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Things Learned At: Rewire Festival
Richard Foster , November 11th, 2014 15:10

Richard Foster heads down to Rewire in The Hague, the Netherlands for a cutting edge event for those wanting an alternative to seeing rock's corpse given a fresh slap of mascara.  

The avant garde isn't always up its own arse

The Hague's Rewire festival promotes itself as a showcase of cutting edge sights and sounds; regularly booking artists that play the "high cultcha"/theatre circuit alongside challenging club acts like Lee Gamble and Ital. With that concept comes a certain amount of baggage; and the weary cynic could see the whole enterprise as a bunch of disparate gigs set up as Grande Masques for state-funded highbrow nights out, with the (inevitable) post-post-industrial setting used as a sort of memento mori cum extreme unction for comfortable living.

In this light the festival's opening salvo, a collaboration between audio visual madman Herman Kolgen & Belgian percussion ensemble BL!NDMAN, in the cavernous, hulking shell of the old E.ON Electriciteitsfabriek (a bloody great power station) could be seen as an instance of well-mannered slumming. But it was always risky to get a load of prosperous "Haagse" Burgers in their best dress-downs (and high school kids unlucky enough to be told they're watching high art on a Friday night) to sit in a freezing, post-industrial monolith to watch a load of clattering and pipe banging and brain frying visuals. It is also fair to point out that these sorts of musical swap deals, or deliberate attempts to shock don't always work; so when they do it can be an incredibly refreshing experience. Dutch free noise/jazz/drone project DNMF hammered the small hall of the Paard van Troije club into submission with a gig that could have soundtracked a power brunch by Thor & Odin; their full-on space rock tempered by Ur-Coltrane sax blurts. Jozef van Wissem's otherworldly gig (during which he managed, using only a lute, to blow out his monitor twice over) was another special moment.

Mention must also be made of Cabaret Contemporain, a French band* whose description and promo films have yours truly reaching for the sick bag earlier in the week. When they begin to lay down their ridiculously catchy, pulsating non-funk up in the main hall of the Paard, they come on like a pre Ralf & Florian Kraftwerk, a groovy Organisation kicking out the jams. When was the last time you cut some rug to a double double bass attack? That's right, never. Whilst watching things like this it strikes me that the festival provides enough mental space for the punter to think about what their reaction to this eclectic music was, rather than being battered with a load of "unmissable headliner" gigs.  

*However much they try, however much they want to, however much it assuages their ambition, I'm not calling them by their preferred moniker, multidisciplinary collective.

It's great to dig the Hyperdub club

I'm a paid up members of Hyperdub's fan club; maybe because of (rather than in spite of) the fact I don't like half the music they put out. There's something cheeky about their worldview that is constantly refreshing. And this "10th anniversary tour" showcase in the Paard van Troije, with three brain frying gigs, sums that irreverence up to a tee. First we revel in copeland's music, with its ghostly suggestions and ever shifting moods. Copeland's gig is truly, truly out there; a soundtrack to an inner, "floating world" that was mystifying and unsettling. Her laconic way of switching pace and tempo is remarkable to watch; a slight, elfin figure gently changing the feel or weight of the sound; turning her back to the audience, spitting out lyrics in Russian, creating a gig that, by increment, adds up to something incredibly special.

Cooly G's set is another shift of gear that adds sweat and pheromone to the room's collective headspace; a pulsating, sumptuous and brazen display, rammed full of sex thoughts. There is an up-tempo "bump" to the gig, and a hard-edged playfulness about the bass lines in particular; a music that twitches on wires that used to be plugged into Clinton and Collins. Just when things couldn't get any more celebratory, Kode9 comes on and, with a mixture of old fashioned Big Top showmanship and trickster sensibility, seized the sweating crowd by the jugular, and hammered them into submission with a set that doesn't drop its pace for over an hour.

This is acerbic and witty dance music, appealing to heads and hips; a leftfield sound employing just the right sort of modulations of beat. The crowd are hypnotised into acting out a sort of communal, unthinking Vitus dance, enacting the sort of shit Gurdjieff and Adorno used to bang on about a century ago. Shamefully, your correspondent (taking full advantage of copeland's generosity with her rum ration and Cooly G's with her fags) cut some rug in his bare socks and did the Rumba most badly and publicly; nearly putting his back out in the process.

I'm still not sure what ambient is

Maybe that's the point. It's probably another musical extension of where the shaman decrees the magic will take place, in whatever form. Rewire stokes this confusion by hosting three remarkable performers in the romantic fug of the old Barthkapel. First on the bill is Lee Noble, whose 'Play At Home' sound can catch you out with unexpected melodic twists and romantic swells; something that belies his cottage industry pitch. This mix of understated approach and all-encompassing sentiment means that Noble can charm the birds from the trees. Studiously bent over their table full of gadgetry, he and his partner in crime look like two teachers setting up the Nature Table, rather than the trailblazing sonic wizards they are. By contrast, Norway's Void of Sound – known to his mother as Sigurd Borge Kristoffersen - left little to suggestion. Huge growls and groans of sound swell and ebb; filling every cranny of the creaky old venue, as well as our frontal lobes.

This pulsating set of invocations to the Melancholy and Isolation of Modern Youth were summed up by the backing film; in which a presentable young lady walked round a deserted Oslo with a boom mic in her hand, looking confused. It made sense. Sort of. Finally those present are knocked down with the metaphorical feather, courtesy of a command performance by Noveller. Boy, is Sarah Lipstate some talent. Pulling rock shapes that would make Jimmy Page blush, Noveller created a set of shimmering soundscapes with a ruthlessly poppy edge. I say ruthless because there is something incredibly forceful in her explorations of sound; this romantic music is here to cut you with its sharpness, to hook you in. And Lipstate is akin to some Rusalka for the digital age, leading you down to the water's edge to drown you, using sweet music. There's something in the simple, direct way she holds her guitar that reminds this old codger of Robin Guthrie; as well as the way a strong melody line was balanced against a suggestive, punky sensibility.

Laptops a GoGo!

Is taking in 6 hours of laptoppery and found sounds before you've had your dinner a feasible thing, or does that way lie madness? Rewire's day programme at the café cum performance space, Zaal 3 / Studio Loos incorporated loads of music; as well as earnest discussions based round approaches to making sound that can now be classed as music. I'm sure that in the future, people much cleverer than me will be able to sum up this past decade's mass impulse to make music or (or non-music) from sounds "liberated" from traditional assumptions of what we use to create our aural entertainment. What is clear to your befuddled correspondent is that, regardless of all the intellectual confusion that surrounds whatever the fuck we are all currently listening to, a day programme boasting ridiculously uncompromising laptop & electronic bric a brac gigs by Klara Lewis, KRK, Wanda Group, Geritz & Kaffa and Valerio Tricoli was mind-blowing.

Each one of these gigs is a special, singular performance in its own particular way; each letting the audience grasp (and maybe understand) a different refraction of light from this particular sonic prism. Lewis' use of beautiful and warm linearity against surprisingly jarring elements, Wanda Group's application of pressure through granular, grating white noise, KRK's brutal fusion of old and new instruments and Geritz & Kaffa's thoughtful sifts of sound are all elements of a wider whole. A special mention must go to the crackling, Gothicke echo chamber that Valerio Tricoli created; a Piranesi-like vision that uses old tape reels and a lot of pedals and gadgets that I don't know the name of; the sort of stuff you'd find in your dad's shed on the allotment. The chatter and murmur of the dislocated voices on the tape reel is truly spectral; and Tricoli's abrupt, decisive approach added real power and presence. It's a brilliant gig, and one that could sum up this surprising festival to a tee.