LIVE REPORT: Rewire Festival 2024

At Rewire in Den Haag, Richard Foster finds a festival aptly-titled, witnessing transformative, earth-altering performances from Mabe Fratti, Sunn O))), Cole Pulice and more

Sunn O))), photo by Parcifal Werkman

How do we communicate with each other, and interact with the world around us? Den Haag’s Rewire Festival has tried to find answers for over a decade. Maybe we should listen to this edition’s artist in focus, Annea Lockwood, and “listen to the world’.

Lockwood’s ideas are expounded through films, talks and high-minded performances from the likes of Yarn/Wire and MAZE Ensemble, and mirror a wider programme that takes in current reappraisals of traditional music from the likes of Iran’s HUUUM and Scotland’s Brìghde Chaimbeul, to works that investigate the zeitgeist, such as Jenny Hval’s immersive, unsettling piece, ‘I Want to Be A Machine’. Lonnie Holley and band gently teasel out the threads of time and memory. Other forms of deconstruction are seen in the fusty concrete basement of Grey Space in the Middle, where Deli Girls blast the inchoate angst of the western world back at us.

This being a modern-day showcase festival, there is too much to take in. A list of the artists this reviewer unavoidably misses could lead to a short stretch down the local nick. The inevitable time clashes and queues at the many venues spread over the city mean alternative strategies have to be employed. But Rewire’s programme is stuffed full of wonderful moments. Cole Pulice’s beautiful, calming show in the huge inverted shopping basket known as the Amare Centre is one: here sax is synthesised to create a snaky, spacewards set of investigations that remind this old duffer of Bruce Lacey. It’s worth noting that Pulice has literally run to the venue, set up, and gone straight on. Not that anyone notices.

Two drummer-driven shows in Korzo also open up new perspectives. Amsterdam’s Devon Rexi, as deadpan as only Amsterdammers can be, tick off a refreshing show of snaky, bubbling, bass-driven funk that feels as if it is from any time. Later, Jarrett Gilgore’s new project, Phét Phét Phét present a set of previously unplayed material that threatens to reshape the atomic structure of the room. The sense of understanding between the three musicians is incredible to watch. Ethan Braun’s buoyant extemporations on keys are given real emotional weight by the weather patterns mapped out on drums by Frank Rosaly. Gilgore’s effortless sax playing often gives the impression he is on the point of turning sound into silver.

Jenny Hval, photo by Pieter Kers

Mabe Fratti is a hero of our times, it’s official. The Guatemalan cellist plays two shows at Rewire, both at the august Koninklijke Schouwburg. The first, with the Mexico City collective Amor Muere, is a wonderful fourway showcase of talent that has the audience on its knees by the end. What to call this incredibly refreshing, ingenious music? Chamber pop? Ambient noise? Sonic psychogeography? Probably all of this, and all at once. The sound shifts and repositions itself according to who is taking the vocal lead: Fratti’s glorious voice, like a bird in spring, is balanced by Camille Mandoki’s ghostly interrogations. Alongside them, Concepción Huerta and Gibrana Cervantes construct shifting backdrops that also feel as if you could touch them; these sonic landscapes are veritable dioramas, fascinating in their detail and lending a wider context to the narrative. If this is the way pop music is going, I want more.

Fratti’s second show, the premiere of her and partner Hector Tosta’s project, Titanic, is one of the greatest shows that Rewire has ever staged. Go ahead, mock me, ban me from writing. I am not wrong. The substantial set-up – a grand piano for Tosta alongside drums, bass, guitar, sax and cello – may look portentous but is needed to capture Titanic’s huge sound. Fratti’s voice soars towards the ozone layer; parting any clouds that dared venture into her orbit. Her cello playing is at times fabulously dirty, sounding like a rusty old Telecaster on a Nuggets track, only to switch to smooth, slightly inquisitorial passages that could charm the birds out of the trees. Tosta’s brilliantly mellifluous piano is balanced by the investigations by Crack Cloud’s sax player, Nat Philipps. Their parts entwine like honeysuckle, and are given an emotional anchor by a wonderful rhythm section. Many songs morph into each other, too; arboreal mini symphonies not too far away from imperial phase Talk Talk. One huge piece crashes around the Schouwburg, swerving from one direction to another and refusing to end, like a young dog off the lead in a spring field. The name and date of this show should be chiselled onto the doors of the Schouwburg and embossed in gold leaf .

Mabe Fratti, photo by Jan Rijk

It’s not often that one has to mentally run through the work of the British landscape painters of the 20th century while one’s ears are getting a thorough flushing. Paul Nash, Eric Ravillious, John Piper, Graham Sutherland, woodcutters like the mighty Gertrude Hermes, perhaps. All tried to find a mystical connection with the British landscape, often in its most ancient and mysterious iteration. And the megalithic parallels with the half-ring of ten foot high amps, needed to blast out Sunn O)))’s high magicke should be lost on no-one. Yet what triggers the query is the lights, three moons that throb and glitter fiercely and coldly through the billows of smoke – akin to a Sutherland painting of a moor, or a moonlit Nash canvas.

It goes without saying that the gig is bleedin’ loud, guv, the noise an elemental force, its own structure; the slow tides of sonic grumble changing in timbre and weight and pinning the audience in place. The Paard van Troye, a huge three-story concrete and metal box, acts like a closed shipping container. Maybe, to use another historical parallel, the venue morphs into the hold of Dracula’s ship, where the crowd, Nosferatu-like with their frayed black garments and shaven heads (many wearing heavy rimmed specs) or others, C21st Renfields gurning behind sunglasses, are the familiars, here for their final instructions from Central Intelligence. The last five minutes are spent wandering around the Paard trying to shake out the drone, but everywhere the throb persists, seeping through the walls and implanting itself into the jambs of the doors, or into the sockets powering the food bar or the merch stand, where microscopic islets of noise burrow in the warp and weft of the t-shirts. Tiny ripples of amplification form on the surface of drinks. People lip-read to each other. I wonder, has ever a festival felt its name so perfectly captured in one show?

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today