“I’d love to see this keep on happening,” says Brandon Stosuy, editor of tastemaking music website Pitchfork and author of the site’s metal blog Show No Mercy. “Ten years down the road, people won’t even need to know who’s playing. They’ll just get their tickets in advance like they do now with Coachella or Bonnaroo.” Stosuy isn’t suggesting that the Basilica SoundScape music festival, now in its second year, has aspirations to join ranks with the country’s behemoth festival offerings. In fact, Stosuy will be the first to tell you there are already too many music festivals these days. If anything, this weekend’s two-day event at Basilica Hudson is a kind of antidote to that sort of event where, he says, “you go as an anonymous cog, standing in a field with no real connection to it.”
In many ways, Basilica SoundScape is best understood according to what it is not. For starters, it’s not a summer festival. Since its inception a couple years back, the repurposed industrial space on the Hudson waterfront has stood at a cultural crossroads: a short drive from the hub of the Capital Region, a comfortable Amtrak ride from New York City, within the orbit of Bard College and smack-dab in the middle of a burgeoning Upper Hudson Valley arts community. Owners Melissa Auf der Maur (bassist for Hole and the Smashing Pumpkins), and her filmmaker husband Tony Stone, are representative of an emerging creative class who have moved to the region for both artistic and lifestyle amenities unavailable in the city. Their venue’s programming has reflected this spirit of adventure, sometimes at the expense of a built-in audience to whom it might be enjoyed. The 2012 season boasted rare only-stop-outside-an-urban-center appearances by Grimes and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, while their first crack at a music festival drew a mixed crowd of weekenders, college students and regional music faithful.
Rather than retreating to a tried-and-true model for its second season, the venue has pushed further into this liminal space outside audience expectation. Basilica SoundScape arrives after the summer concert season has peaked and many feel fatigued from the cooler-and-sunscreen season of mega-bill festival hype. Organizers hope to create a more intimate experience where you can get close to the stage, walk down to the river, see the same faces throughout the course of the weekend and, as Stosuy says, “feel like you’re a part of the thing, participating.”
The idea is not unprecedented. Both Stosuy and co-curator Brian DeRan, of Gleam House and Leg Up! (the management company for bands like Animal Collective), had been fans of the All Tomorrows Parties festival held at Kutsher’s Country Club in Monticello, famous for its experimental band-curated formats. The Basilica seemed like the natural heir to that kind of programming when those shows dried up. Stosuy, an accomplished music writer, has been booking hardcore and metal shows since he was 13 and had been more recently hosting events at a space in Long Island City. He met DeRan at a Björk afterparty a few years ago courtesy of a common friend (and Björk’s partner), the artist Matthew Barney. A longtime metal fan, Barney helped Stosuy curate the Friday lineup this year, and the two will collaborate on a sound installation conducted by Cremaster Cycle composer Jonathan Bepler.
DeRan had been looking for a way to bring a festival, like the events Stosuy had been throwing, upstate, and a transplanted gallery owner introduced him to Auf der Maur. “I wanted to offer more intimacy as well as the beauty and focus you can have in a small town,” he says. “I didn’t want it to be inundated with a thousand other things going on that night [the way it would be in the city]. There’s not the distraction of having to be at another stage in five minutes [the way there is at bigger festivals]. We try to make this thing feel like you’re reading a book.”
The literary metaphor is not coincidental. Friday night’s heavy music-oriented lineup offers two readings, one from legendary Television and Voidoids singer Richard Hell and another from Peter Sotos of seminal noise band Whitehouse. Rather than ghettoizing the readings to a smaller stage, they’ll share primary billing with grindcore band Pig Destroyer, noise artist Pharmakon, electronic beat artist (and Kanye West collaborator) Evian Christ and ambient vocalist Julianna Barwick. “It felt connected conceptually and historically,” Stosuy says, drawing on Hell’s role in pioneering DIY punk to illustrate the peculiar affinity contemporary industrial and electronic musicians share. He’s reticent to describe the Barney sound installation, however, as “part of what’s cool about the event is that people will just show up and not know what to expect. They’ll go to see a band they know and know that something else is happening too.”
This was a selling point in DeRan’s approach to the Saturday lineup as well. “I want someone to go because they love DIIV but find out about No Joy or Pure X,” he says, relying on a degree of trust and openness on the part of the audience. “Sonically, Saturday is going to be a little bit like listening to my brain if it were a radio station.” Starting with African kora player Malang Djobateh and culminating with electronic dance duo Teengirl Fantasy, the day’s offerings aim to traverse the entire history of human musicmaking, from one of the oldest instruments, a precurser to the guitars used by performers like DIIV and Cass McCombs, to purely synthesized digital sound. “We’re trying to do this in a way that’s very organic,” he says, creating an evironment that is friendly to the performer and audience member alike, accentuating the natural acoustical and environmental merits of the space, and engaging the Hudson community itself.
DIIV frontman Zachary Cole Smith, who lives in Catskill, attended last year’s festival as an audience member and went out of his way to commend Stosuy for bringing the event to the region. “In Hudson there’s John Doe Records and coffee shops, so it’s right for some kind of music thing to start happening,” he says. The decision was easy when Stosuy asked his band to headline this year. “It’s kind of a destination festival and I think that’s the coolest thing about it. You get all these kids to come up from New York and they realize how cool the area is,” he says. Growing up in New York, Smith says he “always had an obsession with the Hudson River Valley. It was totally fetishized in my brain. Now that I live there, I know that it really is that.”
Stosuy, whose publication throws some of the biggest international music showcases in Chicago and Paris, says this kind of event “wouldn’t be as interesting because there isn’t really a space that’s like the Basilica” in New York City. While the event is still in its infancy, he anticipates the format catching on. “[Pitchfork] will be doing more of this . . . more, small, specifically curated things with art and music overlapping.”
Meanwhile, Basilica Hudson heralds the event as the big kick off for its fall season. Over the summer, the venue has added a full-scale recording studio and a commercial kitchen, seemingly readying itself for increasingly diverse offerings. Like its banner event this weekend, expectations for the venue’s future are best left open.