Reminiscences from a diverse 2018 edition of Hague-based Rewire experimental music festival - from meditative chamber acts to vivid ambient or pulsating techno [social_warfare]
The days had been getting sunnier and warmer when I approached The Hague by train - a welcome reality with the amount of walking to be done over the weekend. Instantly the eyes recognize groups of black-clad festival goers with yellow/green bracelets and merchandise from some exciting new label or project. Rewire is pretty compact, so there is a good chance that you’ll have many encounters, turning strangers into acquaintances or friends. Despite this, the crowd was varied and you could see very different groups of people during different shows - from lads in white T-shirts during the Nina Kraviz set to hypnotized and attentive listeners listening to Ellen Arkbro at Lutherse Kerk. The line-up was just as diverse, including collabs and special projects from veterans as well as up-and-coming acts with few releases.
The first performance I encountered was Royal Conservatoire String Ensemble performing Tristan Perich’s Active Field in Electriteitsfabriek, a large factory turned concert venue. I was not overly familiar with Perich’s work before, so had no initial expectations. The brightly melancholic harmonies emitted by light analogue signals and string section travelled across the vast space punctuated by steel constructions looming overhead with just dim light coming from the windows high up. The static elegance of string layers, slowly drifting with subtle mood changes and minimalist dramatism nicely contrasted with heavy nature of the surroundings.
Fatima Al Qadiri’s show stood out in terms of its format. Fatima was sitting with her back to the audience on a darkened stage in front of a giant screen shifting between excerpts from an old retrofuturistic movie and the burning oil fires of the First Gulf War. It was quite abstract seeing vast terrains sinking in smoke. The sonic part criss-crossed Fatima’s comfort zone - digital grandeur, vast arpeggiated pads mixed with Middle Eastern folk music. Thus the performance balanced between hypnotic, dramatic and politica, with the latter expressed in a subtle and convincing way (something Fatima knows how to do).
Lutherse Kerk, where the Zimpel/Ziolek’s performance took place, is a beautiful venue with brilliant surroundings, solemn and serene spaciousness, and a sense of real tranquility. The performance fit the place well - it was a beautiful affair of wonderful folk/jazz fusion and tapestries of emotional melodic lines.
Saturday brought with it some highs and lows. Ellen Arkbro’s magnificent performance in Lutherse Kerk was one of the most stunning musical moments I have witnessed in quite a while. In her For Organ and Brass album (as well as tracks released on XKatedral compilations) she demonstrated an acute talent for solemn static sound, which unravels so beautifully in all its minimal majesty, with harmonies so accurate as to remind Brian Eno. During this live set Ellen proved she can equip another vital musical component - silence. The compositions were performed using a couple of brass instruments played solo or with an organ. The music put me in a state of silent meditation to listen carefully, capturing all the twists and turns. The sounds travelled so subtly across the ceiling and walls, and this together with the fact that performers were constantly changing positions, created a sense of depersonalisation. It was as if the sounds were self-generating. The bright visuals on the ceiling of the church created a deep sense of transparency and calmness.
The Daniel O’Sullivan and Dream Lion Ensemble show was another highlight. Tracks from last year’s masterpiece “Veld” were performed with a full band and blossomed in their trippy beauty, emotional sincerity and spacious lushness. Every note is in its place with Daniel’s intelligent and charming stage presence. If such pieces as “Apocryphonium” showcased the improvisatory skills of the ensemble and its ability to create cosmic soundscapes, other parts of the show emphasized the excellence of Daniel’s songwriting. This was also true for the several new tracks, after which I am almost convinced that another stunning record awaits us.
Elysia Crampton’s obviously too short set was another deeply emotional and touching moment. She is an artist with so much personal narratives, painful and joyful experiences ingrained into her music, that at times it could be read as her autobiography presented in a very abstract form. She began her performance with words about having a dream where she drove down a West Virginia highway and encountered groups of indians, escaped slaves and queer settlers, groups so important to Elysa due to her personal philosophy and background. The set unravelled into melancholic soundscapes, cartoonish samples, pop cultural references and deconstructed cumbia sounds all blended to create a disorienting world of contemporary America and Elysia’s own emotions. In her interview for Tiny Mix Tapes she stated that “the older she gets the more ugly she wants her music to become”. Even though I still call her music beautiful in its own peculiar ways, the world became a more dangerous place since her r’n’b deconstructions as E+E and it is certainly reflected in her sound. I thought the audience could have shown more respect for an artist who wears her heart on her sleeve - quite a few people left rather quickly.
Sunday’s grand finale was a wonderful Laurie Anderson’s show in Grote Kerk. This was an act of meditation or perhaps a psychological seance, which put all my emotions in place. The half-musical, half-spoken-word set was very confessional, full of her personal experiences, thoughts and narratives. It not only made me think, but also made me drift away with Laurie’s charming voice and calm soundscapes.
And this was indeed a beautiful ending note for an intense weekend of social and cultural interactions.