Festival Review: Hitting The Hague for Rewire 2018

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As noted in our preview piece, Rewire is defined as a “festival for adventurous music” – and so 2018’s edition proved. Indeed, even getting to Rewire can be an adventure. Our last visit to The Hague involved an overnight ferry from Harwich, while this time we took one of London’s first ever direct trains to Amsterdam via Eurostar. Considering the festival organisers invited artists from every continent this year, ours was probably one of the simpler routes leading to Rewire 2018. Regardless of which route they took, each artist brought their own individual artistry with them, resulting in a truly unique festival experience.

To give you an idea of just how broad Rewire’s remit is, in a single hour on the opening night we managed to catch a bit of Brazilian baile funk, a smidgen of Slovenian free-folk, and a fierce set of Philadelphian afro-futurism, courtesy of Lyzza, Širom and MHYSA respectively. Even more remarkably, that was the second time we’d seen MHYSA that evening – she’d earlier opened the festival alongside lawd knows as SCRAAATCH, who performed a DJ set so fierce and anarchic, replete with the sound of sirens and smashing glass, that it felt like 3am straight away. Quite a start.

Fatima Al Qadiri provided a much needed breather after that. Indeed, the Kuwaiti artist sat through her own Ja7eem set, taking the best seat in the house to watch Emmanuel Biard’s visual accompaniment from the stage. While some seemed disappointed at the lack of stage action and largely beat-less music, we found the mixture of atmospheric synths, Arabic vocal samples and enthusiastic use of a smoke machine totally engrossing.

Following more synthelicious explorations courtesy of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, it was time for our favourite batacuda-loving Italians Ninos Du Brasil to get pulses racing again. Bedecked in tinsel and silver face-paint, the duo started with a bang and never let the intensity drop for a second after that. The crowd, enlivened by the frenetic live percussion and skull-crushing bass, responded in kind. “We are all Ninos Du Brasil” enthused the band from the stage (although we don’t know whether anyone used their newfound membership to try and get backstage afterwards). Definitely one of the highlights of the festival, if there is a more energetic live act out there right now then we want to see them.

That set began at midnight, after which all the Rewire action takes place entirely within the Paard van Troje venue, which boasts two separate rooms (both with fearsomely loud sound systems), several bars and even a vegan grill. You can actually buy tickets just for the post-midnight period – and those doing so were rewarded by several powerful sets. Highlights from the blurrier ends of Friday and Saturday included a relentlessly jacking techno set from Karen Gwyer, an equally pulsating live solo performance from Floating Points, an irrepressible dancefloor workout with Deena Abdelwahed, a punishing volley of volume from Lanark Artefax, and a truly titanic set from Discwoman’s Ziúr.

James Holden & The Animal Spirits at Rewire 2018

James Holden & The Animal Spirits at Rewire 2018

Paard saw plenty of pre-midnight delights over the weekend too, including the expressionistic noise of post-punk supergroup UUUU, a somewhat hot-and-cold appearance by Panda Bear and an almost perfect performance by SUUNS, which was only slightly marred by a brief delay following the partial destruction of a snare drum. The venue’s high point though (and arguably the high point of Rewire 2018 overall) came courtesy of James Holden & The Animal Spirits.

The Exeter-born artist’s style has broadened hugely since the fidgety techno of his Border Community debut The Idiots Are Winning, and this performance emphasised that development. Sat on a magic carpet covered in synths and surrounded by a talented crew of musicians and percussionists, Holden drew on everything from free jazz to minimalism for a performance full of heart, soul and a heavy dose of psychedelics. The only times it sounded anything other than sensational was when it tipped into the the truly transcendental. If you think that sounds like hyperbole then seek out James Holden & The Animal Spirits at the next available opportunity and see for yourself.

On Sunday Paard offered only two performances, but both brought a touch of Egyptian artistry to Rewire 2018. First Nadah El Shazly produced a dynamically agile vocal performance as she played tracks from last year’s engrossing Ahwar album. A hypnotic version of ‘Palmyra’ proved the set’s highlight, its alluring microtonal keyboard riff snaking between her drummer’s virtuoso fills.

An equally adept ensemble then took over in the form of Maryam Saleh, Maurice Louca, Tamer Abu Ghazaleh and friends. Alongside El Shazly, the group are something of a who’s who of the Cairo underground, and the broad smiles on stage between songs reflected not only their own enjoyment, but that of the audience. A perfect way to bring proceedings at Paard to a close.

Vicky Chow at Rewire 2018

While Paard was Rewire 2018’s most conventional music venue (even if the performances hosted there were anything but), some of the festival’s other sites were as imaginative as the music they contained. The most stunning was De Electriciteitsfabriek, a former power plant since converted into a cavernous arts space.

Strolling from the sunny street into this imposing industrial space immediately gave you a chill (quite literally – it was a few degrees colder inside than out), and further shivers were sent up the spine by Canadian pianist Vicky Chow. Her epic collaboration with Tristan Perich saw her playing his piece ‘Surface Image’, a composition for solo piano and 1-bit electronics. As forty miniature speakers around her shifted from single tones to a cascading whirlwind of bleeps, Chow flowed between them with a mind-boggling dexterity, although it was the tender, spacious phrasing in the final passage that truly pierced our hearts.

The theatre complex Koorenhuis, which had played host to the stunning but sadly oversubscribed Širom performance on Friday, also benefited from some piano magic. Tom Rogerson, fresh from the release of his Eno-enhanced debut Finding Shore, offered an earnest and emotive selection from his songbook. Clearly proud to be playing in front of his pregnant wife as they expect their first child, the warmth in the room gave a Sunday-friendly afternoon set a further glow.

More light (and heat) was thrown onto Rewire 2018 a little later when Juliana Huxtable premiered her Triptych beneath a giant disco ball, providing a striking contrast with the grand interior of the 13th century Grote Kerk. Flanked by a glamorous harpist and topless drummer, Huxtable’s repeated phrases about wormholes and desire managed to hit home, despite occasionally being obscured by the echoing environment.

Sadly this issue also affects the Rewire’s nominal headliner, the legendary Laurie Anderson, for whom the queue was so long that it went halfway around the Grote Kerk itself. Opening by asking the entire audience to scream for a full ten seconds, Anderson promised an evening not just of music but of stories – indeed she defined the despair of the post-Trump era as that of a population “drowning in stories”.

While her affable but commanding presence was magnetic, and her words full of wit and wisdom, too many of those words were lost as they bounced around the cavernous church. Maybe it was just where we were sat, on the flagstones adjacent to the stage owing to all the seats being taken, but those unintelligible moments couldn’t help but but impair our ability to fully immerse ourselves in the performance.

Laurie Anderson at Rewire 2018

Laurie Anderson at Rewire 2018

Still, aside from the occasional overcrowding that meant we missed most of Širom and all of the much-anticipated FAKA, that was one of the only complaints possible to throw at a truly visionary festival. Rewire 2018 cemented the event’s status as one of the world’s most forward-thinking celebrations of music in all its expressive diversity and creative possibility. By boat, train, tram, plane or intergalactic flying saucer, as long as they keep putting it on, we’ll keep coming.

Kier Wiater Carnihan

by Editor
April 12, 2018

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