Zeno Gill is OK with criticism. “I saw how hard it was. Every year [the organizers] received all sorts of complaints and heard how it could be better, and I was one of those people saying it,” says Gill, Pox World Empire emperor and one of four principal organizers behind this year’s Troika Music Festival, the new Triangle-wide event that grew out of the Durham Music Festival.
“Each year they were like, ‘Well, you get involved then,’ and I finally decided that they were right.” Gill knows that the same will happen this year, that no matter how hard he and his partners–Melissa Thomas, Carl Crider and Brian Cruise–try, they’ll get some feedback. In fact, it’s already begun.
For many, the primary question is why organizers chose to divide the shows between Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh, possibly spreading an audience of limited size too thin across a 30-minute, trans-Triangle drive. All shows had been previously been centered around a small area of downtown Durham, each club within walking distance of the others. This year, eight of the 12 shows are split between three Durham venues not within walking distance of each another, with one show at Kings in Raleigh and three split between Wetlands and Local 506 in Chapel Hill.
“Budget was the number one issue there. It’s expensive to fill and rent a venue correctly,” Thomas says. “We don’t have that many venues in downtown Durham. We organizers in Durham extended an invitation to Raleigh and Chapel Hill, and the club owners were happy to help.”
Two showcases stand to be highlights of this year’s festival: Dave Cantwell’s “Pocketful of Experimental Delights” includes a host of local improvisers at Joe & Jo’s in Durham on Wednesday, Aug. 24, and Stephen Mullaney of The Wigg Report’s anti-folk night with The Mountain Goats, The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers and several others is set for the Duke Coffehouse on Thursday, Aug. 25. It’s a concept that, in the future, stands to be one of Troika’s keystones.
“That was one of our very first ideas. We wanted to have different genres and sensibilities getting represented,” says Gill.
One of the criticisms they’ve heard already is the selection process. Gill said ballots were sent to a group known affectionately as “the local industry goons,” a group of local DJs, club owners, critics and promoters. From those ballots, organizers were able to determine which bands in the area were considered vital for the success of such a festival. But, apart from that, local bands that didn’t fall into the ballots’ favor had to apply for the festival.
“Our first idea was not to take any submissions because that was one of the criticisms in the past … and bands that didn’t make the festival would look at the list and be like ‘These bands know these people who helped organize it,’” says Gill. “Some of the people on the committee thought it would be nice to also accept submissions, so we did.”
In the end, though, every band that submitted a demo and an application was accepted for Troika, which ultimately means that the bands playing the festival had to be either popular, well-known or quick to submit a demo during a short, two-week call for entries this summer.
“We would have started the festival on Sunday night,” laughs Thomas when asked what would have happened if hundreds of bands had submitted their demos.
Another criticism has been the relative lack of hip hop, alt.country or jazz. From noise to electro pop, the complete indie rock spectrum has its respective slot, but representatives of other genres are few and far between.
Gill says he hopes to turn that impression around.
“We attempted to do even more with hip hop and straight-up jazz, and some kind of alt.country or Americana night. If these go well, we should definitely do more in the future.”
Thomas adds that their work with a hip-hop promoter fell through during the middle stages of organization, and that they not only want to do showcases in the future, but also workshops and conferences.
But for their first year at the helm, just four organizers overlooking 75 bands have managed to go Triangle-wide and book five solid days of mostly local acts, many playing for free (tempting as it was they opted not to spend a good chunk of their cash on luring Sonic Youth down for a show).
They also managed to knit together sponsorships from local labels and promoters and secured a major, last-minute grant from Merge Records.
“The city [of Durham] didn’t give us any money, and that factored into changing the name. We’re not interested in giving anybody any credit that wasn’t willing to help,” says Gill.
Thomas, who brings an appreciable sense of humor to all of these conundrums, knows where credit belongs.
“I have an AmEx card that’s been saving us.”
The Troika Music Festival begins Tuesday, Aug. 13 with Jett Rink, Eyes to Space, Feeding the Fire, Veronique Diabolique and Fashion Design at Wetlands in Chapel Hill, and The Standbys, Red Collar Company, Lactose Quervo, The Quarantines, Viva La Venus and Cantwell Gomez and Jordan at Joe & Jo’s in Durham. For the rest of the lineup, visit www.troikamusicfestival.org.