Since its 2012 launch, Basilica Soundscape has perfected a new recipe for festival-goers’ musical tastes. It returns for an anticipated fourth outing this weekend, Sept. 11 through 13.
Held over three days in the mountain-nestled town of Hudson, New York, Soundscape is less schizophrenic than Governors Ball and more sonically succinct than Coachella. While it’s certainly dishing out something unique to the festival circuit, Soundscape’s popularization as summer’s “anti-festival” perhaps reads a bit harshly. “It shouldn’t be misconstrued as something pretentious,” co-founder Tony Stone insists, “but the things that you don’t like about music festivals aren’t at Basilica Soundscape. It’s really just a unique experience that naturally separates itself.”
So what does this unique experience entail? Unlikely (and one-night-only) musical collaborations; larger-than-life art installations (provided this year by Dan Colen and Harmony Korine); poetry readings in the rafters by Dorothea Lasky, Ariana Reines, and Sarah Jean Alexander; food and flea markets; and giant potluck dinners by Nicole LoBue of the Alimentary Kitchen. It all goes down in Basilica Hudson, the 14,000 square-foot glue factory from the 19th-century that Stone and partner Melissa Auf der Maur acquired in 2010. It’s since been converted to a year-round arts and entertainment venue.
Musically the festival is as eclectic as it is sonically arresting. Perfume Genius, HEALTH, Wolf Eyes, the Haxan Cloak — Soundscape’s soundtrack of noise, metal, and moody electronics is sure to be immersive, emotive, and loud, making the most of Basilica’s “industrial church” acoustics. “It feels like a big house show,” says Pitchfork‘s Brandon Stosuy, who co-curates the show with Leg Up! Management’s Brian DeRan. “People feel more connected.”
While Soundscape has slowly grown in popularity through the years — Billboard first wrote on the festival in 2013, and last year marked the first time it sold out, drawing 1,200 attendees — it has remained true to its core principles of fostering community through an intimate setting, a conspicuous lack of commercial investors, and dedication to environmental preservation. Since day one, Auf der Maur has sought inspiration from the town itself. The natural beauty and diminutive population (7,000) of Hudson serve as a haven and home for hundreds of artists seeking refuge from Manhattan’s bustle.
“The development and community-building between agriculture, culture, art, and history in this whole Hudson Valley region gets distilled and funneled into Basilica Hudson. Soundscape is an even more particular angle of a big-picture community,” Auf der Maur says. “There’s a coexistence happening. When you’re standing in front of our building, you have landscape — rural, industrial, and urban views in one fell swoop. They’re all equally influential and impactful and beautiful. We take that as a metaphor for how we try to create a unique experience within the programming. The show flows based on the space.”
Auf der Maur and Stone’s Basilica is fully green and solar-powered. While other music festivals, like Outside Lands and Lollapalooza, make efforts to lessen their carbon footprint, none of today’s MLFs (Major League Festivals) can claim such a feat. Stone is particularly invested in Basilica’s green initiatives, explaining that, since solar panels weren’t an option due to the structure’s impractical architecture, he turned to an off-site, free-standing carport by Schletter to get the job done. “It’s something that’s basically a dime a dozen in Germany,” he says. Thanks to 260 solar panels operating at 50 kilowatts, Basilica and its programs are 100 percent solar powered — and then some. The panels generate more electricity than is needed, feeding excess energy back into the grid. All food is composted to Kite’s Nest River City Garden across town, and there’s green roofing for water retention and insulation. By this time next year, they hope to be heating their water with solar as well.
“It sort of ties into the whole holistic approach to the experience,” Stone says. “I think it’s a really important issue. As we’re having the luxury to see art, it shouldn’t be a polluting experience. We’re trying to be more efficient and maybe cut back on certain pollutant luxuries, and I think art should coincide with that.”
“[Basilica] sounds like a breath of fresh air,” says frontman Jupiter Keyes, a member of HEALTH, this year’s first-night closer. “A lot of festivals feel a little too homogenous these days.” He also notes the festival’s impressive green efforts: “As musicians, our carbon fingerprint tends to be enormous compared to most people. All of the touring, traveling, and the energy consumption from shows and festivals — we need to find other ways to make up for the damage we’re doing.”
HEALTH will be preceded by the 6:30 p.m. kick-off screening of We Won’t Bow Down, a film by Chris Bower that explores the secret culture of the Mardi Gras Indian. That’s followed up by sets from acts like Viet Cong and Actress. Night two features Perfume Genius, Wolf Eyes, the Haxan Cloak, Jenny Hval, and others. Musical sets and readings — all of which are given their own time in the spotlight, with no overlap — are matched by massive, 20′ x 10′ tar and feather canvases from visual artist Dan Colen. There’s also a show in Basilica’s all-new cubic gallery space by curator Michael St. John titled The Now Forever.
It amounts to a flow, aesthetic, and value system very particular to Soundscape and its attendees. As a result, Stosuy says that a clear-cut community of festival enthusiasts has become apparent over the years. “People that I know that have gone every year start talking about it months in advance,” he says. “They can’t wait to go and they have the places where they’re going to stay and the bars down the street for the after parties all figured out. It feels like it’s more of a scene rather than just something constructed.”
“We are a mini, mighty destination festival,” Auf der Maur continues. “What’s really beautiful is people really do come for the whole experience, which might mean just walking through the town at noon the next day and seeing the cool decrepit buildings next to the perfect mansion. It’s the experience of real things. You want to immerse yourself.”