Angel Olsen, Explosions In The Sky, & More Made Basilica SoundScape 2016 An Idyllic, Otherworldly Festival
Basilica SoundScape is an outlier. It’s sort of a festival, I guess? But it doesn’t feel anything like what that term would stereotypically suggest in the music industry these days. Now in its fifth year, Basilica SoundScape has carved out a weird little corner for itself, becoming one of the more idiosyncratic music events out there. Officially billed as “A Weekend Of Music + Art,” it’s a small, intimate event in fantasyland-idyllic settings, featuring two nights of experimental-leaning music alongside art installations.
SoundScape is actually just one event on the year’s calendar for Basilica Hudson, the arts space owned by Hudson residents Melissa Auf der Maur (formerly of Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, now a solo artist) and her husband, filmmaker Tony Stone. Basilica Hudson occupies an old reclaimed factory building — it’s right near the river, and is a gorgeous spot in and of itself to see music and art. For SoundScape, music took place in either the main hall — which essentially feels like a way cooler version of seeing a club show — and a tinier room with seats. There’s a big yard around the back where people were always congregating, since you could see and hear the music fine from outside in many cases. You could hang out while drone music filled the room and seeped out from the building, you could go to the art installation and “discover your youth” by banging on shit.
As that might suggest, Basilica SoundScape feels more like someone throwing a weird art party out in the woods than a “festival.” It also feels like a giant field trip. This year, the Stereogum crew got our out-of-towners into New York and we all went up to Hudson for SoundScape together. But the event in general is full of NYC-based musicians, writers, and media folks, making it feel as if a couple dozen people, ranging from friends or people you sorta know, all decided to take a little retreat upstate together. If that combined with the nature of SoundScape’s lineup makes it seem like it could turn into a pretentious music world inner-circle get-together… well, there probably is an inherent danger there. But the mood there was overwhelmingly chill and curious, strangers bonding over the weird, idiosyncratic world they’d chosen to inhabit for two days.
Musically speaking, SoundScape has had other iterations where they booked more along the lines of the indie world’s pseudo-mainstream: last year had Perfume Genius, FKA Viet Cong, HEALTH, ACTRESS, Jenny Hval, and Weyes Blood. This year, the one big indie name of the moment was Angel Olsen. The other headliners were Explosions In The Sky and metal bands Cobalt, Bell Witch, and Wolves In The Throne Room. From there, you could see Youth Code play scorching, gnarly noise-synth in the same room you could hear Amber Tamblyn speak the following day. Avant-garde drummer Deantoni Parks played a set in the main hall, solo on drums and synths, that came across like warped, off-kilter dance music. Later that evening, Xylouris White — the collaboration between Greek lute player Giorgos Xylouris and Dirty Three drummer Jim White — performed an otherworldly, meditative set.
It was a lineup that was heavy on noise, heavy on strange atmospherics, and heavy on plain heaviness. The drum-and-bass duo Bell Witch filled the slot between Cobalt and Explosions In The Sky, meaning that the final stretch of SoundScape was an intense handful of artists in a row. Explosions In The Sky even felt heavier than usual, their typical grandeur no longer having a festival field to glide over, and instead becoming roiling and combustable after being crammed into a smaller room. Cobalt’s Slow Forever was one of our favorite albums of the year so far, and the group — who don’t tour all that frequently — tore through a pummeling set bathed in red light. While that was more sweat and muscle, atmospheric black metal pioneers Wolves In The Throne Room offered a different kind of set the preceding night. With long, repetitive instrumental stretches, it could become difficult to discern where one song ended and another began, the experience collectively becoming like one dark, beautiful, violent wave you could lose yourself in for a while.
Amidst all of that, Angel Olsen was a reprieve of sorts, a set featuring the most gorgeous music of the weekend. That doesn’t mean it was gentle, exactly. Touring behind My Woman, another 2016 favorite here at Stereogum, Olsen brought the weight of a quickly rising star. She’s a totally commanding presence, moving between the smoldering ’60s vibes of a track like “Never Be Mine” and its longer, sprawling guitar passages, and quick, raw bursts like “Shut Up Kiss Me” along the way. At moments, she took her voice to this husky, graveled place that made her sound like a descendent of Stevie Nicks. It was the most powerful set of the weekend, partially because it seemed like one that everyone was obsessed with — there was palpable excitement preceding her set, and then frequent wide-eyed conversations after she blew the doors off the place and exceeded already-high expectations. Who knows how much longer it’ll be possible to see her play in a setting so small and personal.
Hudson, NY feels like it shouldn’t be real in 2016. Between its bucolic backdrops, the gorgeous old houses, and its quaint main drag (which seems to be populated solely by farm-to-table restaurants and antiques stores), it feels like something out of time, like you’re on a film set. There was a moment on Saturday where, from the third floor of the Victorian house we were staying in, I heard ’60s pop music echoing from the street and had one of those disassociating Mad Men-style moments where I felt like I’d somehow stepped into another era suddenly. Within that context, SoundScape is a dreamlike event. By the time the train pulls back into Manhattan, it can feel as if that place doesn’t exist, as if those two nights didn’t happen. Sure, that’s hyper-specific to New Yorkers and us wanting to escape to places like Hudson now and then. But for anyone near Hudson in September, SoundScape is a worthwhile way to escape the real world temporarily, a totally unique and absorbing experience only heightened by the fact that it’s hard to believe it exists in the first place.