This article first appeared in The Alt on September 12, 2017.
Photos by Kiki Vassilakis
A dust cloud rises as a train rumbles by, its horn belching a warning that reverberates against the brown and rust colored facade of the ancient factory. Workers pause for a minute to lift handkerchiefs across their faces. These men are here laying down grass seed to combat these wild-west styled dust storms from lashing the faces of future visitors. A few feet away another group saws and hammers, preparing some sort of new infrastructure—a stage perhaps, maybe a countertop. There’s a flyer posted on the building that reads, “Escape Existence. Visit Hudson.” Sure, this could be the opening scene of a post-apocalyptic epic, but Basilica actually represents the opposite. It represents the reclaiming of an abandoned space, an increase of interest in a once-forgotten city, a show space for artists who don’t want to play by the rules. The activity here today at Basilica Hudson certainly doesn’t match the clamor and clang that was once produced when the building was active as a factory, but there is life here in the middle of a weekday in June, and there isn’t a single concertgoer in sight.
Inside the confines of the Basilica, Melissa Auf der Maur, owner of the Basilica and former bassist for Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, sits in a cluttered recording studio punching numbers into a phone.
“I left my corporate structures with major labels in 2010 when I founded Basilica,” she explains. Brandon Stosuy, former director of editorial operations at Pitchfork, is now on the line and Auf der Maur continues her train of thought as though Stosuy had been present the entire time. He might as well have been because they both seem to feed off a kindred energy.
“In a lot of ways Soundscape is about a return home to artistic expression without corporate infringement,” says Auf der Maur, noting the similarities between her departure from corporate rock and roll and Stosuy’s decision to depart Pitchfork to form The Creative Independent, a website published by Kickstarter that is designed to provide guidance and support to creative people.
Stosuy provides musical programming for MoMA PS1 and the Broad Museum in Los Angeles. Stosuy and Auf der Maur have programmed Soundscape, an event Auf der Maur calls Basilica’s “crown jewel,” since 2012.
Past lineups of Basilica Soundscape have included Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, Swans, Deafheaven, Wolves in the Throne Room, Angel Olsen and Health. Soundscape combines musical performances with film, art and spoken word. The musical lineups are daringly eclectic and fly in the face of the generic casts assembled at Coachella or Bonnaroo.
Concertgoers are encouraged to buy weekend tickets and camp at a nearby site. There is a schedule and lineup, but unlike major festivals, acts don’t go on at the same time. “You don’t have Leonard Cohen struggling to perform a heart-breaking song over the sound wafting over from another stage,” says Stosuy. Acts perform at various spaces across Basilica. Stosuy and Auf der Maur curate the performances and the spaces to capture their vision.
So how do they actually book a show with such high-minded purpose and eclectic tastes?
“With a lot of Google Docs,” jokes Stosuy.
“Soundscape is about pushing barriers,” says Auf der Maur. “When I do an announcement of a film or a music festival I always say Basilica committed to giving platform to avant garde, on the-edge, left of center and Soundscape is the elegant crown jewel of our music programming. Brandon is essentially the heart and soul of Soundscape. Brandon is a writer and music fan and the nicest guy any musician wants to speak to about music. He’s the one who has endless access to all this talent. My love of music has returned thanks to Brandon.”
For Stosuy, booking Soundscape is an exercise in curating both musical tastes and the industrial landscape that is Basilica Hudson
“Different spaces work in different ways,” says Stosuy. “When I’m booking Basilica I think about what bands sound really good in that space, what groups make best use of that immense space.” Groups that are bombastic, atmospheric, or particularly noisy are at home in Basilica’s factory walls. “That’s what we were thinking about with Thou and Zola Jesus this year. Her album is really big and dark—it will sound great in that spot.”
“Whether it is the muse of history, architecture, the light here, we want the work to reflect this space in some way,” says Auf der Maur.
Stosuy recalls booking hardcore shows in his backyard as a kid. He’s arranged events with bands playing over choreographed pro wrestling and the readings of complicated dissertations. “Bands ask if they can use fire, or do something that they wouldn’t be allowed to do in a Clear Channel-owned venue and we can say yes,” says Stosuy. Swans played a two-and-a-half hour set (normally at a festival you’d get 45 minutes). “We can do a lot more here. We can get away with a lot more,” says Stosuy.
It’s that kind of creativity and spontaneity that has allowed Auf der Maur to rediscover her love for music.
“I’ve been trying to return to home since the day I joined Hole,” says Auf der Maur. “I joined kicking and screaming—or more like, ‘Oh fuck, this is going to be the darkest period of my life!’ I joined out of respect for the human experience, not the major label stuff. That’s why I said ‘No!’ when they asked me. I said, ‘Absolutely not. I’m finishing my BFA, I have my own band and I’m an artist.’ One band, one tour and an album on Touch and Go, thank you goodbye, was as far as my dream of music ever went. But Hole presented an opportunity to see the world and get in touch with this broken humanity. I’ve never spoken ill of Courtney [Love] but she comes from three generations of abandoned children and a terrible life—it’s not easy to have a husband commit suicide. So is there mental illness, is there drug addiction? Of course. I was replacing a deceased woman from Buffalo, New York. It was a commitment I made—not some rock and roll fantasy of mine at all. I knew it would set me back in my commitment to art and I’ve been trying to rebuild since I left Hole. And then of course, there was the weird thing where D’arcy [Wretzky] left [The Smashing] Pumpkins the same day I left Hole, and Billy [Corgan] called my ringing landline saying, ‘The stars have lined up! D’arcy left. Want to join?’ and he’s how I got into Hole to begin with. So I joined these really intense bands that weren’t really part of my initial goal in art. Basilica represents the Montreal I left in the ‘90s. Obviously, we’re in America and Trump is president so not quite—but we’re in a bubble.”
While in some sense Auf der Maur has been using Basilica as a “bubble” this year, it has increasingly become more of a pulpit for artists and activists to tackle major political issues. Stosuy and Auf der Maur acknowledge that some of their booking was motivated by the artists’ political ideas and artistic independence.
“One of the reasons we booked Thou is that while they are a metal band they come from this punk rock mindset—all the DIY stuff, publishing their own songs, controlling so much of their own output. Moor Mother books herself and she is super politically engaged, Serpentwithteeth recently tweeted about wanting to practice finding empathy with people. So there is some political alignment going on,” says Stosuy.
Auf der Maur finishes his thought, “but without being overlaid, or forced, no blanket statement like ‘only women’ or only this, but very mindful of people expressing rage with our current political situation or empathy! That would be amazing.”
The lineup of poets and speakers at Basilica will certainly have a political edge. Morgan Parker will read from her book of poetry “There Are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé.” Poet Eileen Myles ran an “openly female” write-in campaign for president in 1992.
Basilica’s other major event, 24-Hour Drone, brings the audience together and creates what Auf der Maur refers to as a “cocoon” of creativity that creates a meditative and esoteric experience. “Soundscape is visceral, you’re never just staring at the stage for the whole night. You’re asked to move, to take part in this journey. What we do is always based on kind of honoring the dream of this place as a temple of music and art. It’s about ‘Why is this building still standing? Why are all these freaky alternative people all in heaven right now?’ We want to reclaim a new future. So how do you bring the future and past together in one poetic moment? I constantly think back to Brandon in the backyard or me being a ticket girl before I joined Hole.”
Doors at 6 PM
Philadelphia poet and community activist Camae Ayew combines her politically charged verses with noise and industrial minded electronics producing what has been labeled “slaveship punk” and “power electronics.” Its protest music from the future.
These Baton Rouge sludge masters pervert metal into massive anarchistic landscapes that evoke despair, hopelessness and spite for the modern world.
Classically trained singer Josiah Wise combines his quaking voice with experimental soundscapes produced by Haxan Cloak. Think Frank Ocean produced by Clint Mansell or Trent Reznor.
Straight out of the dead industrial void of Gary, Indiana JLIN produces powerful, cutting-edge electronica. She’s known as one of the most influential female artists of her generation.
Doors at 5 PM.
These Brooklyn black metallers combine the filth and fury of black metal with shoegaze’s overwhelming interludes.
This politically fueled, female-fronted punk band from DC is all about taking on capitalism and punk music’s macho default.
The solo project of Benjamin John Power a former member of drone band Fuck Buttons, Blanck Mass is a throbbing, visceral, electronic attack on the senses.
Out of the woods of Wisconsin Nika Roza Danilova brings with a world of emotional torment, depression and sacrifice paired with bombastic cinematic electronics. Think Bjork if she grew up listening to Siouxsie and the Banshees. Her latest album Okovi has been met with massive critical acclaim.
Brunch. Farm and Flea.