REWIRE 2017: The unmapped territory between acoustic and digital

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words: Elena Mara Reed, photo: Stephan C. Kaffa (These Hidden Hands), 2017-04-11

Situated in the heart of the Netherlands, The Hague, Rewire festival invites mélomanes from around the globe since 2011. The 7th edition takes place over three days at seven closely located cultural and nightlife venues. The programme offers a thought-provoking blend of aural and visual, ranging from conceptual shows in church ambience to techno parties in clubs. The meticulously crafted line-up speaks both intelligence and adventure: Swans, PharmakonArca, Daniel Lanois, Daniel Wohl, Forest Swords, Helena Hauff, SHXCXCHCXSH, Jeff Mills & Tony Allen, SUMS: Kangding Ray & Barry Burns (Mogwai), These Hidden Hands and many more.  If gigs are not enough, the fest hosts a conference on sound and music in gaming industry, talks and workshops.

Interdisciplinarity is a buzzword in academia. Yet it can be legitimately applied to the concept of Rewire - a place where multiple musical modes, genres and visual arts intersect to create a whole that is entirely different from its components. The festival’s generosity for interdisciplinary collaborations reflects one of the most important phenomena in music today - the growing influence of electronics on genres such as rock and classical music and the increasing presence of acoustic elements in electronica. When Kangding Ray, Mathew Barnes (Forest Swords) and Alain Paul (These Hidden Hands) pick up their guitars, Jeff Mills performs with the Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, it becomes clear – the leaders of underground music move away from the functionality of the club to a more challenging, arresting space where electronics and acoustics commingle with theatrical vibrancy and subversion. More so, Rewire rightfully acknowledges the ever increasing importance of visuals. Examples being the shows of A/V virtuosos Jesse Kanda (with Arca) and Daniel Schwarz (with Daniel Wohl), to name but a few.  


Doniel Wohl. Photo: Pieter Kers


From the very first beats and strings, Friday sets the standards high. The American composer Daniel Wohl teams up with the local Matangi String Quartet and percussionists Slagwerk Den Haag.  The ambience of Lutherse church suits Daniel’s critically acclaimed electro-classical ode perfectly! Church acoustics seamlessly blend digital and live elements in; creating dreamy, otherworldly soundscapes. Glitchy visuals by Daniel Schwarz produce an aesthetic of a fairy tale. However Schwarz prevents us from completely letting go the earthly world. ‘Holographic’ pinpoints the turmoil of post-truth existence: newspaper headlines over Trump and Brexit, flickering words: MEN, KNOWLEDGE, PRIVACY…

Forest Swords aka Mathew Barnes performs with the bassist James Binary. Mathew picks up a guitar himself and produces a warm dubby electronica littered with tribal elements. Songs from the upcoming album ‘Compassion’ make the crowd go wild. Folks forgive Mathew wholeheartedly when he says he's happy to be in…. Denmark (Ooops!). Uplifting and shamanic Forest Swords certainly make geographical locations seem trivial, the organic vibes are waking our primal selves up!


Forest Swords. Photo: Pieter Kers


Blanck Mass entertains us with a highly dynamic and eclectic performance. Benjamin John Power, also known for electronic duo Fuck Buttons, is merging elements of noise-rave, 90s garage, industrial and f**k-knows-what, interspersing 160 BPMs with significantly slower techno beats. Ben’s concept is no concept, and we like it! Power starts growling, proving his surname is rightfully deserved. The brutal treated vocals, murky visuals and stroboscopic lights add turbulence and aggression to the show.

The highlight of the night is supposed to be Alejandro Ghersi aka Arca. Alejandro says he is feeling fragile tonight and largely remains sitting behind the decks. The crowd doesn’t mind and responds with enthusiasm to Ghersi’s heterogeneous set. When I hear ‘Beyonce Beyonce’, my brain, however, displays '404' and I have to leave. Credits must go to Jesse Kanda. His visuals revolve around an unorthodox animal theme - cows, ewes, goats giving birth, dogs receiving veterinary care -  quite a leap from a voyeuristic club night setting!


Pharmakon. Photo: Parcifal Werkman



On Saturday I discover Wolf Eyes, an experimental band from USA. The trio walks the high wire, integrating elements of metal, jazz, noise and electronics. Once a saxophone is played, I immediately reference Wolf Eyes to GNOD. Same maverick spirit!

The New Yorker Pharmakon stays true to herself – a short ruthless performance of power electronics/industrial/noise. Tracks from newly released album ‘Contact’ are rife in conflicts between body and mind. Margaret jumps off the stage screaming her guts out and rolls on the floor covered in the red light.


Daniel Lanois. Photo: Jan Rijk


Virtuoso of melancholy, Daniel Lanois, starts the show playing a lap guitar. Lanois’ gentle strumming is filmed and projected live, so the audience is fully immersed in the audio-visual. Building his sonic force, the Grammy award winning producer shifts to ambient that envelopes the crowd, now both weeping and shedding tears of elation. The live video stream is replaced with visuals celebrating female sexuality and the walls of Grote church wrap us in blatant nostalgia. Conclusion: a thought-provoking, healing performance that restores our faith in humanity!

The legendary New York experimental rock outfit Swans retain their trademark heaviness. With messianic Michail Gira in front, the cult band grants us an ear-shattering, hypnotizing experience. Gira’s voice rises, lush synths swell free, riffs get bigger and bigger transforming madness into catharsis.

Having seen Helena Hauff quite a few times in the UK, I have to admit that virtuosa of techno opens up herself fully in continental Europe. Helena plays a stimulating, melodic all vinyl set that aligns well with her own production. PAARD II is packed since it’s the only room open on Saturday night. While it’s difficult to move around, folks seem not to mind being trapped in the diligent selection by the Germany’s most revered DJ.


Swans. Photo: Jan Rijk



The number one discovery of Rewire is DSR Lines. A synesthetic vortex opens up as the Belgian producer David Edren manipulates his machines in the dark basement of The Grey Space. David creates delicate ambient soundscapes using DIY modular synths.

These Hidden Hands present us with the best guitar-featuring dance set of the night. High pitched crushes coalesce with nearly catatonic beats opening a Pandora’s Box with its profound evils and aches. Beautifully bleak and crushing, yet still warm and danceable, These Hidden Hands are born out of two opposites – the feeling of complete desolation, and euphoria. Breaking out of the club confines, the killer combination of Tommy Four Seven and Alain Paul takes the listener to unmapped territory where techno, industrial, ambient and atmospheric guitar notes co-exist in challenging alliance.


DSR Lines. Photo: Rene Passet


The collaboration between Kangding Ray and Barry Burns (Mogwai) featuring percussionist Merline Ettore is my favourite performance of the whole festival. No words can do justice to the explosive match between the maestro of techno and the veteran of post-rock. Burns creates Mogwai-esque atmospherics with a guitar and synths, while Ettore adds break-neck drums and Kangding Ray fuses everything together into spatial techno-esque electronics. Kangding Ray plays the guitar too, returning to his roots before he was producing electronic music. A passionate marriage between electronic music and rock is built upon musical legacies of these three notable men. Majestic!


SUMS. Photo: Pieter Kers


Jeff Mills and Tony Allen are closing this sublime weekend. Teamwork between the originator of Detroit techno, Jeff, and the Afrobeat drummer, Tony, pushes the genre boundaries even further. Their jazz-infused live performance is full of improvisation. I am extremely grateful for Rewire team for bringing this rare collaboration to The Hague.

Overall, Rewire is not simply a festival. It is an experience and place for discovery. Intelligent, adventurous and thought-provoking, Rewire provides an astonishingly diverse high standard programme that truly ‘rewires’ aural and visual. It is glaringly obvious that everything Rewire does is done with great integrity and zeal and that is why it ticks all the boxes to be my No 1 festival of 2017. See you in 2018!


Jeff Mills. Photo: Jan Rijk