Basilica Soundscape 2015 Preview: What to Look Forward to at Upstate New York’s Premiere Music Festival

Tim Hecker performs at BSS 2014, photo by Samantha Marble.
Tim Hecker performs at BSS 2014, photo by Samantha Marble.

Building the Basilica Soundscape Experience
In addition to Auf Der Maur and Stone, the BSS booking team is made up of Brian DeRan, a Los Angeles based music industry veteran and owner of Leg Up! Management, and Brandon Stosuy, Director of Editorial Operations for Pitchfork Media in Brooklyn. Where some festivals are preoccupied with the blockbuster names that draw massive corporate support, Basilica’s concept is defined by it’s limited space. No matter how much praise is heaped upon it, its crowds can never grow bigger than the 1200 people who can fit in the building.

“Festival culture is so weird now,” says Stosuy. “When I went to Governor’s Ball, just kind of walking through the crowd you got the sense that there were so many people there not even to watch music, but to hang out with their friends and do drugs. That’s fine, but part of what I like about Basilica is that the people who go seem really engaged with it. You’re not standing in a field with 40,000 people like, alright I’m anonymous. You feel like you’re part of something.”

DeRan, whose tastes in world music and outsider psychedelica act as a balance to Stosuy’s preference for noise and metal, agrees that the inclusive feeling and limited scale are what set them apart in an increasingly crowded festival market. “There’s no separate VIP area that someone can’t get to,” says DeRan. “There’s no, ‘Oh, let’s pay an extra 70 dollars so you can get free drinks here.’ It’s such a small spot. To keep it that way, really makes the audience part of the event and not just an observer.”

The festival seeks to reward the attention of its small, plugged in crowd with an array of peformers outside the same bold-font dozen that hop from fest to fest over the course of a typical summer. Unlike Stosuy’s booking for the proper Pitchfork Festival in Chicago, the biggest names of the moment aren’t the goal here. (Pitchfork’s involvement on a company level comes from graphic design and media support only.) This year’s lineup started with the Saturday night headliner, The Haxan Cloak, the fearsome electronic project of dashing Brit Bobby Krlic. Haxan’s music is exhilaratingly bleak and deafeningly loud, far from the summer good time vibes a mass-market fest would desire as a closing statement. Perfume Genius, led by not-exactly-cheerful-himself songwriter Sam Hadreas, was then chosen for the arresting contrast his delicacy would provide leading into Haxan. Additional pieces were added from there to provide a perpetual balance. Young Brooklyn metalheads Sannhet and avant-garde pop from Norwegian Jenny Hval will also perform Saturday, interspersed with drum circles and spoken word interludes. Poets, such as Dorothea Lasky, will spout verse from the building’s rafters. Friday night will host sets from mysterious UK electronic act Actress, along with alternately vicious and elegant rock bands like Calgary’s Viet Cong and L.A.’s HEALTH. That night’s schedule takes detours, too, into film screenings and a traditional performance for tabla and sitar.

Stosuy says that any one out-of-whack element might tragically warp the carefully eclectic center of gravity. “At one point, someone from in the periphery floated this idea, ‘Hey I heard that Flaming Lips might be available,’ and we were like, ‘Yeah, no, fuck that,’ “ he says. “We don’t want Flaming Lips there. There’s things that don’t make sense to have there and wouldn’t be in the spirit of it,” he says. “What we want to avoid is a crowd that is only there for one band and is bummed about the other stuff.”

That “other stuff” goes beyond performance, with visual art offerings filling the complex’s smaller spaces. Controversial NYC artist Dan Colen has prepared several large scale paintings on site, and Massachusetts visual artist Micheal St. John has curated an in-complex gallery show called “The Now Forever” which he says is “created to be in dialogue with the “Forever Now” exhibit at Manhattan’s MoMa. St. John says that viewing the work upstate might “allow more time and space for the experience, as being outside the city does have the illusion of slower time and more space.” Scheduled reader Holly Anderson, a respected downtown poet whose words have previously been adapted into song by punk legends Mission of Burma, thinks the wild discipline mixing on Basilica’s lineup gives the art and lit extra life. “I generally hate straight up poetry readings,” she says. “Too much like sitting in Catholic church as a girl.”

Everything that goes into the BSS experience, from brokering unique one-off music collaborations to choosing what stocks the book table, has been done to earn trust for repeat festival goers who’ll know their experience is in good hands. John Olson, a vet of the Michigan noise scene whose grizzled band Wolf Eyes is paying Saturday night, and might seem otherwise out of place amid such natural tranquility, appreciates that effort. “How many times does a music fan put down money to take chances? I would say that’s about zero, you know? You don’t go to a movie theater, put down your money and say, ‘Alright, you pick!’ Though he does note, “We just played the biggest Satanic public event in the history of the world, so it’s kind of hard to top that.”

With a game audience and a libertine spirit, it wouldn’t be totally out of character for Basilica Soundscape to file that one away for next year.

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