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04 Rewire2024 zondag Maya Shenfeld Pedro Maia Parcifal Werkman

Rewire Festival inspires through total sensory immersion

11 April 2024, 13:30
Words by Alan Pedder

Photography by Maurice Haak, Alex Heuvink, Pieter Kers, Jan Rijk and Parcifal Werkman.

For four days each Spring, the small Dutch city of The Hague transforms into a world-class hub for experimental and outsider music. Alan Pedder heads to Rewire Festival with an open mind.

Stumped, I stare at the blank first page of a crisp new notebook.

It’s Saturday morning in The Hague, and I’m struggling to find the words to describe the aliveness that I feel. Maybe it’s just gratitude, I wonder. I don’t get out much these days, after all. But no, it’s something more than that. Something… molecular. Is my body humming? My body feels like it is humming.

For argument’s sake, let’s call it the Rewire effect. You may have heard of it from others who have been here. Founded in 2011, the festival has nudged its way into the top tier of events in the experimental music calendar, deepening its impact year on year through its tireless mission to foster innovation, exploration and unique collaborations. This year’s 13th edition is its most extensive yet, offering more than 200 events including intrepid live shows, rousing contemporary dance, film screenings and club nights, and a context programme of lectures, conversations, audio walks and assemblies. There’s also Proximity Music, a suite of exhibitions and educational sessions that runs concurrently to the main festival, furthering its multi-sensory reach.


It’s my first time in The Hague beyond loitering at the central station but, having spent some years as a kid growing up in the Netherlands, the city feels soft and familiar. Its architecture, street life and demeanour hit certain beats that transport me back three decades, but it has its own star quality too. When darting between venues, it pays to look up to fully understand why the city is regarded as the Art Nouveau capital of the Netherlands. High-end façades and beautiful details abound. Its location as a coastal city, unique among Dutch cities, is another big draw, and the slightest warm weather acts like a bat signal to hit the famous Scheveningen seaside – so long as you don’t mind the wind, which seems to blow determinedly at least as often as it’s stilled.

I don’t know when the humming started. Perhaps it was there from the very first show, building faintly in the background. Ambient jazz artist Cole Pulice can certainly weave a spell and raise a room’s vibration. Layering an unhurried reverie of live synthesised saxophone over a hypnotic, sometimes unsettling drone, their performance at the most intimate of cultural centre Amare’s three festival venues was collectedly cosmic. At times there was a sense that the walls were closing in, but the pace was not a frightening one. I’m not ashamed to say I nodded off (and I wasn’t the only one). I meant it as a compliment.

01 Rewire2024 vrijdag Lonnie Holley Parcifal Werkman
Lonnie Holley photographed by Parcifal Werkman

Downstairs in the dance theatre, I found perennial outsider artist Lonnie Holley in defiant, fire-on-the-mountain mode. Touring off the back of a career-best album (last year’s Oh Me Oh My), the 74-year-old remains a jolting and indefinable force. When he wasn’t sermonising at the keyboard (which doubled as a pulpit), he was stalking the stage, wide-eyed and howling, his raw-edged songs of survival bolstered by an absolutely cracking band. “The spirit be moving me tonight,” he groaned, leaning on his instrument to catch a well-earned breath. He may have awkwardly addressed the crowd as Amsterdamers, more than once, but a thundering standing ovation was owed regardless.

Julia Holter was the next to send shivers down my spine, making the first stop of her five-date European tour behind recent album Something in the Room She Moves. The playful “Sun Girl” seemed especially poignant for Rewire, given its poetic spin on reconfiguring neural pathways and embracing the unknown. Still working out a few kinks in the arrangements, Holter stumbled on a couple of songs but lost not one iota of goodwill. The crowd were right behind her, too, when she called for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, perhaps aware that those watching her set were missing out on hearing Palestinian duo Maya Al Khaldi and Sarouna playing down the street at the same time.

12 Rewire2024 vrijdag Aisha Devi Parcifal Werkman
Aïsha Devi photographed by Parcifal Werkman

Occasional clashes – sometimes painful ones – are inevitable at Rewire, where there is so much going on at all times between noon and 4am. It’s also worth noting that, while the venues are a maximum of 15 minutes’ walk apart, queues can be lengthy. Some tactical savviness is required for your must-sees, at the expense of experiencing more things. Too late to watch Chuquimamani-Condori (the artist formerly known as Elysia Crampton), I raced to Amare to catch Juilliard-trained cellist MIZU in the dying throes of her act. It was more of a rebirth, really, with a long segment that skewed closer to performance art than music as MIZU grappled with unseen forces that held her to the floor. Afterwards I raced again, to catch local artist Tara Pasveer at GR8, but the crowd was already overflowing into the hallway by the time I got there. One to check out later, then.

I didn’t plan to end the day with Aïsha Devi’s pummelling sonic manifesto Les Immortelles at PAARD, but it knocked the wind right out of me – in the best possible way. Even with -20dB earplugs, the bass was overpowering. Up on the balcony, I gripped the railing tightly as the Swiss-born Nepalese–Tibetan artist stormed through the spiritual rave songs of last year’s Death is Home against a backdrop of torn flags and sails designed by visual artist and Rewire alumnus Emmanuel Biard. Shaken both physically and emotionally, I called it a night.

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Jenny Hval photographed by Jan Rijk

With brain cells rearranged, I stare at the half-filled page of a slightly crumpled notebook. It’s Sunday morning in The Hague and my nervous system is still fizzing with a feeling I don’t quite recognise. Looking over my scribbled notes from Saturday the word ‘intense’ appears most often, sometimes in all caps or underlined twice.

The most intense thing about Jenny Hval’s new performance piece I Want to Be a Machine – a title borrowed from a remark by Andy Warhol – was not actually the music but the smell. Perfumed pieces of fibrous paper were passed around the audience, and the glowing Perspex box to the right of the stage turned out to contain a diffuser that spreads a luridly clinical scent throughout the room. At the end of the performance, the box was given over to the audience who dutifully stick their head inside and inhale. Music, like smell, exists only in the mind, Hval said. She also compared it to custard, so make of that what you will.

Throughout the performance, Hval’s career-defining impulse to break down established codes comes through louder and clearer than ever before. Having originally created the piece for radio, she went back and added meta-layer after meta-layer when developing it into something that could work on stage. The result is impossible to definitively parse in just one sitting. There are overlapping strands of control, anti-capitalism and the erosion of resistance. Ever topical, she laboured over music’s role in the military industrial complex with a biting critique of Daniel Ek and the Spotify monster. If wheeling a tinny Bluetooth speaker on stage in a shopping trolley isn’t on-the-nose enough, she did it while wearing a ‘Free Palestine’ sweater. Hval is truly one of one.


As Gazelle Twin, the UK’s own Elizabeth Bernholz is another Rewire artist existing in a category all their own. Touring behind her fifth album Black Dog, her performance in the ornate royal theatre leaned heavily on spiritualism and the supernatural as a means of expressing her own mental state, confronting what she describes as the worst sides of herself. With Black Dog, she’s performing unmasked for the first time, pulling focus but rarely looking directly at the crowd. The stage setup is simple – just an armchair, a lamp and some live feedback video – but devastatingly effective.

From there, I spent the rest of the evening zigzagging between the stunning Grote Kerk (Great Church), built between the 14th and 16th centuries, and the smaller, 18th century Lutheran church just a few minutes’ walk away. After a failed attempt to squeeze into Scottish piper Brìghde Chaimbeul’s performance at the latter (forget the Rewire effect, this was the Polachek effect), I settled in at Grote Kerk to watch the world premiere of Keeley Forsyth’s The Hollow, a profoundly moving audiovisual production of her forthcoming third album of the same name.

Rewire Festival 2024 Keeley Forsyth Grote Kerk Foto Maurice Haak 2
Keeley Forsyth photographed by Maurice Haak

Since moving from an acting career into music a little over four years ago, Forsyth has shown herself to be one of the UK’s most consistently interesting and creatively absorbing performers. The Hollow is her finest, most expansive work yet, brought to life gorgeously by video artist Netia Jones and slightly different arrangements that substitute a Swedish nyckelharpa for violin and viola. Forsyth has one of those indelible voices that, once heard, is never forgotten, and the strange, erratic physicality of her stagecraft has a similarly long tail. There are audible gasps from the row in front of me during the title track’s naked and agonising command. “Shake my life out of my mouth,” she sang over and over, as if beseeching the spirits that linger. Yep, you guessed it: intense.

Back at the Lutheran church, Ukrainian legacy artist Svitlana Nianio offered a much sweeter take on unknowable depths. Performing as a duo with Tom James Scott, with whom she worked on last year’s album Eye of the Sea, she played unlit, giving her exquisitely slow and exploratory chamber pop an added air of mystery. At Grote Kerk again, Maria W Horn and Sara Parkman’s Funeral Folk was a bounty of whiplash and wonder. The duo, both acclaimed solo artists from the same small town on the Swedish High Coast, originally composed the six-act suite for a theatre production exploring the rites of loss in an increasingly irreligious civilisation. Don’t be fooled by the ‘folk’ though. Horn’s synth prowess was easily the match of Parkman’s often aggressive fiddling, while screams and black metal scrawl punctuated the visceral “Kyrie” – a performance so epically savage that Parkman had to sage the room before getting back up on her feet.

14 Rewire2024 zaterdag Maria W Horn Sara Parkman Parcifal Werkman
Maria W Horn and Sara Parkman photographed by Parcifal Werkman

With a ringing in my ears and a twitch in my right eye, I stare at a barely legible page of a blood-smudged notebook. It’s Monday morning in The Hague and Rewire is all over but the writing and the travelling, and the humming persists. The blood is from overzealous nailbiting, brought on by repeat exposure to extraordinary feats – my worst habit for the best reasons.

The Sunday had started so tenderly, too, sitting in on a listening session with Rewire 2024 focus artist Annea Lockwood as she played through the three recordings from last year’s Tête-à-tête. As the name suggests, the album is presented as a dialogue between Lockwood, now 84 years old, and the love of her life, Ruth Anderson, who passed away 5 years ago. A tribute piece “For Ruth” follows two pieces by Anderson herself: the 19-minute deep listening exercise “Resolutions” from 1984 and sound collage “Conversations”, originally made as a private gift for Lockwood from secretly taped phone calls during the first year of their romance.


I don’t cry easily, but the sight of Lockwood sitting alone on stage, head bowed and lips quivering, listening to artefacts of her own young love nearly did me in. “I think I’ve reached my emotional capacity for the month,” cried a woman next to me as we filed into another theatre across the street. “I don't want to feel one more thing until May.”

Suffice to say, she was shit out of luck then, because the day was only just beginning and drum-and-contemporary-dance duo Will Guthrie and Mette Ingvartsen were not messing around. Defying all known physical laws, Ingvartsen twirled and spun with a simple halogen tube light for a full half hour, while Guthrie manipulated both drumkit and singing bowls into a mesmeric bed of resonant sound. As the music built to an almost trance-like state, the light changed from ice white to the colour of fire and ecstatic release.

W740 3120703 Annea Lockwood zondag Rewire2024 Pieter Kers
Annea Lockwood photographed by Pieter Kers

Next door, I stepped into the netherworld of Louis Braddock Clarke’s hallucinatory sound-and-vision installation Under Boom, a part of the Proximity Music, in which technologies and terrains collide. Inspired by the discovery of an island in the mid-Atlantic that’s hypersensitive to long-wave sounds, Clarke conceived Under Boom as a listening station between two screens showing strobe-lit rock formations and red-floodlit cave passages that made me think of arteries rushing with blood. Infrasound recordings of, among other things, mining blasts, air strikes and atomic explosions, added to the dooming sense of instability. Potent stuff.

Having missed Brìghde Chaimbeul the day before, I made sure I was front and centre for her second performance of the weekend, Where the Veil is Thin. A collaboration with performance artists Maëva Berthelot and Temitope Ajose, and based on a one-eyed giantess from Scottish mythology, the piece explored creator / destroyer duality through gutsy choreography and Chaimbeul’s hushed recitations and plaintive bagpipe drone.

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Cello Octet Amsterdam photographed by Alex Heuvink

In need of some fresh air to blow away the inky residue of the previous two hours, I took a walk along the canalside in the sun before looping back to the royal theatre (via ten minutes of Tara Clerkin Trio and an A+ gelato place). Walking into pitch blackness once more, I was unprepared for the sheer power of the Cello Octet Amsterdam’s Cocoon, a world premiere of new pieces specially commissioned from composers including Caterina Barbieri and Kara-lis Coverdale. With an innovative robotic-armed lighting rig designed by audiovisual artist Nick Verstand (one of the team behind Björk’s Cornucopia), the octet’s muscular plucking and bowing was jaw-droppingly majestic. Also, there were lasers – what’s not to love?

From there, technical gremlins threatened to capsize performances by Astrid Sonne, Nailah Hunter, and even final night headliner Oneohtrix Point Never, but each time the artists pulled it back from the brink. Berlin-based electronic composer Maya Shenfeld (photographed up top by Parcifal Werkman) escaped the curse, collaborating with Portuguese visual artist Pedro Maia on a brilliantly queasy production of her recent album Under the Sun. Taking Ecclesiastes’ maxim ‘There is nothing new under the sun’ as her starting point, Shenfeld challenged that notion with a pursuit of meaning through a starkly industrial, sometimes seraphic, always exploratory soundtrack. Maia’s footage, captured by a drone that swoops in, out and across a marble quarry, is stomach-turningly compelling, relieved by glitches and static that cut in at the point of nausea.

13 Rewire2024 zondag Oneohtrix Point Never Parcifal Werkman
Oneohtrix Point Never photographed by Parcifal Werkman

Oneohtrix Point Never, aka Boston-born Daniel Lopatin, made his Rewire debut in style at Amare’s sleek and spaceship-like concert hall, one of the festival’s most impressive venues. The Boston-born artist has a very human take on the digital dystopia that seems to be our unavoidable fate, lending a relatability and future nostalgia to his often abrasive, genre-dismantling experimentation. Working with artist Freeka Tet, this was further underlined by the clever use of a Lopatin puppet (though the head is sometimes switched), filmed on a handheld camera from inside a diorama replica of the stage set up and projected onto the screen behind him. Chaotic, funny and occasionally overpowering, watching Lopatin in full flow was to open the adrenaline floodgates, taste its metallic tang in your mouth, and roll with the sonic punches – then, reluctantly, come to battered rest.

Still buzzing, I stare at a blinking cursor on a screen. It’s Tuesday morning in Amsterdam, and there’s no argument left in me: the Rewire effect is real, and it leaves no sense unstirred. It’s the white knuckled grip on an iron railing as the known world falls away. It’s the blood rushing, sweat forming, the twitching of an eye. It’s the stomach lurch, the take-me-to-church, the taste of metal on your tongue. It’s the smoking sage, the acrid box, the perfumed paper in your hand. It’s radical curiosity meets embodied reciprocity – Rewire is all this and more. Hell, it could even be custard. But what it never is, not even for a minute, is boring.

The 14th edition of Rewire Festival takes place 3–6 April 2025. Early bird passes are on sale now.

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