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Things Learned At: Rewire
Richard Foster , May 5th, 2015 13:52

We sent Richard Foster to the Rewire festival in The Hague in the Netherlands. Here's five things he learned...

Photo by Ed Jansen

The Hague is both a bourgeois bastion, and cradle to the new in Dutch electronica and dance

At first glance, The Hague of 2015 (CE) isn't the most happening place in the Netherlands. Home to the royals and lots of the government, there's a formality in the city's marrow that no amount of alternative cultures or changing demographics can completely extract. Socio-cultural fault lines are laid bare throughout the weekend at the Korzo theatre, which is Rewire 2015's festival's hub. We are politely told where we can take our drinks by courteous young apparatchiks, and tannoy messages inform us about performances. There's a one-in one-out policy on the doors for the small rooms, which means queues. Once in, we have to sit. Carefully dressed-down aesthetes shuffle uncomfortably around. Attending a crossover modern classical/ambient/drone festival in the city can feel like a performance transferred from the Belle Époque; sitting down, studied silence, and chin stroking, albeit one full of expensive jeans. It's all a bit, well, ungroovy, Clarence.

And yet, there is some tremendous music being made here that is unique to The Hague; outside of the legendary Bunker records, there are enterprising new electronic/dance labels such as Wichelroede and some superb electronica/crossover acts to hand. The magnificent, confrontational peacockery of YesPinkPink, the frazzled acid-shock of Unit Moebius Anonymous, and the sublime 21st century house of Klankman wreck Rewire heads in Hoop on the Friday. Actually, Hoop sums the city's underbelly up. The place is a labyrinth of cellars, old dungeons and storerooms in one of the Hague's oldest buildings and hosts a weekend club culture driven by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts students, and members of the Indonesian and Suriname communities. The Saturday night of Rewire in Hoop is all you could wish for. A mixed crowd (60 year old lecturers acting camp, moody Indonesian lads watching Garoeda's smooth and succulent set, and a battalion of pissed up arts students) added to a predictably late running order are a recipe for a great night. The music programme turns out to be superb, with Amsterdam's 19-year old HOEK creating a brilliantly exciting space, full of suggestions and moods that sounds like a submarine being refitted. Danse Noire's Aisha Devi somehow subverts the naff sentimentality of late 90s house and happy hardcore into wailing, banshee-like invocations to the Earth Mother. Following Devi's brain-frying ululations, Poland's RSS B0YS increase both tempo and temperature with an aural attack that judders and splutters and cuts; never giving the audience a minute's rest. IVVVO is predictably moody and Pearson Sound completes the sensory crush with a direct - and damned loud - demonstration of his otherworldly music. The place is steaming, and everything feels loose and fun and irreverent. Spaced out people cut some rug or chatter like starlings. Everyone has to go to Hoop.

Modern classical and experimental jazz can be fun. Honest

Yeah, yeah: pianos, crossovers, collaborations in places like churches, I know. Sometimes though, these gigs can really go somewhere else. One such is Dutch pianist Saskia Lankhoorn's interpretation of the works of Australian composer Kate Moore. Sitting demurely under what looked like a massive dental Operatory Light (probably a bloody expensive arty light fitting) in Korzo, Lankhoorn steadily unlocks and explains Moore's work for her audience. Her approach is just fantastic. Able to magnify the truculent elements of the original whilst  - somehow - offering a way out through the promise of a soft release, Lankhoorn presents a counterpoint to the mellifluous, poppy approach the likes of Nils Frahm and Greg Haynes practise. Short passages (seemingly played against the natural order of the notes) are brutally cut short in favour of longer pieces, which are then fractured in turn; rhythmic stabs breaking up any reliance on harmony. It's beautiful and brittle, full of expressive moments, and very punk in places.

Now, I can dig classical like the next groover. But jazz? Well, that's a complicated relationship. I can hold Sun Ra's hand, and I can see Coltrane's blurts and Davis's electronic phase as a gloomy, but occasionally accessible outhouse in the grounds of Mansion Krautrock. But I do like to be surprised by jazz, especially live. And I really dig Nijmegen's Dead Neanderthals. As a result, I am sat in a pew in the "beautiful old Oude Katholieke Kerk" (it's hardly going to look like a pile of shit is it) where drummer Chris Corsano and Danish saxophonist Mette Rassmussen play what could be seen (in retrospect) as the defining show of the weekend. Corsano is a drummer of some genius. His tricks (accidentally dropping his sticks, adding cymbals and other objects on his Gretsch skins) are up there with Han Bennink. He creates a rich, warm-toned backdrop (like some well primed heavy-woven canvas) for Mette Rassmussen to throw shapes and colours on. For her part, Rassmussen comes across as an expressive, but somehow vulnerable player. There's real soul in what she does, and her manner of prompting Corsano to raise his game by trailing thin, or underdeveloped passages (or even the odd questioning silence) under his nose is - frankly - mind blowing. At times things get rocky in a rumbling, Velvet Underground way; purely because of the grinding mid textures used and the way the rhythm becomes an "abstract" force on its own terms. The place is bowled over. Even the staid (and obviously reproachful) guardians of this House of the Lord are clapping.

There's something moreish about analogue synths

Men and their vintage analogue synths is the new incarnation of the jar of unidentified grease in the corner of the allotment shed. Still; three gigs in Korzo on the Friday night showed what a phenomenal emotional salve these old contraptions can still bring to our washed-out, touch-screen age. The first of these was Thomas Ankersmit, a man who promised to bend space and time with his otoacoustic explorations on his Serge analogue synths. Whilst being all for a bit of analogue rumble, sitting down whilst experiencing what sounds like the roar of a thousand hoovers achieving lift off wasn't easy. There are long, throbbing extensions of sound that made your chest shake. And lots of Gentle Types leave during a passage that is - in effect - concentrated metallic screeching. The whole thing feels like being in the engine room of a ferry. Scholarly looking, and wrapped up in making his equipment do the maximum damage to the poor saps still left, Ankersmit builds up a performance that feels three dimensional and confrontational. I think the deal is to make a space that you have to talk your way out of, or at least make peace with.

Making our own peace by grabbing a pint (OK, bottle of Vedett, midwife to many a hangover), we follow Ankersmit by taking in Alessandro Cortini (known for his love of the Buchla synths) play the LP he recorded on Roland MC 202, 2014's Sonno, in its entirety. Backed by some remarkably effective visuals, Cortini sends everyone into the land of nod with his somnolent, reflective, soundscapes. Sonno is an incredibly powerful record, built round supremely melodic modulations of atmosphere in a low register. It has a deep and lasting ability to pull you the listener into a No-Place. Live, it's overwhelming. Imagine the fuzzy bits of Cluster's Sowiesoso and Justin Walter's Lullabies And Nightmares ramped up to 11 on the Nige Tufnell scale. Foreheads bound with bronze strips and faces painted, we are nearing the omphalos and about to discover the riddle of Little Gwyon. Then Cortini stops. Where has that 40 minutes gone?

After this we head to Gut and Irmler's collaboration, which made for arguably one of 2014's best records in 500m. Witnessing the mix of Gut's Berlin-clubbing, Macbook sensibility and the handmade punk attack from H-J Irmler is enervating. Even taking this playful electro waltz in whilst sitting down isn't too much of a hassle, as there's a restless, Trickster quality to this collaboration. And for every breathy vocal command from Gut, there's a counter-intuitive - and weird - wibble, blast, or blurt from Irmler. The music is often incredibly dreamy; it's clear the two old campaigners aren't scared of testing out the crowd with long, drowsy passages of white noise. Everything ends on the pumping dance of 'Parfum', which has a video backtrack of frying pancakes, which just adds to the pixie-like quality of what's gone before. Fuck all these clever audio visuals, we need more videos of food being cooked.

Holly Herndon is off the wall

I'm waiting for the backlash. The arrival of the "I don't get it"/"Emperor's new clothes" crowd. In fairness, I can well appreciate that Herndon's music may not be to everyone's taste, and I suppose thinking you have to approach her music in an overly academic way can feel forbidding. Well, on the night in a packed Korzo, I realise I don't get it either. And I'm not that arsed about getting whatever it is to get, because what she does is just so much fun and so thought provoking. Driven by a whole raft of noises, beats and suggestions you'd never normally stick together, and sometimes led off the straight and narrow by a thumping beat the gig is a triumph of what can be possible. Herndon wants to have fun, it's obvious. Her hips and shoulders start to twitch now and again when she essays forth on the back of a thumping house beat, making you think she wants to sod all the clever stuff and get down. The visuals are also fun; floating hipsters in ubiquitous trainer brands invade the screen in what feels like a scene out of Tarkovsky's Stalker. Luckily the mutating pigeon visuals, which so scared your correspondent at Incubate are long gone.  Best of all is watching the crowd lap everything up. They just don't know what to do, as there's no real template or trope that has been adopted yet that can adequately express their appreciation, but they want to show how much they enjoy the show. Beatific smiles of deep inner knowledge contrast with gibbering, out-of-synch dance moves (brutally cut short by a change of direction from Herndon) and lots of studious head nodding. There's a suggestion of subjects paying libation to some queen of the Ancient World.

That's a really funny thing; contrasting all the brave new world stuff with Herndon's traditional side. Yes she is a champion of the here and now, but there are elements of classic Modernism in her fractured, granular sound scapes (Notenkrakers, Andriessen, et al) that are hard to ignore. She is a trailblazer who has somehow touched a nerve. It's now down to us to work it all out over time.

Gnod are truly brilliant

330 Live is a small basement, situated under Cremer's coffee shop. The red and black decor and seedy-but-clean atmosphere make the whole place feel like some high class "establishment". It's rammed; with punters pressed against the walls and the glass partition which separates the stage (ho, ho) from the bar. Finland's Siiani have just droned the room out in here with their Terry Riley-meets-Klaus Dinger vibe, and Gnod are setting up. A sort of Cosmic left-right is in store.  

The gig is actually not as loud as I thought or feared it would be, but somehow that doesn't matter. The band play long drawn out headkickers from their new LP, Infinity Machines. Paddy is on vocals these days, and his strained, sardonic tones guide the audiences through their long voyages of the inner soul. If we're on the ferry over the Styx, Gnod are both Charon and Cerberus. Some tracks have this gravelly PinkWind-in-dub vibe guiding them, and some have a strong element of Bauhaus or Joy Division in the mix. One growling, sluggish work out comes on like I Remember Nothing - in fact so much so that I am convinced that the spirit of Curtis himself comes out of the shades and smashes a glass from someone's hand right at the moment when Gnod's track ends. To say that is spooky is a massive understatement. So; Gnod - seemingly - can summon up things that many other "psyche/prog" [sic] bands can't.

And Gnod have soul; a black, Blakean, dusty soul born of confrontation and endless miserable compromises, but a beating one nonetheless. And a soul that is all encompassing, not one limited by any prissy decisions over presentation or "relevance" or fashion. There's no self-doubt here either. Gnod may keep ploughing the same field (if not furrow) and do so for ever and ever regardless of line up changes, but the way they communicate with their Muse is outstanding. Shaken after a last Piranesian head trip, the audience file out, damp with sweat and shaking from the emotional pressure. It's hard to take anything in for a good hour after this gig. But there again, dealing with that kind of psychic shake up is typical of Rewire festival.