Various venues, The Hague
Easter weekend saw thousands flock to The Hague where interdisciplinary arts, music and culture festival Rewire staged its 12th edition. Venues spanning the Dutch city played host to a variety of gigs, exhibitions and club nights. These – in accordance with Rewire’s cutting-edge reputation – offered the chance to indulge in some of the best avant-garde music from across the globe, including a range of world premieres and specially-commissioned collaborations.
With such a rich and extensive itinerary on offer, no two persons’ experiences could have mimicked one another. Talks covering themes like ‘instrumental ecologies’, ‘times & territories’, and ‘environmental listening’ were held at exhibition space and de facto Rewire HQ The Grey Space in the Middle. The gallery spaces of dazzling cultural centre Amare were occupied by projects produced by the likes of audio-visual experimentalist Amos Peled whose instrument took the form of an ultrasound machine, and Mexico-born Vica Pacheco whose practice deploys both the pre-Hispanic whistling vessel and digital techniques to present the symbiosis between ancient ritual and contemporary technology.
Though it was easy to feel overwhelmed by the programme’s density, concerns of missing out were overridden by the realisation that it was, in fact, impossible not to be in the right place at the right time; and the ease with which you could drift between venues allowed for the potential of true discovery. Having said that, certain shows did require forward planning, as the draw of artists such as French ambient extraordinaire Malibu and former Crack Magazine cover star Fever Ray were disproportionate to the capacity of their locations.
Equally as anticipated was the world premiere of Correspondences – a collaborative project between experimental sound art group Soundwalk Collective and legendary poet and fusion artist Patti Smith – which could be enjoyed in two different forms across the course of the weekend. Ahead of the performance, Smith and Soundwalk Collective founder Stephan Crasneanscki discussed the art of listening in the acoustics of the seventeenth century Nieuwe Kerk Baroque church. Later on, they appeared in Amare’s impressive Danstheater auditorium during what was the weekend’s most poignant performance. To a visual accompaniment of grainy film depicting debris and disfigured instruments in neon colour, and an aural backdrop of eerie dissonant field recording, Smith’s sermonic voice lamented the impact of Chernobyl’s nuclear disaster: “We used to have the best music school in the world/ And now the piano’s no longer playing“. Ruminations on climate change were soundtracked by the gradual chipping of a metre-long block of ice which, though somewhat overt in its symbolism, was hooked up to an amplifier, allowing its sound to echo poignantly around the auditorium.
Whilst esoteric performances such as this created the space for contemplation through more traditional means, the night programme came with the promise of transcendence through collective euphoria. On Saturday night, the two rooms of event space PAARD played host to some of the line-up’s biggest names throughout the weekend. One of these was Canadian post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor who played an extended set to a tenterhooks crowd, suitably primed by AD93 signees Moin who had made equal use of effect pedals and channelled a similarly insular energy throughout their show just before.
Later on, the evening took a marked turn towards the future. Highlights included hotly-tipped Bristol newcomer Sarahsson whose high-theatrics rendition of her debut album The Horgenaith saw her deploy the obscure daxophone instrument to spellbinding effect. But as far as theatrics go, the following show from Alto Arc made anything else seem remarkably discreet. In another world premiere, a hammer horror-esque performance from the supergroup comprising Deafheaven frontman George Clarke, hyperpop giant Danny L Harle, Hundred Waters’ Trayer Tyron and make-up artist Isamaya Ffrench was complete with operatics, fake blood and fireworks, and remained on the tip of people’s tongues for the rest of the weekend.
In close competition, however, for the title of the festival’s most memorable performance was Sunday night’s closing set from R&B experimentalist Kelela. To an ecstatic crowd, she elegantly commanded the stage, reminding us why her long-overdue comeback was worth the wait. Between tracks from her latest album Raven and classics from previous releases Take Me Apart and Hallucinogen, she meditated on the toxic masculine tendency towards emotional stuntedness, and how the trait that connects Kelela fans is their desire to wear their hearts on their sleeves. “If you see someone; say something. Okay?” she ordered with a mischievous smile. As crowd members clutched their companions and some shed tears, it couldn’t have been a better end to a weekend that offered an enriching and engaging experience emotionally, mentally and culturally.