If there’s anything the internet has taught us, it’s that summer music festivals are bottomless k-holes of selfie snapping woo girls, culturally insensitive garments, and Molly that is actually just shards of broken glass. And that’s only the bathroom line! (And by bathroom, I mean a hole in the ground lined with Pop Chips ads.) As for the music, I like that “pumped up kicks” song as much as the next closet Gossip Girl fan, but who needs to hear it past the first chorus, let alone in a million iterations, each more forgettable than the last? It’s totally understandable that, when faced with the prospect of finding another music festival, most sane people keep clicking until they find a good cat video to watch.
But listen. What if I told you there’s an event happening upstate, which, while technically a “festival” of “music,” offers all the sheer, unadulterated joy of noise making and none of the existential despair? Where nothing is boring and nobody is awful and you don’t have to sacrifice your physical comfort for hours on end, or at all? Where you can score a weekend pass for the price of approximately three Coachella beers? Where you’ll never have to choose between Vampire Weekend and Skrillex because neither is playing, but also because nobody’s sets overlap unless they are actively and awesomely collaborating? Where fucking Swans will play for two whole hours, obliterating all your worldly attachments until you ascend to heaven?
See also: Swans’ Most Terrifying Songs
Produced by musician Melissa Auf der Maur, filmmaker Tony Stone, Pitchfork Senior Editor/Director of Events Brandon Stosuy and Brian De Ran of Leg Up! Management (the latter two of whom co-curate), Basilica Soundscape is a magical weekend of art, music, and artsy music that is simultaneously niche and diverse. It’s about striving for excellence over false humility, sincerity (but not humorlessness) over irony, art over commerce. It’s about having the balls to call yourself a curator, because you have curated the hell out of something. Does that sound elitist? I’ll tell you what’s elitist: heavy corporate sponsorship, prioritizing shareholders, and paying a dillion dollars for the privilege of sleeping in the mud. (You don’t get to define that word anymore, George W. Bush.)
Situated two hours (also: worlds) away from New York City, Basilica Hudson is an art space housed in a 1,100 capacity 19th century factory building that once produced railway ties and is now owned and run by Auf der Maur and Stone, her husband. As its name might suggest, its Gothic shape and soaring ceilings make it an ideal venue for artists who deal in the spiritual, whether via delicate beauty or transcendent noise. It seems especially perfect for Swans, this year’s headliner, a band which manifests themes of God, love, sex, the self and society (NBD!) via cathartic blasts and poetic ranting. Your grandma’s basilica this ain’t, unless your grandma is way into Nietzsche.
The rest of the music ranges from the experimental sounds of Tim Hecker to the aggressive punk of White Lung to the roaring black metal of Deafheaven to the sweet voiced Julia Holter. And yet, somehow, it all fits perfectly, held together by the wizardry of thoughtful bookings, ones untrammeled by such festival-y concerns as “selling 10,000 tickets” or “release dates.” (It also bears mentioning that Pitchfork is that rare indie media outlet with a bit of money to spend on things it likes.)
“We try to make each night make sense as a total piece,” says Stosuy when reached by phone. “Something Brian said is he wants each night to feel more like a novel and less like a series of short stories. It’s not like you show up and see a band play that has nothing to do with the band after it. We need a thread between them where they connect in some way.” For instance, Mish Way and Meredith Graves’ parallel approach to sex, identity, and gender.
Speaking of which, in addition to rocking out, these two front women are going to read their writing? There’s also going to be visual art, film, a pop-up bookstore, DJs, food, and the triple Axel of self-expression, poetry.
This might all sound like a lot, but it promises to unfurl itself in a way that gives you space to process it. Quality over quantity. But if you need a break from this grand salon–and if you go for the weekend, you will find yourself with some free time Saturday afternoon–there’s the town of Hudson itself, which is absurdly perfect this time of year. “People can come and go and feel like they’re more blending in with the surroundings and less stuck out in a field in the middle of nowhere,” says Stosuy, who plans to bring his two young children. “You can wander around down by the park, or the river, or go into town and come back.” Nothing like a quaint bed and breakfast to compliment all that evil art-metal!
This goes both ways; Stosuy says a decent number of people from Hudson and surrounding towns always come to check it out, making for a more varied group of attendees than one might expect. These nice folks combine with those willing to make the trek from New York City and beyond for a crowd largely devoid of the aforementioned douchebaggery. “A lot of festivals have this weird ‘festival’ vibe cause it’s someone who’s never gone to an actual real show,” says Stosuy. “Those are the people who wear the offensive Native American headdresses…they just think it’s a good party or something. Basilica doesn’t really have that because you need to go through an effort to get there…you’re getting audiences that are much more committed to it, which for me is more fun than a sea of cell phones.”
Full Basilica Soundscape schedule and tickets can by found on the event’s website.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 12, 2014