When tumbling down elaborately revelatory YouTube tangents, one can easily begin pretend curating their perfect music festival. The tendency for music writers/fans to compare and contrast may vex artists and their itinerant music industry insiders in their geographical obliviousness, but we do it anyway. Unbridled enthusiasm doesn’t always know from decorum. One mawkishly revels in possibilities, only to glean that this band/artist wants nothing to do with the one you think is a perfect compliment. It settles in that there are metrics and money driving artists together a lot more than creative neighborliness. Then you go to a little festival like Basilica SoundScape and realize you’re not alone in your impertinent yearning for true variety. After three years experiencing this event, I can safely say I’ve never been to a fest so charmingly particular in its curatorial taste. Their lineups give off the impression of scrolling through someone’s iPod and seeing names both pleasingly familiar and compellingly foreign. You press shuffle and set the the player down, confident that you’ll be going to some mind expanding places.
Admittedly, most of the acts this year are new to me. But it didn’t take very much googling to get psyched about what SoundScape had in store. There’s some excellent footage of the duo on YouTube, but the joyful folk maelstrom brought by drummer Jim White (The Dirty Three) and lutist/singer Giorgos Xylouris (son of Antonis) was straight up jaw-dropping in person. White’s avalanching rolls wrestled the venue’s boomy reverb into something absurdly palatable, while Xylouris flitted about him, zipping and swooping like a fly navigating the high seas by the skin of its proboscis. Previous act, Youth Code, with their driving, if workmanlike, instrumentation and lacerated vocals would’ve been the duo to beat, but they were (and this was affirmed by others in attendance) too quiet! Sara Taylor was giving it her all on the floor, really getting people pumped up and pushing through with purpose only for the mix to barely rise above the level of a suburban house show. Their EBM sound is a traditional one, and one that needs to be searingly loud. Otherwise, their performance would easily rival the clutch of two-person wrecking crews on offer (Xylouris White, Uniform, Bell Witch). If Youth Code is playing nearby and you enjoy some old school industrial, run don’t walk. They know how to put on a show.
Hank Wood and his Hammerheads played in the same space around the same time (earlier evening) the next day, but they were a five piece and seemed to defy whatever limitations faced by Youth Code with three more contributing elements. Wood is a similarly unhinged performer to Taylor, taking the rote assemblage of his punk iteration (psychobilly/hardcore) to emblazoning places. Neither bands are all that original but I’d see either again in a heartbeat, as their trenchant commitment to embodying what they love is thrillingly infectious. But there’s something to be said for sheer volume. While Uniform do an interesting game of degrees with gazery pop and Sightings-style noise rock damage on their solid debut, Perfect World, live they just mowed us down like so much squawking road kill. They swallowed the main hall in monochromatic vitriol where the sensation of windburned endurance overtook one’s bodyrocking abandon. There was so much overt intensity this year, perhaps having the effect of rendering the quieter sets a chance for people to catch up.
Deradoorian’s patient, meditative set suited the seated stage area perfectly. The Dirty Projectors bassist held the room rapt with her slow drones and pagan poetry, even though her set was bookended by two of the rowdier acts of the night. Local droners Saviour Self similarly set a nice ominous yet warm tone earlier in the evening, though they did at times attack the dinner crowd with screaming high-pitched tone peals. The previous night, drummer/producer Deantoni Parks also provided moments of great intensity with appreggi-heavy anti-climax (saw a few people trying and failing to move in time with his elusive rhythms). Unfortunately for me, I was late for harpist Mary Lattimore, but the few songs I heard were intricate, lush and charmingly unpredictable. Her and noise band Utter Nots, whom I missed altogether, I will have to try and catch another time.
Angel Olsen and her dapper surf-rock band mostly played material from her current folk departure, My Woman. What’s strange is that if she had performed her sparser earlier material, she might’ve fared better holding the audience’s attention. The new songs are deceptively simple growers, but they are mostly great because of her singing. Her voice is a bracing mix of dredging and skyward reaching, and a proper punch in the gut live. I was ready to hear her out, even accompanied by loping borrowed Pixies/My Morning Jacket hooks, but everyone else seemed over it in real time. They couldn’t have all been impatient Wolves In The Throne Room fans, who were waiting in the wings to take us through some aural medieval battles and aftermaths with their tech-metal mastery. Olsen and her band looked and sounded pretty (especially her Bryan Ferry-by-way-of-Kim Deal back-up singer/percussionist), but the material wasn’t nearly as arresting as, say, this. Still I count myself blessed to’ve stood there, even in the smeary sounding area near the stage, to bear witness to her undeniable greatness without a shouty convo smacking my periphery.
Wolves were pretty staggering, replete with synchronized head banging and a keyboard player tucked away stage left for better symmetry. They possessed more versatility than Cobalt and Bell Witch, maybe even better chops (hesitant to keep up this competitive thing, but with metal it seems appropriate), but the latter two metal bands still left more sizable impressions. Cobalt (from Denver) have roughly the same dynamic range (fast-slow-fast-super fast) but came off decidedly more authentic. Not that Wolves were at all false. You’d have to be going to some pretty shallow considerations to dismiss the lengthy onslaught they bestowed Friday night. They closed in an exhaustive, scorched-earth way I don’t get to see enough.
But Cobalt was like immersing in a metal realm not unlike what I’d first glimpsed in Wild at Heart or Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. That they were followed by wilting, tar-oozing doom duo Bell Witch, issuing forth a wondrous grey bog of moans, howls and monstrous low end, only added to the Valhalla Rising fantasia taking hold of the venue. Festival closers Explosions In The Sky emerged from this bog and planted a pristine flag of sanctimonious sorrow. And I’m left picturing that movie I haven’t seen with the belgian melanois marine and affecting Master Card ads, for better or worse.
I promised myself not to miss out on the poetry this time, and I’m very glad I didn’t. Hearing poetry makes most squirm, yes. But in that squirming is a sort of reconciliation with our tendency to obfuscate the artform’s ubiquity. Amber Tamblyn read her voracious prose in slam cadences and tonalities, but presented a subject (the tragic demises of child stars) that is usually fodder for tabloid tactlessness with both sensitivity and hard-won (Tamblyn was a child actor herself) irreverence. Her last poem was almost like a parody of those “women can be horny too” kind of provocations, cleverly cycling through abject lust and existential angst with a litanous wringing out and subversion of “Fuck me like…” analogies. It was a strong closer, and I would’ve been glad to hear her subsequent Q-and-A around the corner had Hank Wood not swooped in and swept me up in his yippy junkyard dog charisma. Genesis P-Orridge later appeared above us behind a sliding metal door and waxed delicate, despondent, and delirious, even when s/he invoked the name of a certain presidential candidate and we exhaled with rancorous approval. Accompanied by punctuating synth and percussion work by Edley O’Dowd, P-Orridge sickle-slashed both glib and lyrical homosapian home truths, a story whose meaning I couldn’t quite parse with an eerie sing-song chorus of “slowly, slowly” and a funny poem about addiction built around the musings of Kerouac and Burroughs (the glibly hilarious last line was a delightful end to the poem and set).
As usual, SoundScape had an abundance of music-adjacent stuff to check out beyond tempting food and merch. Steel works by Cal Lane nicely complimented the shadowy foundry. Heather Benjamin’s unrequited valentines lined the shrinking wall facing the bar area, daring lineups to the Sacred Bones table to take in their seething altogetherness. If, like me, you were too timid to engage in the gallery installation of sculpture/instruments by Bianca Hildenbrand, SIS and Timothy Severo, you can go here and take good ol’ (relatively) anonymous part.
2016 was another solid year for this oasis of an efficiently run, well appointed, and genuinely eclectic 2-day fest. It’s gotten so I couldn’t imagine going a year without it. Eclecticism does have a slight down side. A sort of strange bedfellows awkwardness can emerge. Elitism is still a thing, and it doesn’t quite take to naive curiosity. But one gets the sense that there is a bittersweet sort of live-and-let-live civility floating around the Basilica SoundScape audience. Not unlike ATP and Terrastock before it, the mood inhabits an ideal space between reverent and rowdy. With each passing year this place is making a stronger case for an attendee’s dominant comportment to come from a place of contentment and gratitude. Thanks to them, I already want it to be Spring 2017 (24-Hour Drone!), whatever the holy hell happens in the meantime.
6:30 The Utter Nots
7:00 Mary Lattimore
7:30 Deantoni Parks
8:15 Youth Code
9:00 Xylouris White
10:00 Angel Olsen
11:00 Wolves in the Throne Room
5:30 Amber Tamblyn
5:50p Saviour Self
6:25 Hank Wood & The Hammerheads
8:40 Cobalt (Main Hall)
9:30 Genesis P-Orridge & Edley O’Dowd
10:00 Bell Witch
11:00 Explosions in the Sky