This weekend, head to upstate New York—not to marvel at the fall colors (peak season doesn’t start until the end of the month, anyway), but rather to get brutalized by a mysterious multi-band performance piece (a collaboration between Pitchfork’s Brandon Stosuy and Matthew Barney), schooled by punk veteran Richard Hell and entertained by the very different sounds of DIIV, Pure X and Malang Djobateh. It’s all happening at BasilicaSoundScape in Hudson, New York, an intimate art-and-music festival directed by Melissa Auf der Maur and Tony Stone, in conjunction with Stosuy and Brian DeRan. BlackBook spoke with Auf der Maur, Stosuy and DeRan about what to expect during a weekend of button-pushing literature, camping…and Pig Destroyer.
What is the central concept of "BasilicaSoundScape"?
Melissa Auf der Maur: We’re inviting people to submerge themselves in another space for the weekend. Camping and car pooling is encouraged. Everyone is sharing in something different which actually requires a little bit of effort. You have to travel to get here, find a place to stay—that’s part of the fun of it! There is also an intimacy involved: small town, small crowd. Dare I say it’s an "old school" music experience, underground and off the beaten path, for real? As a Canadian who has always felt a slight conflict about living in the USA, it is incredibly inspiring to be part of this movement, reclaiming the American Dream, one freaky art and music show at a time.
How is it different from a regular arts or music festival?
Brandon Stosuy: We’ve booked fewer acts than a standard festival—and the space we’re doing the events is a converted 19th-century factory that fits 1,000 people. More importantly, we’re selecting bands and writers and artists that connect to one another instead of gathering a bunch of bands who happen to be on tour or playing the festival circuit at the same time and plopping them down in the middle of a field. The BasilicaSoundScape events have a narrative arc. If you watch the whole thing, the connections will emerge and hopefully make sense.
When I was a teenager, growing up in the sticks, I put on hardcore shows in my dad’s backyard. Part of what I liked about those events, and the reason I was interested in that scene in the first place, was that I felt like I belonged to something. I think it’s because those shows had context. They seemed to happen for a reason, and I felt like they were connected to something bigger. Festivals can feel a little abstract, or they can feel like they only exist for sponsorship dollars. With Basilica Soundscape, I’m hoping the people who attend feel that there is a context, and a reason for it to happen. We’re trying to create something intimate that resonates.
Last week, the New York Times did a preview of the weekend in which Jon Caramanica wrote that Soundscape is "making the case that a unified attitude and mood are far better organizing principles for a festival than genre." I agree with that.
Brian DeRan: I like to think of this festival in terms of reading a novel, rather than a magazine, which is what the larger fests are like.
How does the flavor of programming change from Friday to Saturday? There seems to be a pretty big leap from Pharmakon and Pig Destroyer to Teengirl Fantasy and DIIV. Do you expect a fairly distinct crowd on each day?
Auf der Mar: I anticipate 60-year-olds coming to support the local art center, and being pleasantly surprised by their interest in watching a band called Pig Destroyer. I also imagine a 19-year-old Bard College student coming to see DIIV, but learning about Richard Hell making safety pins stylish, and discovering that they love the sound of a West African Harp. Both nights have a distinctively different mood, but Friday night features a conceptual, visual artist setting the tone, whereas Saturday music is setting the environment.
Speaking of Friday evening: Brandon, what do you and Matthew Barney have planned? You pointed me to a Pig Destroyer interview, in which they discuss Barney’s work, and perhaps that’s relevant to what you’re cooking up: “Music is typically a passive thing, but you go into an installation in a museum, and you have to move around the things or pass your hands through and feel contours. You can’t really take in a piece of art like that without interacting with it.”
Stosuy: Matthew and I used to (and will again, soon) do these shows at his studio, semi-anonymously. We’d basically organize a show, make a flyer, and then post the flyer on a metal message board. We’d invite friends, but there was no real promotion. The events were free and were presented as though they were regular, everyday shows, but each one would involve other elements, like a choreographed amateur wrestling match, or a sculpture, or an art historian reading from a dissertation, or a pig roast (with a larger pig giving birth to a smaller pig). Each of these elements was tied into the genre we were presenting. They were carefully plotted even when they seemed random. Jonathan Bepler, who composes the music for Matthew’s projects, helped us with the first of these: he used a giant fabricated Slurpee straw to sing ‘toilet bowl vocals’—a staple of grindcore—into the toilet in a Porta Potty. It was playful, and silly, but also kind of dark.
Basically, what Matthew and Jonathan Bepler and I are doing at Basilica is the sort of thing we did at the studio, but as a public presentation. We haven’t been anonymous this time, obviously. I don’t want to give away what we’ll be doing, but it involves all the bands, and Jonathan will be conducting. It’s based on an idea Matthew and I had a couple years ago when we were talking about the genre pornogrind. For me, it also comes out of this essay I wrote about Matthew’s work for a show he had in Munich: I played all the Cremaster movies at the same time, in the same room, and documented what happened with the audio in that situation.
And what about some of the writers you’ve scheduled to read—Richard Hell, and also Peter Sotos?
Stosuy: Hell and Sotos are both onetime musicians now committed entirely to writing. There’s that connection, but I wasn’t really thinking of that when I booked them. (Peter doesn’t really view himself as a musician and Hell was first and foremost a writer, even from the beginning.) Another thing: Margaret, who performs as Pharmakon, is influenced by both of them; Pig Destroyer have talked about the influence that Whitehouse, Sotos’ old band, have had on them. There’s that, too.
More, though, I wanted these writers, who I think share a style, but are very different, to help take Friday’s programming away from a regular, basic ‘concert’ or ‘show.’ It’s the same reason we have a sculpture by Lionel Maunz, an artist who’s shown his work at Red Light District (the DIY space Pharmakon runs with her friends), has collaborated with Sotos (as part of Mirror Me, the project I did with Kai Althoff), and is very much a fan of dark, heavy music.
The artists and writers are all connected in one way or another. That, and Richard’s new book is great, a portrait of a New York City (and punk scene) that doesn’t exist anymore. And Peter’s books are brilliant and he remains insanely underappreciated. They’re also older than all of the musicians, and I liked having that sense of transgressive history here.
What is it about the spirit of Hudson that makes it such a special place, and a worthy home for SoundScape? How has the town of Hudson itself changed since Basilica Hudson was opened in 2010?
Auf der Mar: Speaking on behalf of a man and woman team (Tony Stone, my co-Creative Director, and myself) who moved to Hudson with plans to work on our personal music and film projects, but wound up with 17,000 square feet of old brick and steel as a muse instead—I am constantly talking about the mysterious, magnetic pull the big factory and the little city have. They have truly taken possession of us – we cannot stop "serving" them and the potential of a dream place to live, make work and share in the experience of it. You can’t come to Basilica and not meet the odd force that is Hudson, nor can you avoid the epic Hudson Valley skies and Catskill mountains in the distance. In some ways Basilica (the building) and Hudson are in and of the same. Built during the epic hey days of America, the 1800 and 1900’s, empowered with hope and hard work, left to fall and break in the last few decades. In the last decade this city is being reclaimed by hundreds of freaks of the leftie and arty persuasion, lovers of old and romantic things and times who are bringing this place back to life.
The actual walls and space of the Basilica have a way of seducing anyone who walks into it, to make them want to do something. Make something. Show something. Share something. Our goal is to cultivate and nurture that, continuing to bring people into the space and see where it brings them, and where it brings us as creative directors. Hudson also has this power to seduce. I am currently house-hunting for five people moving here. In the last three years since we took on the space, the population of under- 30s has exploded. When Tony and I first moved here in 2008, all of our friends were over the age of 60. They’re the coolest friends we have here, still, but no one who would have come to see Cass McCombs play.
For tickets and more information visit Basilica SoundScape’s website.
image: Matt Charland