Happening on the Hudson: Lit Lions and Pop Provocateurs at Basilica Soundscape
By Robert Burke Warren
“Anything can happen here,” says Melissa Auf der Maur, former Smashing Pumpkins/Hole bassist, and rising Upstate arts maven. “This place is a shape shifter, a beast.” She’s speaking of Basilica Hudson, the multi-purpose venue she and her filmmaker husband, Tony Stone, opened three years ago in a refurbished 19th century riverside factory in Hudson, NY. “We’re fueled by blind passion,” she says. “We host film shoots, film screenings, art installations, dance parties, fancy weddings. The Basilica is a community space, a music school for kids, and, sometimes, a dark, industrial Goth bar.” Auf der Maur is most excited about her venture’s next incarnation: Basilica Soundscape, a weekend of wide-ranging music, visual art, literature, and risk-taking on September 13th and 14th, when she and her co-conspirators will employ the factory’s versatility as never before.
Inspired by the intimate All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals in the UK, and emboldened by Soundscape curators Brandon Stosuy (at right) – of Pitchfork Media fame – and artist/manager Brian DeRan, Auf der Maur is throwing open the doors of the 1,000-person-capacity Basilica to anyone eager for a festival experience wherein they feel “part of something special.” “[World-renowned visual artist] Matthew Barney, and [punk godfather/author] Richard Hell [reading] in the same factory walls,” she says, with both fan-zeal and pride. (Hell is pictured at bottom.) “That’s not going to happen anywhere else in the world.”
When talking to Auf der Maur, Stosuy, and DeRan, the name Matthew Barney (at left) frequently crops up, threaded into references to other Soundscape performers, like grindcore pioneers Pig Destroyer, ambient angel Julianna Barwick, and UK Cinderella story/Kanye collaborator Evian Christ. The notion of combining these disparate acts with an acclaimed visual artist/provocateur like Barney rose from Barney and Stosuy’s erstwhile downstate exploits. Stosuy, who curates Friday night, explains: “Matthew and I did these slightly anonymous things at his performance space in Long Island City. We were getting sick of standard metal shows, so we’d create a fake name for the venue, post flyers on metal message boards, and have a metal band. But there’d also be an art element – a choreographed wrestling match, or an art historian reading a dissertation. We wanted to do a show that’s not a typical show, one that had a bit more to it. That provided the initial spark. With Soundscape, though, we want to let people know what’s happening.” Friday night will also feature a hush-hush site-specific collaboration between Barney, composer Jonathan Bepler, and all the other bands on the bill.
DeRan, curating Saturday night, is enthused about providing a new kind of music/art experience. “Brandon and I have been in a club probably three nights a week for the past twenty years,” he says, laughing. “We’re a little over it. And we both have pretty broad tastes. I’ve curated art and music shows at the Basilica, and it’s an amazing space. It’s become a hub for so many things.” He’s particularly stoked about indie troubadour Cass McCombs, who he calls, “the most underrated songwriter of the century,” and Malang Djobateh, from Mali, one of the foremost kora players in the world. “I walked past him a million times in the Union Square subway station,” he says. DeRan has also booked retro-synth-pop duo Teengirl Fantasy (above right), two guys whose remixes of classic soul have been known to get even the most rhythmically-challenged indie rocker and/or metalhead dancing. Closing out Saturday will be dreamy pop upstarts DIIV, whose leader, Zachary Cole Smith, is a Hudson local.
Basilica Hudson’s far-flung locale causes no concern for the organizers. On the contrary: “I like that people are going to have to make an effort,” says Stosuy.
“Like back in the day, growing up in NJ, I’d have to hitch a ride to Trenton to see the Ramones, or take a trip to see something. I like that people in Manhattan will be driving up, taking the train, making a trek, MapQuesting. That’s part of the charm. People who are there really want to be there, they won’t be on their cell phones. [The distance] filters out a lot of things that can be annoying at a show these days, where people aren’t paying attention. It’ll be a more attentive crowd.”
Auf der Maur concurs. “Everyone has to make an effort for Basilica Soundscape to happen. There’s a new generation of people who want something special, who want something you get beyond the computer screen. There ends up being this need to get off the beaten path. Since becoming a venue, we’ve gotten so many calls from agents saying, ‘My artist really wants to play something unique and different, they don’t want to play a normal rock club gig, they want something special.’
“I’m excited to open people’s minds,” she continues. “That’s what we’re trying to do. In the 21st century, we have access to so many things; in pop culture right now, everything is blended. There’s such an interesting cross-pollination in art and music, and we want to reflect that at the Basilica. These are fascinating times.”
To see these fascinating times up close, the doors to Basilica Soundscape are wide open.
Presented in association with Pitchfork and Leg Up Management
September 13th and 14th
110 South Front Street