Five Notes on Basilica Soundscape 2014


I spent the weekend two hours north of the city, taking in Basilica Soundscape for the first time. And so here are, in no particular order, five short observations about this year’s festival: sets that impressed me, artists I’d never encountered before, and impressive moments where different disciplines converged.

Tim Hecker’s set on Friday night was revelatory. I’d seen him live once before, at Columbia University’s Miller Theater a few years ago, and I’d been kicking myself for missing his set earlier this year as part of Red Bull Music Academy. The first part of his set balanced drone, blissed-out ambience, and forceful noise; it was both harrowing and meditative, qualities it shared with the set from Swans that would close out the festival a day later. The second half of Hecker’s set borrowed from his recent albums Virgins and Ravedeath 1972. At one point, I looked at Hecker before his gear, light and mist hanging in the air behind him; it was all he needed for an absolutely gripping performance.

As someone who’s fond of trumpeting that music festivals should encompass more culture as well, I was happy to see a quartet of writers take to various stages on Saturday. Melissa Broder opened the day’s events, reading in a smaller space that was also used by Emily Reo and Majical Cloudz, as well as for some video art on the previous day. A few hours later, Mira Gonzalez took to a second-floor space to read poetry and nonfiction; then, Mish Way spoke about a horrifically dysfunctional relationship she had been in some years before; and finally, Meredith Graves read a long essay about Andrew WK, how gender is performed in pop music, and depression.

Melissa Broder reads at Basilica Soundscape 2014

Emily Reo was one of the musicians I knew the least about going in: I’d read Harley Brown’s review of her album Olive Juice, and checked out a few songs on Bandcamp, but that was about it. For all that Reo’s music involves layers of manipulated and effected vocals, there’s a deeply strong pop core to them–the kind of situation where I’d kind of love to hear different artists doing covers EPs just to see how they might translate as played by different configurations. Also, her cover of Built to Spill’s “Car” is terrific.

There’s something that I find interesting about watching bands I’ve only seen in smaller places adjust their sound to a larger venue. Both White Lung and deafheaven–who I’ve seen in far smaller venues in NYC–did so very well, I thought. White Lung’s set was particularly bracing, with Mish Way channeling abundant rage and Kenneth William’s guitar finding new ways to be blistering.

Outside of the main space was a much smaller area booked by Bunnybrains, and affiliated with the Hudson shop John Doe Records. I did, however, wander outside briefly at some point after Hecker’s set; I heard some compelling noisy punk coming from said space, and ended up taking in the last song from Gold Dime, a relatively new band that features Andrya Ambro, of Talk Normal. And while there’s something to be said for venturing to a festival and seeing excellent sets from artists you trust to play excellent sets, there’s also a fantastic feeling that comes from hearing terrific music you hadn’t realized existed. I’m happy to have witnessed both.

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