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Basilica Music Festival

by Ali Hibbs on August 16, 2012


With just enough people in the first row to lift and carry Taraka Larson, sprawled on her back, chanting “forever!” through a mane of brown curls, her gold-sequined smock sparkling like a disco ball in the cavernous former glue factory, the act felt as much like a weird Jewish wedding as it did a celebration of utopian kitsch. Which may or may not be what the Prince Rama singer was aiming for. Last fall, Larson penned a compelling aesthetic manifesto, The Now Age, reviving occult symbols and ’80s ephemera for the purpose of ego-shattering utopian ritual, as performed by Prince Rama, the electronic pop outfit she and her sister Nimai started upon leaving the Florida Hare Krishna community where they had grown up. Mixing Sanskrit mantra with art-damaged synthesizers and aerobics-video dance moves, the band recently announced they would be supporting a European Animal Collective tour in conjunction with their forthcoming post-apocalyptic concept album Top 10 Hits of the End of the World.

Prince Rama’s Saturday night set at the Basilica Music Festival (sponsored by tastemaker Pitchfork) was the band’s debut of its Now Age-focused material, a spectacle both compelling for its presentation and tension with its core ideas—something that might be said of the fest at large.

Couched within the citywide Hudson Music Festival, the Basilica Fest felt a bit more like two nights of separately curated acts—which actually was the case, with Friday night’s “Metal Machine Music” hosted by Pitchfork’s Show No Mercy and Saturday night’s “Neidan!” hosted by Gleam House—rather than the kind of camp-in musical theme parks we’ve come to associate with the term “festival.”

Things didn’t get underway until 7 PM each night, putting the headlining sets at midnight, a factor that seemed to hurt attendance to a degree, but the venue’s main room was full of audience members and performers alike on Friday when Kris Perry unveiled his Machines, massive homemade steel sculptures/instruments that required a team of jumpsuited musicians to perform on. With oil-drum gongs, air-powered pipe organs, mutant string instruments and a number of other devices seemingly fashioned from the Basilica’s leftover industrial equipment, the group improvised a form of musique concrete literalizing the brand of heavy metal that was to follow.

Even with Jucifer and a host of sludge metal openers playing next door at Hangrr 18, the crowd seemed unprepared for metal guitar wizard Mick Barr’s blazing half-hour set of solo pyrotechnics. Those who survived were rewarded with transcendent black metal from Liturgy during the witching hour.

On Saturday, Blazer S.S. DJed dub and dancehall while festivalgoers milled about and took a cruise on the Hudson at sunset. Blanko and Noiry got things started in the venue’s North Hall with eerie spoken word and Lynchian lounge numbers delivered in occult cloaks. Ambient electropop artist Hiro Kone brought the first of many synthesizer washes to the mainstage thereafter, highlighting the headliners’ propensity for electronics, while the Psychic Paramount upped the decibel level for screaming fog-machine-choked psychedelic rock.

There’s nothing subtle about Prince Rama’s delivery, an exuberant ritual for collective abandon with nods to Sun Ra’s sci-fi futurism and ’80s fool’s-gold decadence; the price of admission is quite high for the uninitiated audience member. For those who could meet drummer Nimai at her level of perma-grinning ecstasy were able to lose themselves in the tribal-synthesized costume-party for the end of the world. For the more reticent, though, Now Age aesthetics (which hold the disco ball as the closest thing we now have for a symbol of divinity) could be paradoxically alienating, rendering Taraka and Nimai’s ecclesiastical emoting to the kind of spectacular kitsch that the act aim to transcend. Theirs will be a very interesting career arc to follow in the coming months as the band’s brilliant video work and online aesthetics prime larger crowds for performances in the Now.

It was tribal electronic vets Gang Gang Dance who may have actually better enacted the principles of the Now Age when they played the festival’s final set. Having dialed back some of their showmanship since singer Lizzi Bougatsos compared herself to Jesus Christ at last year’s Pitchfork Festival, the band were patient and tasteful in their slow buildups to authentically cathartic dance tunes, some of which were started with hand motions and inaudible instructions by the band’s “vibes manager” Taka Imamura. At times, during “Glass Jar” and “Mindkilla,” he seemed to be wafting the groove over the crowd from his position behind drummer Jesse Lee, providing some of the most inviting and revelrous moments of the weekend.