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Basilica SoundScape

by Ali Hibbs on September 18, 2013



When people talk about events like Basilica SoundScape as an “antidote” to behemoth music festivals, they mostly highlight the modest scale, short lines, comfortable accomodations, lack of corporate advertising, and close attention to the event’s curation. All this stems from a desire on the part of organizers and audience members alike to fight the variability and aimlessness that bigger events can generate in their multi-stage buffets with conceptual focus and narrative control. Because ultimately it’s the story those in attendance tell (read: blog) after the event that generates the festival’s unique identity in an age of festival oversaturation.

Ironically, the story that began trending across music blogs Monday morning had only tangential relevence to the musical programming of Basilica Hudson’s second annual target-curated festival, Basilica SoundScape. On Friday night, DIIV frontman Zachary Cole Smith (a Catskill resident whom I interviewed for last week’s preview piece) was arrested in Saugerties with a lot of heroin and a truck with stolen plates. His girlfriend, model and singer Sky Ferreira, was charged for ecstasy and resisting arrest. Everyone from Brooklyn Vegan to Perez Hilton, The Daily News to event co-sponsor Pitchfork, carried the news. Only some of them mentioned the bail that venue co-owner Tony Stone had to post in order for DIIV to headline Saturday night’s bill, and a few posted iPhone video of Ferreira joining the band for an oddly topical cover of Cat Power’s “Nude as the News.”

It’s unlikely that this is the story the event was trying to tell, that prominent artists like Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor and múm’s Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir appeared in the audience for, that members of Prince Rama, Gang Gang Dance and Matmos contributed supporting roles for, or that music scribes like The New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones and The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff made the trip upriver to cover. Yet it highlights an underlying volatility with a happening of this sort, one that can’t be programmed out or, for that matter, curated back in. I’m thinking in this case of the culminating act for Friday night’s metal/industrial-themed bill. Jonathan Bepler attempted to “conduct” the night’s four acts—noise artist Pharmakon, singer Julianna Barwick, beatsmith Evian Christ and grindcore band Pig Destroyer—on four cardinal stages. The stiff-yet-haphazard result illustrated the limits to which a good idea on paper can be actualized in real time.

Saturday’s lineup felt less cerebral and therefore more fluid, with a rotation of guitar driven acts like Pure X and No Joy recieveing interstitial bliss-out sessions thanks to Ghanian kora duo Malang Djobateh’s 15-minute micro-sets. The relaxed conceptual framework made it feel less damaging for the crowd to disperese during Cass McCombs’ low-key set and more authentic for them to coalesce again around DIIV’s propulsive and surprisingly tight one. Behind the Kurt and Courtney image and antics, Smith’s band hinted at a musical potential that will hopefully outshine the identity politics that now prevail.

The same might be said for the event as a whole. Saturday headliner Teengirl Fantasy reaffirmed (after Evian Christ and last year’s Grimes show), how good unpretentious dance music can sound in that room. Pig Destroyer made a similar case Friday night (echoing last year’s Godspeed show) for the power of unbridled rock. There’s already a legendary air surrounding Basilica Hudson, and that legend has its best bet of becoming the official story so long as it keeps taking chances and lets those ideas breathe.