Freak Scene: Basilica and New York’s Weird Music Scene

August 24, 2012

Today is my last day as a full time employee at The FADER. I'll still be contributing regularly on a freelance basis and this column will continue, but it's causing some serious introspection. You know the kind where you look at your tenure at a job as a lens through which to view all your life changes? No? Maybe? It's what I'm doing, so I'm just naturally assuming that it's a universal thing. When I first started working at The FADER, it wasn't uncommon to see Black Dice play in giant venues like Webster Hall. Excepter too. "Difficult" music, (whatever that means) happened in conventional spaces. It was weird and exciting and barely made sense, but it meant something. Not just to me, but to enough people that it eventually catapulted Animal Collective into national consciousness.

It felt like the Basilica Music Festival, put on in conjunction with Pitchfork and Leg Up! Management, was trying to reclaim some part of that. It's hard to put a finger on what part it was trying to reclaim. That grimy weirdness that this city is so good at fostering? The sense of reckless experimentation that so many bands that have come through this place have taken pleasure in? Both? I missed the first day, which was devoted to plenty of amazing metal—but I attended on Saturday and found that supposedly lost spirit still alive in full force.

The event took place in an old factory with cavernous ceilings and massive old windows. It's a gorgeous space perfect for both the weirdest of the weird and the most conventionally beautiful music around. Saturday night found a comfortable middle point. Beginning the night of music was Blanko & Noiry, a Lynchian performance featuring what basically amounted to an older dude singing in a disquieting baritone over gorgeously dark ambient music made by a couple people in robes. It was as bizarre as things got—enough that I'm not exactly sure how much I enjoyed it. There's a point where the disconnect between what an artist intends and what an audience gets out of it gets too large, and that happened here for me. I just couldn't connect. The biggest surprise of the night, though, was Hiro Kone, who built her set on thick pop music that breezed across the huge room—I'm tempted to say it was stoic but there was something unhinged about her performance as well.

With the exception of Prince Rama, who played the tightest set I've ever seen from them, the rest of the night was devoted to New York veterans Gang Gang Dance, who, every time I see them, get better at figuring out the parts of their music that people love the most and then drawing them out into full songs and Psychic Paramount, who blanketed the entire room in such thick smoke that you couldn't see more than a few inches in front of you. It was loud and fully immersive. I think when this nebulous dark period of New York music is talked about, Psychic Paramount are a band that best represents that era. It's not difficult to listen to, but it's confrontational.

What I came away with is that whatever anyone might think is missing from New York's experimental music scene...they're not wrong, but they're not right either. It's just bubbling slightly under the surface, pushing against restraints, ready to be brought to the world's attention so it can be awkwardly thrust onto a too big stage, and the real weirdness can begin.

From The Collection:

Freak Scene
Freak Scene: Basilica and New York’s Weird Music Scene