"You have to really look at this year's Tropix as sort of like Christmas," suggests Tropix 2004 curator Amy Vecchione, who seems to have largely shouldered the burden of this year's festival. "Tropix has never been very organized--it's not supposed to be. I mean, you have to think about the first year, when Nate Preston spilled the touring money all over the floor, and everyone scrambled to pocket it. But there are always tons of surprises. "
For the unfamiliar, Tropix is the two-year-old musical free-for-all originally organized by Pete Swanson and Gabriel Mindel--co-members of then-local noise band Yellow Swans. Conceived as a sort of a "Portland Now!" exposition of the city's thriving experimental punk community, Tropix 2002 was a homespun celebration of the left coast's already rather celebratory art punk underground--with more than a little help from some out of town guests. The fiasco that ensued--including fireworks, floral prints, smoke machines, showering currency, and hours of apocalyptic noise--has since become the stuff of legend. Tropix's success was enough to spawn Arctix--a winter months doppelgnger of similar construct--as well as last summer's Tropix sequel, which expanded the curatorial pot to include help from bands like Alarmist, Sleetmute/ Nightmute, Die Monitor Bats, and Point Line Plane. And for all of its chaos, Tropix seemed--however improbably--as if it would only grow with each season.
But for such a small city, change happens quickly--and just three months after Yellow Swans split town for Oakland, the climate seems dramatically different.
"Things were kind of falling apart sometime this past winter--especially when Yellow Swans left. There was a definite schism that happened, and it seemed like everyone in town stopped doing these kinds of shows," says Vecchione. "Tropix has been pretty much reduced to me, Honey Owens (of the band Nudge), and Malati Rossington, who books shows at Grand Central Bowl. I'm pretty much curating the event."
With a complete changing of the guard, Tropix 2004 predictably diverges in a number of respects from its predecessors--the most significant of which being its dispersal over multiple venues. Following a number of sizeable last-minute roadblocks, the final venue rundown includes Meow Meow, Million, Holocene, and a number of as yet undisclosed locations.
But beyond logistics, the biggest difference between the Tropix of yesteryear and that of today is one of ideology--as "Portland Now!" seems to have morphed into a more reaching sort of "West Coast Now!," the vast majority of the festival's performers are imported from various outposts along the coast. Dominated primarily by the Bay Area (whose representatives include 7-Year Rabbit Cycle, Good For Cows, Warbler and Hawnay Troof among others), Tropix 2004 also hosts constituents from Seattle (Chromatics, Black Japan), Vancouver, B.C. (Channels 2 & 3), Los Angeles (The Mae Shi), and Denver (Friends Forever). But what about Portland?
"I had hundreds of bands requesting to play from out of town," explains Vecchione, "so I just kind of decided to do two festivals."
Enter "Dreamcatcher," Vecchione's Portland-centric postscript Tropix festival, scheduled to take place on September 11, in Wahkiacus, Oregon. "It's in the woods, like 40 minutes outside of Portland on 40 acres of land," Vecchione elaborates, "I didn't think it was fair to have these touring bands play out in the middle of nowhere, so I decided to split it up this way, and not everyone understands that."
There's a suggestion in Vecchione's tone that this year's Tropix planning has been marked with some dissent among its constituency, though she seems reluctant to comment.
"I feel a little weird that I've been sort of taking on this role by myself--but it wasn't intended to be that way at all. It's not an egocentric thing. To be honest, I sort of thought more people would end up helping out."
Specific details for Tropix remain, at best, a little sketchy--as bands and even venues still seem in constant flux--but an organized Tropix festival seems almost counterintuitive. And if anticipation can be measured in scrambled exhaustion, Veccione's 2004 edition is destined to maintain the frenetic bar set by its predecessors.
Schedules are still changing at press time, please see www.yumanora.gg.nu/ tropix.html for full details.