Indie Beat: Basilica Soundscape Arrives as the Anti-Festival

Prince Rama plays at Basilica Music Festival in 2012. (Photo Credit: Samantha Marble via Pitchfork)

Conceived as a kind of cure for the summer festival hangover, Basilica Soundscape in Hudson, New York aims for less sunburn, long port-a-potty lines and over-booked bands and more intimacy, curation and uncommon connections. The two-day program, now in its second official year and formerly known as Basilica Music Festival, takes place this weekend with performances by underground and emerging acts including Pharmakon, DIIV, Julianna Barwick and Evian Christ and artwork by the likes of Matthew Barney, the sculptor Lionel Maunz and the performance artist Genevieve White as well as a reading by Richard Hell.

Founded by Melissa Auf der Maur, the musician and former Hole bassist, Brian DeRan, manager of the Black Lips and Neon Indian and Brandon Stosuy, an editor at Pitchfork, Basilica Soundscape wants to be everything that big-name tent-pole festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella can’t be, namely small, personal and weird.

C. Lavender performs at Basilica Music Festival in 2012. (Photo Credit: Samantha Marble via Pitchfork)

“At this point obviously there’s way too many festivals and all of them have the same line ups,” says Stosuy. “We’re trying to operate outside that a little bit and keep things interesting and eclectic.”

Soundscape has its roots in 2010, when Hudson residents Auf der Maur and partner Tony Stone acquired Basilica Hudson, a reclaimed 14,000 square-foot 19th century glue factory near the shore of the Hudson River and 100 feet away from the local train station. The couple wanted to turn the space into a unique performance and arts venue for the town’s burgeoning artist community, and it found a like-minded partner in DeRan, who himself had dreams of starting an off-the-beaten-path festival that could take up the legacy of the now-defunct All Tomorrow’s Parties New York.

Stosuy, known for his writings on metal and hardcore music and for curating events with the likes of Barney, Bjork and MoMa PS1, was brought on to help program the festival with DeRan.

“For the three years since we’ve owned this building we’ve been exploring the idea of space and how to fill it,” says Auf der Maur. “We bring in independent artists of all kinds from the international community and everyone who sees the building wants to make something here. It’s like an impressive, industrial church.”

The Basilica Hudson is a 14,000 sq ft. performance space in Hudson, New York, a growing artist haven with a population of 6,000. (Photo Credit: Matt Charland via Basilica Hudson)

The Basilica has a maximum capacity of 1,200 people, a characteristic that naturally reinforces Soundscape’s commitment to small-scale experimentation and discovery. Unlike many other festivals that force attendees to choose between bands playing simultaneously on different stages, Soundscape is designed to be experienced in its entirety as a coherent program, with performances and readings taking place one after another in different rooms and corners of the Basilica.

This year, in the first night’s pièce de résistance, performers Julianna Barwick, Pig Destroyer, Pharmakon and Evian Christ will collaborate in a conceptual performance curated by Stosuy and Barney and conducted by Jonathan Bepler. On the second night, bands will loosely trace the history of music, beginning with Malang Djobateh playing ancient African instruments and ending with an all-electronics set by the Brooklyn duo Teengirl Fantasy.

“We want it to read like a book where you pay attention the whole way through it,” says DeRan. "Maybe you come knowing one or two bands that you're really excited about, but if you stay you end up getting turned on to four or five new things that weren't on your radar."

For Soundscape, reaching a core audience that’s willing to shell out for a unique experience is crucial, since the festival doesn’t have any sponsors (Pitchfork provides media support, and Leg Up! Management, DeRan's company, helps with logistics and booking). In true DIY spirit, Auf der Maur, DeRan and Stosuy have paid for the first two events with credit cards, taking a “Field of Dreams” approach and hoping for paying customers to come in sufficient numbers. DeRan says the group isn’t opposed to sponsorship, but hasn’t yet found a suitable match.

As it stands, the founders have financial goals: pay artists well, keep the festival running year after year; and creative ones: make something that stands out in an oversaturated festival market. Ideally, succeeding at the latter will make the former more practical.

“We’re interested in building something more like an old record label that maintains a unique identity as opposed to changing with whatever the prevailing trends in music are,” says Stosuy. “Hopefully people will start to trust the name of the event to the point where they say ‘Hey, that festival is coming up in six months—I’ll buy a ticket because I know it will be interesting.’”

The second annual Basilica Soundscape takes place thisFriday, September 13 and Saturday September 14. More information here.

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