Amare concert hall
Since launching in 2011, The Hague’s Rewire Festival has been slowly building a reputation as one of Europe’s go-to destinations for forward-thinking and exploratory music of all shades and colours.
More or less kicking off the festival season in early April, the four-day event is a chance for train-spotting musos and card-carrying club anoraks to look forward to the year ahead and take stock. The line-up is diverse and genre-crossing – the only common thread being a commitment to experimentalism and creativity across the board. In stark contrast to the summer’s festivals, where who’s playing is often less important than which friends are going, at Rewire the focus is unflinchingly on the music. There are no muddy fields, portaloos or collapsing tents to be found here; instead, the festival takes place across a network of concert halls, churches and pristine gallery spaces – all venues that demand your quiet and considered attention.
The core festival programme opens on Friday with a gentle bang: the Dutch premiere of Japanese sound and light artist Ryoji Ikeda’s new percussion installation, 100 cymbals. It is exactly as described: a vast 10×10 grid of cymbals – equidistant and at equal height – spaced evenly across the grand stage at the Amare concert hall. Players move precisely across the space in a rigid patterned formation like lights on a step sequencer, generating soft droning tones with a pair of cushioned mallets as they go. It’s a drastic acoustic inversion of Ikeda’s usual approach, which sees raw data manipulated to synthesise abstract and often harsh patterns of noise and light. The needling, digital tones of his best known works are here replaced by washes of gentle organic ambience, which softly and successfully lull the Amare’s vast 1500 seat theatre into a stupefied silence.
Exiting the venue with our brains rewired for what’s in store, we’re set loose to explore the city, armed with a map and a timetable detailing a dizzying schedule of performances, talks, installations, pop-ups, dance workshops and drop-ins taking place across a dozen or more venues. It’s a format that has become increasingly popular in recent years, with city festivals like Unsound, Semibreve, CTM and Crack Magazine’s own Simple Things offering an opportunity for revellers to roam the streets and tumble into venues in search of something new and exciting to listen to.
On the first night, the prize for the most new and exciting act is handed firmly to Hyperdub artist AYA, who brings her totally unique brand of Mancunian club witchery to the dark back room at Paard. This is uncompromisingly contemporary music, and for all its abrasiveness and eccentricity, it’s also fun. Even above the deafening noise of her barrel-rolling, backflipping beats, it’s her voice – her vitriolic humour and personality – that shines through, and it’s impossible not to be won over by her charms.
Strangely, something of AYA’s future-facing experimentalism is mirrored across generations by one of Saturday evening’s highlights: Meredith Monk, who performs pieces from her 1983 science fiction opera, The Games. Although written four decades apart and (perhaps) for very different audiences, the similarities are striking. Here are two women pushing the boundaries of innovative music; both manipulating their voices to twisted extremes, and with the aim of documenting the theatre of modern life at its most dystopian and absurd.
At times across the weekend the fatigue of listening to more esoteric sounds sets in, at which points it becomes important to decompress. Club sets by Kode9, Jana Rush and TSVI provide well-timed moments of release, showing that a good beat and some big bass-bins are still amongst the most revolutionary musical tools available to us. On the Sunday morning we decide to rent bikes and cycle to the beach. Sat under the ageing ferris wheel on the windy pier, the magic of city festivals like Rewire is clear: set against the humdrum backdrop of everyday life, the radical creativity being celebrated here feels more groundbreaking than ever.
Cycling back to the city, we return to where we started to watch Grouper at the Amare. She looks small as she enters the grand stage silently and without fanfare, hidden from view under the peak of her cap. But soon, her dense, distorted guitar tones and half-buried vocals fill the auditorium like a dense fog. Once again the vast room slips communally into a meditative, soporific state, carried away by the transportive and transcendent power of music: something that Rewire celebrates at every turn.