Meet The Edgiest Music Festival Out There

BSS_Melissa_2013_credit_SamanthaMarblePhotographed by Samantha Marble.
Basilica Soundscape isn’t quite the “anti-festival” that organizers Brandon Stosuy (of Pitchfork), Brain DeRan (of Leg Up! Management), and Melissa Auf der Maur say it is. This weekend (Sept. 12 and 13) at Basilica Hudson—a gorgeous multimedia art space fashioned from a 19th century factory—you’ll find beer, camping, and plenty of electric guitars. In that sense, it’s not so different from Bonnaroo. What you won’t find, though, is Jack White or Outkast rocking a giant stage festooned with corporate banners. Instead, those who make the trek to Hudson, N.Y., will marvel at the fretwork of British folk lifer Michael Chapman, marinate in the ambient sounds of Canadian electro-droner Tim Hecker, and feel the sweet post-rock pummeling of NYC noise gods Swans. And, the lineup only gets more eclectic from there.
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“We just want this to be special for everyone,” says Auf der Maur, who, alongside husband Tony Stone, serves as co-creative director of Basilica Hudson and co-curator of the Soundscape festival. Auf der Maur is best known for her bass-playing stints in Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, but she also has a background in art and photography. Going into this, the third annual Soundscape, she’s just as jazzed to hear Vancouver punks White Lung as she is to see the brightly colored denim flags that artist Sterling Ruby is creating as backdrops for the main stage. And, Auf der Maur can’t wait to see what happens when Meredith Graves, frontwoman for the Syracuse hardcore group Perfect Pussy, takes the stage to share some spoken-word poetry.
On the eve of the festival, Auf der Maur chatted with Refinery 29 about what makes Basilica Soundscape so unique.
Who are you most looking forward to seeing?
“Am I allowed to have favorites for something I worked so hard holistically on? [Laughs] There are two elements of Soundscape and the building in general. What’s beautiful about the building, which is a work of art itself, is that it’s beautiful empty, and it’s beautiful full. The same goes for the sound. We’ve had a cappella Bulgarian sea shanties here. We’ve had Godspeed [You Black Emperor]. What’s so beautiful is the dynamics. The highlights that come to mind based on those two extremes are Tim Hecker, who’s just a one-man show. But, filling this building with those kinds of layers of sound and the natural reverberation of this factory will be beautiful. I look forward to the full immersion of a soundscape like that. And, on the opposite end, I look forward to the women on Saturday night: Melissa [Broder], Mira [Gonzalez], Mish [Way], and Meredith. Spoken-word women. That, to me, is really exciting—women speaking their minds.”
Perfect Pussy is great. What’s Meredith Graves’ poetry like?
“I don’t know that she’s done it a lot. From what I can tell from the emails going back and forth, she’s so excited to have been invited to come and do that. No offense to Perfect Pussy, but it seems like it’s a really unique thing for her to do.”
It’s so cool that you have that trust—you have no idea what she’s going to do.
“I think you hit the nail on the head. The trust in the whole weekend, from bands to organizers to audience members—everyone is diving in and immersing themselves without even knowing how it’s going to go. I don’t mean we don’t have our shit together. I just mean the way we program it, it’s very intuitive—well rounded but very particular.”
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IMG_0005trePhotographed by Matt Charland.
When you program the festival, is there a certain theme or guiding principle, or is it just, “This stuff is all cool—here goes.”
“It’s a little bit of both, all the interconnectedness between things. We’re planning it as things fall into place. ‘Meredith said yes, so let’s find something else [that fits with that].’ It’s an emotional Tetris sort of thing. It’s definitely not [performances] that stand alone. It’s definitely a nontraditional way. The last thing we’re looking at is what will sell tickets. The first thing we’re looking at is what will sound amazing, and what will sound amazing next to that.”
Basilica's combination of amazing sounds and a beautiful setting calls to mind All Tomorrow’s Parties—when they used to hold their festival at Kutsher’s Country Club in the Catskills.
“Totally. I went to the one with My Bloody Valentine. It’s a moving festival, and when it inhabited that crazy, scary hotel, it was very enhanced by the strangeness of the hotel. I saw one in L.A. when it was on the Queen Mary 2. That was amazing. [In terms of] choosing nontraditional locations, yes, I see a lot of similarities. If we hadn’t started Basilica Soundscape, we probably would have reached out to All Tomorrow’s Parties and asked if they wanted to visit here.”
Is there a pie-in-the-sky artist you’d love to book?
“There’s been a small wish list going. Swans was on that original list, and here we are, crossing that off with pride. Godspeed played here a couple years ago, and that was top of the list, too. In the future, if we could have Slint and RiFF RAFF play, I’d be pretty happy.”
Yours is the "anti-festival," but in terms of the big giant ones—Coachella, Bonnaroo, etc.—how long do you see the model being sustainable?
“So many bands are struggling, and these festivals are their money gigs. It’s probably refreshing for some of them that come here. Believe me: This is the anti-money gig. It’s everybody working for free, wanting to do something special. So many bands have to do things for the money. And, how can you not? How are you going to survive? If you’re not selling records, you’ve got to do something for money. As far as those big festivals, there’s always going to be a ton of banks and booze companies that need to spend their money. I just think there’s going to be too many bands at some point, and then the actual quality will be confusing. How can there be that many great bands everywhere all the time?”
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Other than corporate sponsors, is anything off limits for Basilica Soundscape, artistically speaking?
“No, I don’t think so. I’m not a big fan of pornography, so I’m not going to have pornography all over the walls [laughs]. Ultimately, I’m excited about pushing the boundaries. I’m not kidding about RiFF RAFF. I want RiFF RAFF and Slint in the same building. I don’t think there should be boundaries. That’s what’s so exciting about the 21st century.”