other labels were showing up to seek fresh talent. Acts like Phantom Planet, the Elms and Kara's Flowers all played IPO to great fanfare and later got signed to deals. Kara's Flowers, in fact, played three years straight before changing their name to Maroon 5 and launching to international stardom.
Content to remain DIY, the IPO fest expanded to weeklong runs in Chicago, Detroit, New York and Liverpool during the 2000s. The Liverpool IPO takes place annually at the original Cavern Club, where, notes Bash, “Bands are more willing to travel, because they want to play where the Beatles first broke.” He also says that, by the early aughts, “pop” was no longer a dirty word.
These days, however, say “pop music” to the average joe on the streets and they are more likely to think of Rihanna or Katy Perry than the bands Bash considers IPO's template. Indeed, while power-pop had a brief revival in the mainstream, from about '95 to 2005 (think That Thing You Do!, Jon Brion, Weezer), today it has returned to the underground, where it joins other retro flavors hidden in plain sight.
Still, for Bash, IPO serves the purpose of giving melodically inclined artists a grandstand otherwise unavailable for their talent. Whether the festival survives another 17 years, says Bash, is less important than power-pop's survival into the future. Time will tell. For now, IPO is here. Have at it.
IPO artist and venue listings can be found at InternationalPopOverthrow.com.