To the world, The Hague is the diplomatic and bureaucratic heart of the Netherlands. To music fans, it's probably best known (if at all) as the namesake of the classic Italo mix Mixed Up in the Hague and the place where Kentje'sz Beats is from. That is, it's barely known at all. Today'sArt seems a small step towards bringing a cultural bent to the famously buttoned-down city via a two-day mix of exhibitions, live performances, screenings and panels intersecting the worlds of technology, art and music.
The official opening performance and unofficial keynote of the festival was Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason with Sinfoniet Ta Cracovia's Music for Solaris, a spare, haunting performance featuring video manipulations by Brian Eno and Nick Robertson. Despite a slight delay, the performance went off without a hitch and received a standing ovation. This was one of the few large-scale performances on offer. On the second day, Pantha Du Prince paired with The Bell Laboratory for an audiovisual performance that can only be described as a steampunk chamber orchestra: suited musicians playing massive bell-equipped keyboards to a disco backbeat.
Photo credit: Ed Jansen
Luckily, the festival wasn't heavily directed and much of the events and exhibitions were presented as a buffet: to be consumed at one's own pleasure. All of the festival venues were a short walk away from each other and most just a footstep away from the Court Garden Hotel where I was staying. Perhaps one of the more inspired programming decisions was enlisting the support of The Hague's mammoth city hall atrium. The soaring ten-something story glass and steel structure was host to Elise Morin and Clémence Eliard's Waste Landscape, a 500 square meter installation of interwoven discarded CDs, stark witness to the strange reality of lightspeed technological innovation. Slower paced, contemplative and ambient musical fare was on the menu for the atrium including Wolfgang Voigt and Jörg Burger's collaboration MOHN, a symphonic take on techno that's more reflective than active.
Relative to the rest of the festival (and to music festivals in general), there was little in the way of club-centric electronic music showcased. The evening programming was generally relegated to the foyers of the nearby theaters, which were set-up as temporary club spaces with mini line arrays and collapsible tables. Despite the humble setup there were bright moments. Koen Nutters of DNK and Bill Kouligas from PAN delivered a strong abstract DJ set followed by a shamefully under-attended set by Heatsick.
While bigger names like Ikonika and Phon.o prevailed at these pop-up clubs, a great deal of the festival's energy headed towards the Vortex, a two-story tall bird's nest of reconstituted furniture and bric-a-brac situated on the Spuiplein, The Hague's city square. Local DJs and live acts running the gamut from tech house, minimal and scratch DJs to instrumentalists were programmed at the space throughout the day and well into the evening, effectively creating a free, all-ages, open air in the center of the city for the duration of the festival.
Nik Nowak's Sound Panzer made sporadic appearances, popping out of a nearby shipping container from time to time for a quick 30 minute DJ set. The panzer is, well, exactly what it purports to be: a VW-sized tank that's about 90% speaker cabinet and 10% DJ booth. In a relatively somber festival, it ended up being one of the biggest surprises (and certainly the most set upon by smart phone cameras).
Photo credit: Ed Jansen
In a city where not much has happened musically since the long, slow decline of the Bubbling scene in the early '00s, the Vortex became the lifeblood for a festival (and a city) that seemed more institutionally-focused. Attracting not only ticketed guests but a layer cake of Hague population, bored Dutch teenagers, the homeless and off-work technocrats all gravitated to the space throughout the day and well into the night. Even if there was a better DJ playing and a better soundsystem indoors (and certainly less rain) the Vortex showed that all it takes is a little bit of music and a few people with not much to do to make things go.