These days, when people talk about technology being scary, they’re talking about a slow, creeping dread — the paranoia of living in a world with drones and AI and the nagging suspicion that all of your personal data is being collected by some nefarious corporation for some nefarious purpose. But technology used to be scary for a much, much simpler reason: Giant machines are fucking terrifying. They are awesome, they are powerful, and they can destroy you.
There’s no place to remind you of that quite like Basilica Hudson, the looming 19th century factory that now serves as an arts space and home to the annual Basilica SoundScape festival in Hudson, New York. And there’s no artist to remind you of that quite like Blanck Mass, the solo project of Fuck Buttons’ Benjamin John Power. As one half of Fuck Buttons, Power straddled the line between punishment and euphoria, packaging noise into a crowd-pleasing, festival-ready format. But his solo releases have trended progressively darker and darker, and on this year’s World Eater, he committed fully to destroying your eardrums with his feverish take on dance music.
In concert, that commitment is magnified a thousandfold, as one large, dimly-lit room full of sweaty goths discovered as Basilica SoundScape drew to a close last night. As soon as Hole’s Patty Schemel finished reading excerpts from her forthcoming memoir, smoke began hissing out onto the stage and Power emerged from the darkness, barely visible in a plain black shirt. Just a few seconds later came the noise, a thick, tangible wall of percussive industrial sound, the air vibrating palpably with the throbbing beat of every kick drum.
The assault never quite let up for the remainder of the set, with fleeting glimmers of melody bubbling up to the surface before being submerged once again by the ocean of electronic noise. But, like the swimming shapes and colors that form when you shut your eyes too tightly, patterns began to emerge out of the overwhelming digital roar — lovely little bits of synth and sampled vocals contrasting against the onslaught and Power’s occasional black-metal screams. The sensory overload, abetted by the fog, the press of human flesh, and a blindingly bright strobe light, took on an almost liturgical quality, with Power leading the congregation like a church organist from behind his massive stack of gear.
There’s something vaguely Old Testament religious about the experience of all noise music — the idea of finding something beautiful in the sheer awesome power at the edges of human perception. And at times, the show felt almost masochistic, like glimpsing the Ark Of The Covenant and having your face melted off, Indiana Jones style. But it was also surprisingly fun, the closest thing the festival got to an all-out dance party after Jlin’s incredible set the previous evening, an apocalyptic disco for apocalyptic times. And when the sound finally died down and the lights came back on, the room, still full of smoke and echoes, felt transformed.