Sitting in The Hague’s Page Not Found, an intimate crowd are perched in the sunlit space on chairs, pillows and rugs surrounding American sound artist and theorist Brandon LaBelle. Presenting one of his afternoon workshops as part of Rewire 2022’s discourse programme, LaBelle introduces the work of moral philosopher Stephen Darwall, honing in on his concepts of empathy and sympathy. It leads one to consider how such notions of care seem quite prevalent in art and theory discourse at the moment, after the pandemic outlined our culture’s brutal failings on these matters.
LaBelle’s work responds to the ways in which sound is conducive to social connection and intimacy, and this is reflected here in practice with the nature of his workshop. It remains an odd feeling being huddled together with others even several months after pandemic restrictions have been lifted, yet this small gathering is a welcome pause from the sensory stimulation of the festival’s eventful lineup. “It was like ASMR,” someone whispers, as visitors shuffle out of the shop following the talk. Perhaps this could be interpreted that they weren’t focussing so much on the content of LaBelle’s presentation, though one can’t help but think that the artist himself would take a liking to this assessment of his mode of delivery. Beyond a comment on LaBelle’s manner of speaking, there’s something to be said of the comparison to ASMR videos, which emphasise closeness and intimacy in an age of fractured connection online.
Such moments of intimacy are peppered throughout the weekend, no less in a set on Friday evening by Myxomy, a new collaboration between James Ginzburg and Ziúr. Performing in Theater aan het Spui, the duo craft experimental pop balladry, spacious electroacoustics and frenetic sound design, punctuated by percussive interludes and rockish refrains. A highlight of which is a rendition of their track ‘My battery died’, with its broken pop and nervous energy, well encapsulated by the humorous anxiety of Ziúr’s vocals: “hey what’s the time? I hate looking at churches.” The venue provides a closeness between the audience and performers, not lost on Ziúr, who makes an emotional thank you to listeners between songs, stressing how personally important a return to the stage and performing has been for her.
At the same venue on Saturday evening, Holly Childs and Gediminas Žygus meld choreography, spoken word and moving image evoking anthropocene ecologies and planetary crises. With a live performance set to a screening of their new video ‘, Throw’ — made with Marijn Degenaar and Nicola Baratto — the work follows a poem written by Childs on a summer visit to Odesa in 2018. Being “a reflection on fleeting moments of desire entangled inextricably with an intoxicating sense of place” the “love letter to and from” the Ukrainian city has taken on a devastating new meaning after the Russian invasion, with a nostalgic sense of yearning and evocations of the Black Sea. The performance is sonically sutured with Žygus’ melodic synth arpeggiations and longing, melancholic electronics.
Later that night at PAARD, Golin presents her internet-native breed of hi-sheen pop, in a nod towards the cultivated identities of both idol culture and online identity. With elements of vocaloid, j-pop inflections and sharp choreography, Golin holds the crowd in thrall against bright LED lighting, translating the character seen in her digital concerts and music videos into an IRL pop idol.
Beyond club-oriented sets, Rewire covers a spectrum of performance modes. The Hague’s historic churches — Lutherse Kerk and Grote Kerk — host the extended saxophone and electronic atmospheres of Bendik Giske, and the expansive avant-pop of Eartheater. Nearby, the classical recital hall at Amare provides a site for avant-garde concert performances, including an engrossing performance of Ryoji Ikeda’s ‘100 cymbals’ with Les Percussions de Strasbourg.
In the superclub setting of PAARD’s main space, Evian Christ’s new AV show presents a sonic palette like that which populates his storied Trance Party events, elevating these euphoric atmospheres into a big room festival spectacle. There are huge washes of light, colour and strobing, accentuated with large rave stabs, buzzing synth strings and melodic vocal trance moments. With a show whose excesses seem to come from a place of authenticity and not irony, Christ’s performance demonstrates the best of a sound with which he has proven a lasting influence on the online underground this past decade.
The weekend evenings are rounded off with late night DJ sets and club environments. On Friday a pre-recorded set by Kenyan producer Slikback meshes high intensity electronics and white noise with the frantic glitch visuals of UK audiovisual artist Weirdcore, beaming via a large projection at PAARD. Hyperdub label-head Kode9 next launches into a deep dive of the hardcore continuum, with jittery breaks and sonic collisions. In the early hours of Sunday morning, the sweaty basement of arts hub The Grey Space in the Middle brings a welcoming feeling of DIY rave intimacy, with a pacy techno set from local Netherlands DJ Nelly.
After being starved of international concert atmospheres like Rewire for the past two years, feelings of overstimulation and a strange uncanniness can set in, in a European festival circuit that seems once taken for granted. As we return to live events feeling perhaps a little lost, their importance in community building soon tends to surface, due in no small part to the way in which live performances such as these foster environments of intimacy. As Rewire participant LaBelle has commented for his Communities in Movement sound art series, “intimacy is not only to come close to things, but to know of others in ways that profoundly shape one’s disposition and sensibility.”**