Kingston After Dark: New Mountaintops

Moor Mother. (photo by Chris Sikich)

Basilica Soundscape is one of our territorial micro-festivals that I have mentioned on a fairly regular annual basis since I started writing this column for the lovely Kingston Times. To get right to the point, the music, arts and literature fest in nearby Hudson is one of the dopest and most sharply curated annual occurrences you’re going to find on American soil. From Friday, Sept. 15th through the entire weekend you can see some of the most boundary-pushing, upcoming or outspoken artists in the fields of music, conceptual sound, performance art and more. Basilica reminds me of the hushed stories and knowing winks exchanged whenever people used to bring up the old Woodstock arts colony days, when fresh ideas and a less-jaded approach found creators coming to the Hudson Valley and throwing their psyches into the freedom fight for human consciousness.

Past installments of Soundscape have found the likes of Pharmakon, Richard Hell, Perfume Genius, Swans and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle fame performing, and this year’s line-up remains just as exciting as yesterday’s endeavors. “As always we are striving to create an immersive pilgrimage to the Hudson Valley, where the rural, industrial and urban collide. Dive into exceptional local food, freaky pop-ups, camping, Hudson River School sunsets, and of course the delightfully haunted City of Hudson!” says festival directress and Hudson Valley dwelling alternative rock star Melissa Auf der Maur.

Each year, even an underground music snob like myself always discovers a few acts I didn’t know before and this year I am really excited to learn more about Moor Mother in particular. The sort of DJ/chillwave/true hip hop hybrid baby of Camae Ayewa, Moor Mother has a ton of material on Bandcamp I have been diving into since discovering her name. It almost reminds me of a sort of Afrofuturist DJ Shadow or something where you can zone the F out to great beats and samples in perpetuity while also getting wave after wave of social justice messages embedded in the at times minimal, at times funky or even emotionally painful collages of sound and rhythm. I have been particularly enjoying “New Mountain Tops,” an inspiring yet simultaneously depressing sort of mini-poem jazzy 1:44 number from what I assume is her earliest release Alpha Serpentis. It reminds that no matter what mountains we climb there are always new struggles but we also must savor our personal, political or creative victories.

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Other highlights this year include rising indie stars Priests; premiere New York black metallers Yellow Eyes, a band which delivers a staggering combination of lo-fi aesthetics and the expulsion of emotional baggage through the most answers-seeking, anarchic, immediate and intense form of heavy metal; readings by Patty Schemel and Amy Rose Spiegel; or the soul-baring spiritual and ambient fearlessness of “gospel occultist” Serpentwithfeet. While of course being an opinionated person there are bands yet to play I would love to see involved some year (VOWWS, King Woman, Norway’s Shining) Basilica is so good consistently that anyone ho-humming about any given roster extremely petty. I am sure Zola Jesus’ Saturday 11:15 p.m. performance alone will live on as the stuff of legend and be an excellent way for Nicole Hummel to really start kicking off celebrations for her latest marvel of an experimental electropop release Okovi. I am wondering if cellist Shannon Kennedy will be joining her, as they make quite a team on some of the new record.

As someone who has been singing in bands or writing about music and pop culture for two decades, it’s really moving to know that our own backyard provides a refuge every year for some of the most meaningful performers in the world. Some of these people only ever flirt with the mainstream but are likely miles above your problematic favorites in the entertainment industry in raw talent and what they put into their art. I have just started transitioning male to female and am preparing to start work on several new releases under my performance name Walking Bombs as well. As I’ve been entering into a pre-creative or personal growth chrysalis, it’s been awesome to hear material as powerful as Zola Jesus song “Soak” or to revisit Thou’s punishing Heathen album to bask in the sensual dirge of “Free Will” — pure uncontained catharsis art that knows beyond a doubt that time and decisions are finite and important. Music and art should engage our attention like a good lover, a long lost friend or an oasis of water in a wasteland. It shouldn’t be formulaic background music to distract from the dying and unsustainable vanity of empire.

Watching TV lately as we all circle the drain of denial as seven gazillion hurricanes bigger than God erput at once and nuclear war with North Korea remains very much a thing, it gives me much needed hope to help patch up my ragged insides to see brave art that treasures communication and visiting bold places. Be it Soundscape or my editor gushing about the Twin Peaks finale, we need that kind of third-eye opening reality checking right now before we quite literally drown in our sins. Check out basilicahudson.org/soundscape for more about the festival.

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