Den Haag, or The Hague, is an inconspicuous city. Most will know it as the place where war criminals are prosecuted; an area of law and order sitting on the Netherland’s west coast. And while suits do walk its clinically clean streets, the ostensibly twee metropolis has more unrestrained faces that only reveal themselves to those in the know.
Rewire Festival has been facilitating a tour of The Hague’s expressive side since 2011, bringing artists from within Dutch borders and far-flung corners of the globe to the country’s de facto capital year-on-year. Reflecting on its twelfth edition, which ran from April 6 to 9, I’m struck by the sheer amount of music I encountered. That may seem eternally true for any festival and yet, more frequently than you expect, it’s not the case.
Rather, a festival’s organisation of space, intentionally or otherwise, subtly dictates how much land you can cover and what artists you see. The choice and placement of venues and stages, the representation of those physical spaces through images, set times and artist selections, as well as the social reality of those arenas once you get there, all push and pull attendees in different directions. Rewire Festival – more than any other I’ve attended – implores you to gorge on its carefully curated buffet of audio treats. Relatively short set times, proximity between stages, and supreme scheduling encourages guests to catch the array of music on offer, rather than stick it out in one spot and hope for the best.
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Tzusing - Photo: Stephan Kaffa
British musician Coby Sey is one of the first artists out the starting gate. While some Den Haag dwellers describe Rewire to me as an electronic music event, the three-day festival’s current incarnation often moves far beyond the single genre domain, and Sey’s drifting between tempos and rhythms finds a fitting home in Rewire’s genreless milieu of higher-brow sensibilities. He conducts his four-piece ensemble through often punchy and abrupt segments of jazz and dub rhythms all the way through to swills of noise, ambient and pre-recorded textures that are brought to a triumphant crescendo at Sey’s behest.
Other artists stick more firmly in the festival’s electronic heritage. Himera provides a simply angelic A/V performance of their bubblegum trance-cum-ambient builds that has onlookers open-mouthed at the beauty of it all. Zoë Mc Pherson’s pumping, staccato rhythms from her recent LP Pitch Bender bring the house down in a different manner, as her sheer exuberance becomes an infectious force to behold.
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Amnesia Scanner & Freeka Tet - Photo: Jan Rijk
An equally thrilling, if altogether different spectacle was constructed by Amnesia Scanner and digital artist Freeka Tet. Delayed by technical problems – the only such delays across the festival – I trotted over the road to Intergalactic Gary at Koorenhuis for a boogie a mere 30m away, before returning in time for their technology heavy set. By this point, the expectant crowd was tightly packed, awaiting a duo with a track record for abrasive and otherworldly sound. Performing an “album which will never be released” and only heard in live performances, the waiting were rewarded with what can only be described as maximalist dissonance. I echo the words of a fellow attendee upon exiting: “I’ve lost my vision and I might be deaf but it was worth it”.
If there was ever an artist to exemplify Rewire’s esotericism par excellence though, the theatre of Alto Arc’s debut might be it. The newfound supergroup – consisting of PC-Music maverick Danny L Harle, visual and makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench, Deafheaven’s George Clarke and Hundred Waters’ Trayer Tryon – don't stop for breath amongst numerous costume changes, blood splattered rituals and literal fireworks worthy of any stage show. A heady mix of club beats and guitar crunches are set to agonised screams and wailing sea shanties, all performed in tandem with captivating, if somewhat bizarre, choreographed routines that culminate in Clarke’s execution.
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Alto Arc - Photo: Jan Rijk
While such chin-stroking sonics form a major part of Rewire’s raison d'etre, there is still time in the day to empty the head in the collective communion of dance.
Unbridled fun comes signed, sealed and delivered by LSDXOXO who mixes tracks like Venga Boys’ We Like To Party with Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe to leave you both laughing at the absurdity and freed by it all the same. Bitter Babe and Manuka Honey facilitate further joy with their reggaeton rhythms, ending the pair’s first-ever B2B with the latter squatting on the DJ decks as Underworld’s ever-climactic Born Slippy soundtracks rapturous applause. Safety Trance, and Tzusing the day after, DJ with more forceful intent, shelling baile funk, hard drum and techno edits that see your daily step count sore as you troop into the early hours.
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Bitter Babe b2b Manuka Honey - Photo: Sean Charlton White
Rewire’s scheduling is forgiving to its late-night soldiers. Four-on-the-floor rhythms make way for ethereal ambience on the Sunday that are sure to soothe any sore heads. A profoundly affecting highlight comes at the cavernous Amare Dansheater. Smoke envelops the pitch black post-brutalist build on arrival of Tim Hecker and multidisciplinary artist Vincent de Belleval, where hoards of people lay slumped against their seating, entranced by Hecker’s unrelenting waves of sonic textures and the unravelling red hues of de Belleval’s thirty seven-by-sixteen diode panels.
Setting makes all the difference to these performances. A congested Koorenhuis finds a dusty space for Pavel Milyakov & Perila’s downcast dream pop, and Concordia brings the best out of upsammy’s eclectic IDM by using a full wall backdrop of Jonathan Castro’s live visuals. Ghosted’s cinematic command of the mature Koninklijke Schouwburg theatre is hair-raising, while Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s lengthy drone rock could only ever be in-situ at the tall yet narrow main stage of PAARD. Down some spiral stairs at The Grey Space in the Middle takes you into its louring, low-ceilinged basement for the kind of compressed atmosphere – literally from a lack of fresh air – ideal for Hiro Kone’s dark, thoughtful electronics.
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upsammy & Jonathan Castro - Photo: Pierre Zylstra
As you drift between all these venues, perhaps making a drive-by stop at a Surinamese or Turkish restaurant, those fatigued by the variety of sound can find refuge at the festival’s delightful context programme – this year centred on “inter/relations” – for conversations, listening sessions and workshops in generally more tranquil surroundings.
Naturally, the nearby sound of music at Rewire calls you back into action soon after – especially when historic names are afoot. The illustrious Patti Smith partnered with Soundwalk Collective in a separately ticketed event back in the Amare for ‘Correspondences’; a performance where Smith weaved emphatic poems veering around subjects including God, personal freedoms and justice, backed by bare bones instrumentals from the Collective and visuals by Pedro Maia. For those expecting renditions of her the perkier material with which she built her name, this may be a disappointment. But as someone more familiar with her status than her 70s output, the performance-cum-manifesto was a poignant affair that turned the colossal chamber into something decidedly more intimate.
Still, while rousing, it’s indicative of the experimentalism on show at Rewire that Smith was one of the more underwhelming performances of the weekend. After three days off-the-wall eclecticism, a subdued set with little change of pacing, in a style that already has lengthy cultural footprint, didn’t provide the same nutrients it may otherwise would have. What has consistently attracted me to Rewire’s lineups has been the array of innovative upstarts and burgeoning talents, intermixed with under-regarded artists seemingly hitting career highs, that continue to confound your expectations.

It’s fitting then that closing the festival is the utterly captivating Kelela; an artist who has released an early album of the year contender and retold her tunes of unrequited love with the audience in the palm of her hand. A few songs in she broaches the subject matter of that latest electronic and RnB fused album when, almost immediately, an enthused audience member interjects with a cry of “no skips!”, much to her delight.

As I exit PAARD for a final time, those same sentiments ring true for Rewire Festival as a whole. Whatever venue you venture into, you are sure to be treated to transportive sonics, site-specific practices or otherwise positive provocations you’ll remember long after coming back out. Even if you know nothing of the lineup, its meticulous curation and scheduling, in a cityscape that requires no more than 15 minutes walk between venues, allows you to breeze from gig to gig in full confidence of the calibre on show – and still have time to pick up some Turkish pizza. For those that feel enriched by cross-genre experimental sound, there are simply no skips, no misses, only hits down in Den Haag.
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Kelela - Photo: Matt Reed