I’ll admit it: there was a point where I thought I’m too old for this stuff. Not that Basilica Soundscape is the cult of half-dressed youth you may associate the term “music festival” these days with. Presenting art(y) music in an upstate NY cathedral of 19th century industrialism, Basilica Soundscape offers little to dance or soundtrack a delirious selfie-marathon to. That’s one of its virtues and by now its calling card — a celebrated “anti-festival” of the U.S. northeast.
However, the downside is that this weekend-long event, now in its fourth year, risks settling into a familiar ritual of indie-rock esoterica. The Basilica Hudson venue has refurbished all the spaces of this former factory, filling them with bars, gallery space, food vendors, pop-up stores and small-projector film screenings for its signature event. When the organizers inexplicably confined the first day’s performers — arty young waifs, headbanging art-rockers, a sitar & tabla duo, the electronic music producer visible only by the glowing Apple of his laptop — to the main stage, the festival began to feel like a university music-department event. I really enjoyed Weyes Blood, whose icy indie-folk I’ve reviewed here before, but soon after my patience started to wane, and I couldn’t last until the night’s closers, HEALTH.
Sannhet / detail from Dan Colen’s “Tar and Feather” series
Soundscape’s second day was a vast improvement, for one reason because the caliber of the music and the charisma of the performers finally rose to the occasion. A case in point was metal group Sannhet. Basilica Soundscape has regularly included at least one metal act in previous years, but too often they seemed self-absorbed or otherwise aloof to the ethos of the event; by contrast, Sannhet’s anxious instrumentals felt like musical materializations of the implosions of color and matter seen in Dan Colen’s tar-and-feather murals on the wall. For my money, they were the best metal group I’ve seen in four years at the festival. Then Jenny Hval gave a performance that’s one for Basilica Soundscape legend. Backed by a troupe of writhing vixens smeared in fake blood, her electronic music scored a jaw-dropping sex-and-gender-bending performance that recalled the work of Karen Finley and Nina Hagen, or the image of Lana Del Rey on bad acid (with a brief quotation from “Summertime Sadness” no less).
Significantly, Jenny Hval played on the smaller stage, to a packed room almost falling on top of her. Later the Triangle Trio (drummers Chris Corsano, Otto Hauser, and Ryan Sawyer) played on the ground of the main room, and poets read through a second floor sliding-door. The event had finally started exploiting its environs, adding the element of unpredictability missing from the first day. By the time veteran noise terrorists Wolf Eyes hit the main stage again, Basilica Soundscape had once again made its purpose clear. Look, I know where I’ll be this time next year — there’s really no rival to Soundscape at this spot in the Hudson Valley’s arts and culture calendar. If the organizers can expand the event’s footprint with as much thought as it selects its performing artists, Basilica Soundscape will remain the place to be.
[Photos by Leonard Nevarez; right of attribution reserved.]