- One of the beautiful things about Rewire is its size: it's small but perfectly formed and timetabled to a tee. This year it took place over three days at seven venues in The Hague, all within walking distance of each other, and programmed in such a way that if you were smart you could almost see everything. Like other festivals of its kind, Rewire uses whatever tools it has at its disposal. The venues are theatres, ancient churches, modern gig spaces and museum lecture rooms—and they've been different every year. The music, on the other hand, has been constant throughout its six editions, with conceptual concerts by day and club shows at night.
For 2016, Rewire added another string to its bow: commissions. There were five in total, beginning on the Friday in the Grote Kerk, one of the oldest buildings in the city, with Mica Levi's haunting Under The Skin soundtrack performed by the Berlin-based ensemble Stargaze. Kara-Lis Coverdale, a church organist and kaleidoscopic composer, played in the smaller Lutherse Kerk, closing off her performance with a piece written specifically for that venue's organ. The set itself was a little too free-wheeling and uncentered, but its religious undertone was potent, sitting, as we were, straight-backed in pews in an antiquated place of worship.
Next was Chris Watson's The Sound Sanctuary, an installation that transported us to the remote and unspoilt region of the Amber Mountain Rainforest in Madagascar. Eyes closed, we tuned into a 40-minute time-lapse of an eerily musical teeming jungle. Closing the night was a colourful concert of Gnawa music from Morocco, led by Maalem Houssam—son of legendary Gnawa master, Maalem Mahmoud Guinia—together with James Holden. It was hard to tell what exactly the Border Community boss was doing up on stage, but the troupe, decked in traditional garb and bursting with exuberance, was a delight in itself.
The cybernetics-inspired club program kicked off in a crush in Paard II. It was wall-to-wall for Jlin and just as tight a squeeze for Mykki Blanco. The floor had freed up a bit by the time Total Freedom took to the stage, who delivered a searing pastiche of R&B and pop alongside much darker, spikier club beats. Rihanna morphed into blistering jungle without a bat of an eyelid; it was one of the best DJ sets of the weekend. Peverelist brought Friday night to a spacious, smokey close. Truss was superb on Saturday, jacking things right up to a sweaty marching pace with the odd dip into The Hague's Bunker heritage. He picked up where Not Waving had let off after bowing out on "Work Talk," a ravey analogue banger off of his recent LP. Factory Floor DJ'd in between, keeping the cold wave and post-punk juices flowing.
In addition to commissions, Rewire boasted a number of rare performances. Gazelle Twin played her latest piece, Kingdom Come, which had only been shown once before at FutureEverything in Manchester. We stumbled into this one, confused to see two hooded figures grunting into microphones in front of a set of treadmills. But as the soundtrack kicked in and the vocals evolved, it became one of the weekend's highlights. Lakker premiered their newest work, Struggle & Emerge, an audio-visual piece based on the archives of the Netherlands Institute For Sound And Vision. Holland's tempestuous and inextricable relationship with water was the subject. The result was a complex and circuitous route through sunny, bass-heavy dancehall into harsher more abstract noise and techno. But as ever with Lakker, melodies prevailed, made, in this case, from noise. It was another masterful live performance from the duo.
That followed a commissioned performance from Vessel, Black Rain and Pete Swanson. Musically it was a seamless (and loud) union of three very different musicians, but watching the trio perform in their own idiosyncratic manner was a bit awkward: Swanson would be rocking out hard and wire juggling, Argabright would do something theatrical and floaty with his hands (in between spells with his guitar) while Gainsborough was pushing buttons and giving us a bit of a hip wiggle now and then. Roly Porter and MFO's collaboration was more symbiotic. The visual artist had mapped out the Subtext man's end-of-days composition with rain-streaked scenes of bleak terrain. The set ended in a cataclysm of strobe lights.
This was the first year that Rewire rolled out into Sunday, which concluded with Xiu Xiu performing a sensationalist version of the Twin Peaks soundtrack back at the Grote Kerk. It was also the first time a the festival had a conference element. The Sound Of Story added a bulk of artist talks to the bill of workshops, panels and masterclasses happening throughout the weekend. I made a point of listening to Nicolas Becker tumultuously dissect some of his projects and recording methods—like capturing the silence of space by swallowing microphones for his part in the 2013 film Gravity. You could also learn how Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith works her Buchla synth, or get a crash course in Arduino. When it comes to festivals in the Netherlands, we're truly spoilt for choice—once the season hits its stride you can be at a pretty decent one just about every weekend. But Rewire is an excellent choice for anyone with adventurous music tastes and a bit of a nerdy streak.
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