Basilica Soundscape Brings Shredding and Smoke Machines to Hudson
At the witching hour on Friday, each of the four artists that performed that night at Basilica Soundscape, a two-year-old festival held at Basilica Hudson, a 19th-century factory-turned-event space, assembled at opposite ends of the room. Julianna Barwick looped her voice into a "chorus of angels" (as one enthralled member of the audience put it) as producer/DJ Evian Christ held down the rhythm section--sharing a smile and a wink with Pharmakon's Margaret Chardiet opposite him, who rattled a drumstick against a piece of metal and screamed into the microphone--while grindcore Virginians Pig Destroyer added their own throat-shredding wails to the mix from the stage. In the middle of the maelstrom, conductor Jonathan Bepler stood a few heads above the crowd on a concrete block, guiding it all with eye contact and a few waves of his hands.
On paper, it shouldn't have worked, but neither should have Basilica Soundscape. It reads like a flight of fancy: paid for with credit cards (founders Brandon Stosuy, editor at Pitchfork, former Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, and Black Lips manager Brian DeRan wanted to keep their "anti-festival" free from corporate sponsorship eyesores) and held at an unheated warehouse space two hours outside of Manhattan, all in the name of music and art, which aren't exactly the most reliably lucrative fields. But the programmers didn't let all that stand in the way of their dream lineup, which mashed up the east coast griot of Malian musicians Malang Djobateh (whom you can sometimes see playing in the Columbus Circle train station) with DIIV's shoegazing post-punk and Genevieve White's Runaway Bride-style performance art. The result was anti-anything you've probably seen before.
Unfortunately for those of us who work until 6 or 7pm in the city, the first performers were scheduled for right after dinnertime on Friday night, something the festival planners might want to rethink next year. I got there just in time for composer and vocalist Julianna Barwick, who was born in Louisiana and raised in Missouri, but doesn't sound like she's of this earth. Her music is essentially her voice, which she loops over and over itself in these golden waves of amazing heavenly beauty, augmented with deep ripples from guitarist Scott Bell or backing vocals from Brooklyn duo Prince Rama (who left their glittery face paint at home in favor of more sedate black dresses). Barwick made the Basilica feel like the "industrial church" Auf der Maur was aiming for when she reclaimed the space, even though the same quality that amplified Barwick's voice did the same for audience conversation.
Then, as the night tended to go, it was onto something completely different. Evian Christ set up his computer and sampler on a table behind flashing lights that, despite their seizure-inducing frequency, didn't deter people from breaking it down to his syrupy, even bass-heavier rendition of Kanye West's "I'm In It." He incorporated snippets of Barwick's voice (he samples her song "Bode" on a mix from earlier this year) throughout his set--a foreshadowing of the collaborative efforts to come. The edgy urgency of his beats provided an incidentally appropriate soundtrack for Vikings chasing, stabbing, and shooting American-Indians in the art film Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America, a film by Auf der Maur's husband, Tony Stone, that was playing in the next room.
The next night, the Vikings were replaced by Spandex-clad aerobics practitioners from the '80s on Adult Swim affiliate Derrick Beckles' Best of TV Carnage or Better, and this time the music didn't go quite so well with all that floor pelvis-thrusting. The night was supposedly scheduled to imitate the history of music, with Malang Djobateh in the beginning of (and throughout) the night and Teengirl Fantasy's synthesized pulses and smoke machines at the end. The former arguably proved the hit of the evening, selling more CDs than any other artist and entrancing with their articulate handling of the kora, a 21-string West African harp. They definitely encouraged one of the night's more unconventional dancers, a girl sitting on her knees in the front and waving her arms in the air.