HUDSON—Drones from the P.A. echoed through the cavernous Main Hall of Basilica Hudson on Saturday night. The light was dim. A neon sign—”Bar”—glowed red. The only really well lighted place was the merchandise table at the back of the Main Hall, which had a spotlight directed at it.
Now in its second year, SoundScape is a large event with a lot of moving parts. When Majical Cloudz—who took a brief detour from their day jobs as the opening act on Lorde’s North American tour to play at SoundScape—finished their set, people streamed out of the North Hall in all directions.
Some went to the courtyard, the BSS FoodScape, to order from Alimentary Kitchen, or from one of the food trucks (Spacey Tracy’s Deep Fried Pickles; the simply-labeled Pizza Truck), or to get a beer from the Lagunitas tent, or to smoke. Some went to the room off the courtyard holding the Bunnybrains fire sale, a sort of gallery and performance space where a woman with dark cropped hair played a white electric guitar in front of a line drawing of a bell-bottomed and puffy-shirted Hitler, eyes closed in musical ecstasy, playing either a small guitar or a ukulele. Some went into the Main Hall to get on the line for the restroom or to stake out the best spot for the next performances, a series of readings by Mira Gonzalez, Mish Way, and Meredith Graves. Some browsed at the Spotty Dog book table near the entrance.
Many went to the bar advertised by the neon sign. It was in a room off to the side of the Main Hall. Large open windows connected the two spaces. Lamps that emerged from bases made out of chairs and metal pipes lighted the room, along with candles. There was a pervasive smell of plastic-cupped beer warming in people’s hands.
One of the main features of Basilica Hudson is that it is not one space. It is a compound. There is the bar, the Main Hall, the North Hall, the courtyard, and at least one smaller building off the courtyard. Even the Main Hall has nooks and crannies, which allow for several simultaneous or near-simultaneous performances. A small room at stage right had soundless and unidentified movies projected on a wall: shots of a computer store on Meserole Avenue in Brooklyn, someone scrambling eggs, someone slicing an octopus on a cutting board, half-naked women posing in front of a green screen for a photographer. There were two small benches on either side of the room, but most people just paused by the door to watch for a few seconds before moving on.
“Hey, everybody—it’s really weird up here,” said Mira Gonzalez from a sort of balcony off of a second floor that seemed to double as a green room for the performers. It was an open square high in the brick wall of the main space. People looked around, unsure where the voice was coming from. “I can’t see any of you. I’m going to read you some poetry,” said Gonzalez.
She proceeded to read short poems from her iPhone about doing drugs, awkward sex and the failure to motivate oneself to eat healthier. Or possibly the failure of health to make itself an appealing concept—an aggressive stance against health. Or possibly just absurdist half-thoughts that bordered on stand-up comedy.
“Ice cream is vegan,” Gonzalez said. “The deep shame you feel after eating ice cream is vegan.” She punctuated all of her poems with mischievous grins and occasional giggles. At one point, she asked the audience, “Is anybody here from Los Angeles?” There was a small but hearty response from the crowd, which looked to the balcony with rapt faces tilted at 45-degree angles.
Karen Schoemer of the Spotty Dog was behind the store’s book table. She said that the Spotty Dog’s association with SoundScape began when she provided copies of Richard Hell’s book for his reading at last year’s event. “I’m going [to the concert] anyway, I might as well bring some books,” she said. “The festival really puts originality first, not selling tickets.” Which is not to say that the organizers did a bad job of selling tickets—the event was sold out.
Asked if she thought the event brought a different demographic to Hudson, Ms. Schoemer responded, “Not so much. It’s just more. [Basilica] is showing that there’s an audience for really interesting stuff.”
The non-traditional venue space allowed the concert’s organizers—Brandon Stousy of online music magazine Pitchfork, Brian De Ran of Leg Up Management, and Basilica Hudson creative directors Melissa Auf Der Maur and Tony Stone—to create some interesting ways around the persistent problem of long gaps between sets while one band breaks down its equipment and the next band sets up. In between the sets of Deafheaven and Swans, Greg Fox appeared behind his drum kit at the same balcony space where the triumvirate of readers had been stationed. He performed an extended drum solo, eliciting screams of encouragement and gasps of awe. After a bow, a metal door slid across the opening of the balcony.
“I have never been to a better-run event. I’ve been to Venice where they had one porta-potty. I never had to wait more than four minutes for anything here,” said concertgoer Mike Simmonds.
The chalky smell of the fog machine drifted over the crowd as San Francisco-based band Deafheaven took the stage. “Come close, close, close,” said George Clarke, the band’s singer. He looked at the crowd with wide wild eyes and, extending his arms, made beckoning motions with his hands. The crowd began to chant along: “Close, close, close.”
Swans and Deafheaven, the final two acts of the night, both relied in part on volume. It is music felt in the ribcage and gut as much as it is heard. On the surface, it might seem that neither band plays dance music. But there was a significant mosh pit for metal-influenced Deafheaven. And something about the hypnotic high volume repetitions of Swans forced people to find a way to dance. With flailed arms, jerked shoulders, and strange jigs, people were moving. Some simply rocked back and forth heel to toe, seeming to be unaware that they were moving at all.
Deafheaven’s Clarke feigns the motions of a conductor, but the band seems like they would have no trouble playing the songs without his movements. In Swans, singer Michael Gira conducts the band, sometimes swinging the neck of his guitar, sometimes flapping his arms or jumping across the stage.
Deafheaven is a much younger band than Swans, who released their first recordings before the members of Deafheaven were born. But Swans played for over two hours, twice as long as Deafheaven. As the crowd wandered to the parking lot and up Front Street after the show, one man, who was much closer in age to the members of Deafheaven, said, “I thought that Swans was awesome, it’s just that I was so tired.”
Swans ended their set as they began—with a beat-less crescendo of earthshaking noise. Then the band gathered at the front of the stage for a triple bow. “Thank you very much. That’s it,” said Gira. But that wasn’t quite it—he asked the audience to visit the merchandise table, and they obliged.