A reclaimed 19th century factory oozing in artsiness was host to Basilica Soundscape, a collaboration between Pitchfork’s Brandon Stosuy and Brian DeRan of Gleam House and Leg Up Management. A crossroads for art, literature and music, the “festival” seemed like the height of pretentiousness.
Saturday night’s opening played right into that preconceived notion. Author Peter Sotos did a reading which included a flashing screen of child sex offenders, talk of masturbation, and chiding of members of the crowd. After the half hour reading, luckily the music was ready to start. Pharmakon kicked off the night on the main stage with her described “concise and exact experimental project.” While the describe sounds pretentious, the execution is not. Her music is reminiscent of Crystal Castles with dark electo synths, heavy percussion, and a distorted shrieks all looped and layered on top of each other. Pharmakon says the goal of her music is to make people feel “make them FEEL something in uncomfortable/confrontational ways” and that was in full effect. The abrasiveness of the music was one thing but the volume of it made it truly uncomfortable. Standing anywhere in the great hall was not only deafening but gave attendees sensations of their throats collapsing. Despite that, the music had a certain groove to it that lead to a lot of the crowd moving through the discomfort.
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Pharmakon’s set was tragically cut short as she fried the mainstage’s PA. Quickly the crowd was ushered into North Hall where punk icon Richard Hell was doing a reading, so that the mainstage could recover. Hell’s reading was comprised of a few poems from his early days of writing then a reading from his novel, his book of poetry, and his finally his autobiography before doing a short Q&A. Perhaps most interesting was the reading of his autobiography where he read a passage about his first practice with Television. Artfully written, it lead right into the Q&A where the audience had plenty of questions about Hell’s musical days.
Ushered back into the Main Hall next on the docket was Julianna Barwick. Considering the farm a cons bombastic set, Barwick’s subdued sound almost seemed out of place. Gently looping her own vocals with sparse keyboards and synths, Barwick created an almost new age sound. One member of the audience was overheard comparing her to Enya but to me, this sound was more neoclassical. The addition of violin and guitar into backup singers help fill out her band although it still remained fairly sparse sounding. In the end it was a beautiful set but seemed awkward considering the acts that surrounded her.
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And that was because next up was Evian Christ. Performing a DJ set, Christ’s mix of electroclash and seizure inducing strobe lights created a rave-like feel which seemed perfect for the abandoned factory. His set was really the first of the night to get people moving. While some people grooved a little to Pharmakon, Evian Christ got people fully out of their seats dancing.
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But quickly the dancing turned into people standing around looking confused as Matthew Barney presented his soundpiece. Barney utilized all the musicians that perform at the festival. Evian Christ stayed onstage and was joined by Pharmakon, Julianna Barwick and the night’s headliner, Pig Destroyer. Just as varied as all of those four artists sound so was Barney’s soundpiece. Layering sounds that had nothing to do with each other Barney, created dissonance that seemed pleasing to no one.
After that failure of a performance, Pig Destroyer hit the stage. While Pig Destroyer in an abandoned factory sounds like the ingredients to a violent mess, the crowd actually was very respectful of each other and of the art around them. Sure there was headbanging, moshing even a little push pit, but everyone seemed to come out fairly unscathed. As for the distress and just say that they killed it would be an understatement. They ensured that the crowd left happy well past one in the morning.
Getting off to another late start with Saturday’s addition of the festival. With big names like Cass McCombs and DIIV playing, the second night seemed like the better attended of the two. The second night was also devoid of much of the art pieces that defined the first night. Saturday contained no readings by authors, no soundpieces, just music save for opening artist Genevieve White.
White performed in intriguing art piece in the North Hall. Suited in an oversized wedding dress, White sat on the hall’s concrete floor, took off dress shoes, and put on sneakers. She then stood in a low walled box and begin running in place. The running in place lasted nearly 20 minutes as she attempted to not let the dress completely fall off of her. while running, would occasionally hit the walls of the box while mumbling things like “shit” or “fuck.” At the end of the 20 minutes she sat down in the box lay down and let her legs hanging over the edge of the box. Although it wasn’t clear if the box and wedding dress represented constraints of marriage or just of being a woman, the piece was thought-provoking and interesting.
With the end of White’s piece thus began the music. Although our regularly scheduled program said that Malang Djobateh was next, No Joy appeared on stage. The Canadian four-piece played their signature mix of shoegaze doom and punk. One member of the audience remarked “and they are like the 2000 generation’s My Bloody Valentine.” Well I think that’s a bit of an overstatement, they did play a loud, invigorating set.
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After their set finally Malanga Djobateh was introduced. The Malian uncle and nephew duo play an instrument called the kora. The instrument sounds a bit like a banjo but with microtones. The range goes as high as a banjo but also as low as an upright bass. The duo really captivated the crowd everyone gathered around and many people even danced to their exotic music. Unfortunately even though they were designated an hour long set in the program, they had now been reduced to in between set music– essentially they became the DJs for the night.
Next on the main stage was Pure X from Austin, Texas. The band’s sound was somewhere between Crosby Stills and Nash folk and Velvet Underground style fuzzed out psychedelic rock. Although the band was tight, they played one of the least inspiring sets of the night.
It was an easy transition between Pure X and Cass McCombs. McCombs himself having a little Neil Young in his sound, kept with the chill folk vibe. But McCombs has an almost jam band feel to him. The songs seemed to extend on for prolonged period of time, repeating the same basic guitar arpeggios and baselines. That repetitiveness however wasn’t annoying, it more served to let the crowd groove and sway to the music.
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For all the subdued swaying that went into Cass McCombs’ set, the crowd had to make a quick left turn on to keep up with DIIV. Fresh off his arrest for heroin possession, Z. Cole Smith and company propelled the audience into a frenzy with their mixture of reverb guitars and drum driven songs. Not since Pig Destroyer the night before had the crowd moved quite like during the DIIV set. The only time the crowd turned was when Z Cole Smith’s girlfriend model/singer/actress Sky Farreira joined them onstage to sing a cover of Cat Power‘s “Nude as the News.” Noticeably one member of the crowd turn to another with a disgusted look on her face and said “this does not sound good.” Besides that small misstep, DIIV played by far the best set of the entire festival.
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The set went so well that many patrons begin filing out once DIIV ended. Maybe it was because it was already past 1am –the festival proposed ending time– or because no one was particularly interested to see Teengirl Fantasy–the day two headliner–but by the time the DJ duo begin their set the factory was more than half empty. While I’m sure their set was meant to start a rave like Evian Christ’s the night before, it just fell short. Perhaps folks were just too tired but the crowd just kept trickling out throughout the band’s set.
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However ending on that note didn’t damper the weekend as a whole. Basilica Soundscape has the potential to be one of New York’s premier arts festival. It’s mixture of literature, performance art, and music is a unique combination in the modern festival age. As the festival grows older and matures I’m sure it will become one of the must attend events in the Northeast.