A raw, rippling Pharmakon noise performance. A reading from Richard Hell. A massive, enveloping, collaborative sound art performance piece with Matthew Barney. In a 19th century glue factory, at last weekend’s Basilica SoundScape art and music festival, all this happened.
MG: The venue is in Hudson — a two hour train-ride from Penn Station and then, a two minute walk. Not an epic trek, but it requiring commitment and preparation. Andy and I went for more of a whim and wing it thing. Approaching the brick and glass giant at Golden Hour, in the middle of relative wilderness…
…it felt like a scene from Pola X, soundcheck ricocheting through the empty hall, Evian Christ fingering the gears, the slanted sunshine. It was cinematic.
But we needed a place to pitch our tent.
After bouncing between volunteer staff, we waited for the black van promised to shuttle us to Meadowgreens Campgrounds fifteen miles away. “Andy, is that a black van?” “No, that’s a grey truck.”
Andy was put in charge of our general safety right then.
Our shuttle driver was a lovely twenty-year-old Bard student named Riley, who loved living in Hudson. When the two burly men on ATVs began to follow us down the country road to a foresty clearing adjacent to a trailer park, she was cheery about it. Her brake light was out, they said. They chatted and laughed and took her chauffeured her around the campgrounds on their ATVs. We were experiencing culture shock from all the friendliness and remained optimistic until twenty minutes in, when, symbolically kicking in the spokes of our wobbly K-Mart tent, we questioned the validity of these strategic arrangements.
AC: We made it to the venue at around dusk and missed Peter Sotos’s weekend-opening reading in favor of scarfing down pulled pork sandwiches and hot dogs from a local food vendor who had set up shop at the Basilica. #noregrets. Then, it was time for the music…
Pharmakon consumed every inch of the stage during her opening performance, and when that wasn’t enough, she moved into the audience. The synth drones were massive and overwhelming, the vocals were uncompromising, and the percussion work — carried out on what seemed to be a contact mic-ed sheet of metal — was brutal in its insistence. With its driving rhythm and punk rock physicality, this was noise that would move even the most noise-averse.
A telling moment came during her soundcheck, when, after a bit of nauseatingly loud bass that had more than a few attendees retreating from the speakers, she looked up and gave the sound guy an enthusiastic, hand-waving thumbs-up — universal code for “turn that up, please.”
MG: The first night did not feel like a music festival, but a multi-act art event. You passed from one happening to another, from one room to the next. You loitered. There was no where “outside” to go, but there was a small bricked cave that may have been an oven. It was a video screening room now.
Richard Hell’s reading took place in a separate hall of mismatched chairs, low lighting and a detectible rumble of fandom, or at least, of appreciation for Hell’s New York. It got dark.
“How many others have been ruined by her willingness, her deep submission and its power?… I know I’m talking to myself. Stories are so full of death. Well it’s close enough here. I mean here it is. There it is. Right there beside me on the bed. That’s not just a story. The problem is once you kill them you can’t hit them,” Hell read and I shivered.
“You know what my favorite book is? Your butt.’” Ringing laughter. “That’s the only poem of mine I know by heart. It’s for my wife. She’s a librarian.” He must be the most lovable villain on Earth.
AC: During a Q&A after the reading I asked Hell about his present-day relationship to all the music he made decades ago. He said he felt his time in the Voidoids constituted his only meaningful contributions to music, as he left both Television and the Heartbreakers before either band got the chance to record. Of those Voidods records, though: “I think we wrote some pretty good songs.”
MG: These are Basilica SoundScape’s only attendees that I’ve previously met offline. It was nice to get a friendly hug after marinating in waves of deep unease and attraction to Richard Hell. I had no idea that Prince Rama were performing!
AC: Julianna Barwick’s compositions are like hymns suspended in ice. Thanks to her signature vocal looping technique, chords that begin simple and open grow gradually more complex as the pieces progress, and — thanks to a backing ensemble featuring Prince Rama’s Takara and Nimai Larson, which gradually assembled behind Barwick as she played — her entire set unfolded in much the same way.
MG: There was a pause. Evian Christ performed and a small funnel of a rave seemed to swirl by his DJ stand, grinding to his meticulously dropped breaks. It was the kind of dance music that deteriorated in on itself, fun but structured just conceptually enough to be completely at home here. I can see how this plays well in large, young-stuffed 285 Kent-type venues.
Then, Matthew Barney, his composer Jonathan Bepler and Basilica SoundScape’s co-curator, Pitchfork’s Brandon Stosuy presented their piece, an experiement akin to their previous collaborations. Bepler stood in the center of the giant hall. Pharmakon, Julianna Barwick, Evian Christ and Pig Destroyer helmed the four walls. It all was happening at once.
Pharmakon’s screams dissolving into amplified, shattering sound. Evian Christ’s unrelenting percussion. Pig Destroyer, blasting grindcore and Barwick’s angelic loops, building with the violin.
It was not a cacophony. There was no harmony to be heard, just to be felt, reverberating. As I ran around the room, it was like navigating an organic forcefield, a solid wall that gave way and molded around you.
AC: Pig Destroyer closed the evening with a bang, though theirs was the only set to suffer from the Basilica’s reverberant acoustics–without a bassist holding them to the ground, the band’s punishing rhythms and low end were a little lost to the venue’s vaulted ceilings and concrete. Still, the band crushed, and despite a largely non-metalhead crowd, a small-but-enthusiastic pit eventually came together.
MG: After the show, we came up to Pig Destroyer and asked them if they remember ANIMAL’s “Pug Destroyer” video. ”Hi, we’re from the internet. We made that thing.” They were pretty psyched about it. We got some hearty pats.
AC: Okay, now it’s really dark. And cold. Camping time! Except: remember Riley, the friendly shuttle driver from before? She invited us back to her apartment after the show, where we stayed up late talking music and art with a few other anti-camping stragglers and ended up crashing on her living room floor. Riley, you are great and you deserve some kind of award.
MG: No, seriously. Who is this person? She had the friendliest pet snake. By morning, when we woke up and all our phones were charged and Riley fed us apples and almond butter, I was certain that Andy and I were dead. We camped in the woods, froze to death, and Riley was a postmortem hallucination. It was the only logical explanation.
MG: Andy leaves. I’m on my own. Uh oh.Hudson is nice in the day time. I bought a change of clothes and sprinted past real estate ads as not to get any crazy ideas. Hung out with a sound art curator who, over tacos, said, “Holden Caulfield is a discursive object.” Then, I hung out with young college students. It was a good day. And who is this now?
Brian DeRan organized the second night, but the bands began to blur together. It started feeling like a real concert. Thankfully, Malang Djobateh was there to break up the sets. There was $5 sake at the bar.
This room is a nice place to sit. I’ll just chill out here until Teengirl Fantasy.
There was $5 sake at the bar.
Oh, there is Brandon Stosuy hello sir HELLOOO! Please, you, listen to my partially intelligible statements of gratitude. Matthew Barney! Thank you Brandon Stosuy. You are very cool. Everyone is nice.
*Intermission aka MG Most Definitely Did Not Go for a Quick Sleep in the Bathroom Stall, Let’s Pretend It Was a Dope Nap*
Oops. Actually, a member of DIIV and guest singer Sky Ferreira actually did get in some trouble earlier in Hudson for heroin and ecstasy related stuff. Some people just can’t enjoy nature. Damn.
DIIV was great though. Sky Ferreira held her own. It was nice to watch her do lifting vocals, shuffling in the aura from a smog machine, all that rising and building. I was perched in the office of the Basilica with the volunteers.
The bar had $5 sake.
I should really eat something.
This hot dog is fucking delicious.
Disco nap. Very refreshing.
Let’s see how much dancing I can do without hitting someone with the camera, as I make a lot of arm movements.
Teengirl Fantasy is so much better live than on record if for the fact that watching them is a necessary part of the experience. Their set up is one gigantic instrument that they swing and hop around, live-sampling, synchronically flipping gears. This house music is textured and organic and alive and familiar, like the other other other night. Are we clubbing?
Oh, they’re good. This is good. Where’d my new friends go?
A few of them were dosing off in the corner, apparently. It was past 2am which is early for me, but I had the Hudson feels. The after party at a pub — the only still awake thing for seemingly miles of darkened town — seemed excessive.
Then, a drunken Kurt Cobain Wizard type offered to cut me.He was liberating his posse from all the plastic wristbands. The gigantic knife he was charmingly swinging at me was glinting neon blue in a hypnotic sort of way that said, “Time to sleep.” See you next year.
“It will still be ‘weird,’” Brandon Stosuy promises me over email the next day. “I’d like to make it a little bigger. But I never want it to become a standard festival with shitty nostalgia acts and flavors of the month, etc.”
There’s definitely no risk in that.
(Photos: Marina Galperina/ANIMAL New York)