Postcard From The Hague

Rewire Festival and a photography project documenting Den Haag’s underground

Across the walls of The Grey Space, photos are roughly printed in black and white and pasted to the walls, like fly posters. I can see beer sprayed across a crowded dance hall; an electric guitar leaning against an amp, daisy-chained through a string of effects pedals; piles of cd-rs arranged neatly on a concrete floor, studied and traded by serious-looking young men. Sitting amongst the flyered walls sits a bulky old photocopier, as if ready, at any minute, to churn out countless more.


‘In Situ’, 2017, installation view, The Grey Space, The Hague. Courtesy: Bertus Gerssen

‘In Situ’, installation view, The Grey Space, The Hague, 2017. Courtesy: Bertus Gerssen

There’s a curious mix of the generic and the specific here. I recognize these scenes – or scenes very much like them – from gigs I’ve been to, growing up in Brighton and in London, and later, in towns all over the world, over many years. But, although even some locals have mistaken them for archive shots from the ’80s or ’90s, all of these pictures were taken here, in The Hague, between 2013 and 2015, by photographer Bertus Gerssen.


Performance as part of ‘In Situ’, The Grey Space, The Hague, 2017. Courtesy: Bertus Gerssen

Performance as part of ‘In Situ’, The Grey Space, The Hague, 2017. Courtesy: Bertus Gerssen

I’ve come to The Grey Space for the launch of Gerssen’s new photo-book, In Situ, a special presentation as part of the city’s annual Rewire Festival. As I step into the basement downstairs, Leilani Trowell from the electronic duo Hexeneiche is eking a sequence of menacing bass rumbles out of a table covered in blinking flashing lights. Later in the evening there will be performances from local performance artist Jacco Weener and roots rockers Supersonic Blues. It’s an eclectic bill. But, as Gerssen tells me, as he was exploring the Den Haag underground with his camera, whether he was attending a techno party in an abandoned warehouse, a punk gig in a dank squat, or an experimental concert in a state subsidised venue like Studio Loos, he kept seeing the same faces. Finally, he realized: the scene was not always so much about the music as it was ‘a way of life’, a means of ‘coming together.’ He decided to focus his lens not on the bands, but the audience, the people who – as he quotes one such subject – ‘would only attend max. 30 person events.’


Bertus Gerssen, Mattresses at De Vloek, 2012–15. Courtesy: Bertus Gerssen

Bertus Gerssen, Mattresses at De Vloek, 2013–15. Courtesy: Bertus Gerssen

One of the most oft-used word in Rewire’s densely-packed programme is ‘scene’. When I speak to the festival’s founder and director Bronne Keesmaat, he’s keen to talk up the number of local acts playing and the festival’s ‘strong bond’ with local initiatives. But even beyond that, it seems like many of the visiting acts on the bill have come as ambassadors, in some sense, of their own local scenes – whether that’s Moor Mother and NAH repping the angry sound of young Philadelphia, Pussy Mothers showcasing the psychedelic disco of Glasgow’s Optimo crew, or Zs, Greg Fox, Horse Lords, and Cloud Becomes Your Hand – almost a festival within the festival over at the Prins bar on Friday night – speaking for their own experimental niche in Brooklyn. Where a photographer like Gerssen might celebrate the specificity of his own local network; a festival like Rewire can turn into a gathering of all the tribes, a united federation of subterranean micro-scenes from all over the world.


Slowdive playing at Rewire Festival 2017. Courtesy: © Rewire Festival; photograph: Parcifal Werkman

Slowdive playing at Rewire Festival 2017. Courtesy: © Rewire Festival; photograph: Parcifal Werkman

Keesmaat started the festival in the winter of 2011. Back then Rewire was more or less evenly split between the sonic and visual arts. Over its first few years, it featured work by, Cevdet Erek, Roger Hiorns, Haroon Mirza Ahmet Ögut,  and The Otolith Group. But by 2014, he decided to narrow the focus to sound and music. ‘The visuals arts and musical programmes were two different identities within the festival,’ he explains. ‘I felt the true synergy was lacking.’ Since then, they’ve put ever more emphasis on new music commissions and original collaborations, bringing unlikely partners together in often unusual venues, like factories, abandoned warehouses, and sacred spaces. This year saw a Lutheran church on the edge of the city’s Chinatown playing host to British electronic pioneer (and founder of EMS Synthesizers) Peter Zinovieff working with classical musician Lucy Railton in a scintillating piece for computer and cello which chewed up a series of extended instrumental techniques into a myriad microtonal fragments. Elsewhere, Amsterdam-based producer HOEK worked with artist Dieter Vandoren to create a deft choreography of blinking lights and processed field recordings. Jeff Mills and Tony Allen, two of the 20th century’s greatest rhythm scientists, traded beats across a high-tech hall designed by Rem Koolhaas.


Gaika playing at Rewire Festival 2017. Courtesy: © Rewire Festival; photograph: Parcifal Werkman

Gaika playing at Rewire Festival 2017. Courtesy: © Rewire Festival; photograph: Parcifal Werkman

As I walked through town from venue to venue, my friend Remco Schuurbiers, curator of another local festival, TodaysArt, would point out buildings here and there that he used to know as squats. This place here, he would say of one place, they made great toasties – but it was difficult to order them because the DJ was always mixing gabba with speed metal records played at 78rpm. He spoke always, of such places, in the past tense. Gerssen, likewise, had told me his book had unintentionally become a ‘time capsule’ for a scene once ‘alive and vibrant’, but no more; decimated by the new squatting laws of 2010. But seeing local acts like Hexeneiche and the ‘music as not music’ of Das Ensemble Ohne Eigenschaften, squeezing in amongst the packed crowds watching the blistering noise rock of Sex Swing, a band straight out of David Lynch’s darkest nightmares, and swaying to the woozy dystopian dancehall of Gaika; I can feel Gerssen is right to believe there are still a lot of people here hungry for new sounds, new free spaces, and new scenes to emerge.

Main image: Rewire festival 2017. Courtesy: Rewire Festival, The Hague; photograph: Eel Chang Ming

Robert Barry is a freelance writer and composer from Brighton, England. His book The Music of the Future was published by Repeater in March.

Most Read

Ahead of its South London Gallery performance, how Tom Phillips’s Irma – a work that questions the genre of opera...
With the opening of the 15th Istanbul Biennial this week, a guide to the best exhibitions around town
Ahead of the openings of EXPO Chicago and the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, a guide to the best exhibitions...
Florine Stettheimer, Beauty Contest: To the Memory of P.T. Barnum, 1924, oil on canvas, 1.2 x 1.5 m. Courtesy: Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut and Ettie Stettheimer
The Jewish Museum, New York, USA
Highlights of the exhibitions and performances taking place during Berlin Art Week 
Reflections, a favourite verse, and a new poem dedicated to one of the English language’s most renowned poets of the...
Nicole Eiseman, Sketch for a Fountain (Skizze für einen Brunnen), 2017, Skulptur Projekte 2017, bronze, gips, wasserbecken. Courtesy: Skulptur Projekte Münster
Various venues, Münster, Germany
Buoyed by Manifesta announcing it will dock in the port city in 2020, is Marseille becoming the new LA? 
Ahead of this year’s DC Open and gallery share Okey-Dokey, a round-up of the best shows across the Rhineland cities
From artist Enoch Cheng’s nocturnal balletics to fascist violence in Charlottesville, rethinking the political agency...
Opened 15 months ago but remaining empty until now, the inaugural show at the landmark Palestinian Museum in Birzeit
The dual sides to the city’s Cph Art Week
Queer cringe at the BBC and other diversity dilemmas
Marta Minujín, El Partenón de libros (The Parthenon of Books), 2017, under construction in Kassel as part of documenta 14. Photograph: © Rosa Maria Ruehling
On documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel
Chris Kraus’s biography of the first female ‘Great Writer as Countercultural Hero’
Remembering the artist whose occultist experiments transformed her body and biography into art 
In this microcosm of the disenfranchisement of ‘Late Great Britain’, what use is art?
Public debate around Confederate insignia has little to do with historical fact, and everything to do with collective...
A multi-faceted collaboration between Matthew Barney, Ragnar Kjartansson and the Iceland Dance Company reflects on...
What Luc Besson’s Valerian and a number of recent artists’ 3D films are getting right about our current reality
The removal of the Confederate monuments in Baltimore shows decisiveness after years of inaction – already they stand...
Yayoi Kusama to open her own museum; Confederate monuments removed in Baltimore; David Roberts Art Foundation to leave...
From a tribute to Straub/Huillet to Valerie Massadian’s portrait of teenage motherhood, the turn to real situations and...
Japan’s growing number of art festivals tread a precarious path between state-sponsored leisure-culture and soft-power...
Fifty years after the term was coined, a show in Samos reflects on ‘the unlikely liaison between love and politics’
Arsenale and Giardini, Venice, Italy
SoundCloud has been invaluable to the new music community for both documentation and discovery – now the audio-...
The extraordinary life of the late, great, gallerist and collector Alexander Iolas
Various venues, New York, USA
At a time of instantaneous information and fetishized immersivity, artists are evoking scent as an alchemical, bodily...
With her current show at Gasworks, London, the Kuwaiti artist shares some influential images
Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memory, 1964, mixed media collage and graphite on board, 22 x 30 cm. Courtesy: © Romare Bearden Foundation / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017
Successfully layering a broader socio-historical narrative onto a period of radical non-conformity, this is an...
With a strong surrealist strain, and including a welcome number of female artists, highlights from the 48th edition of...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

May 2017

frieze magazine

June – August 2017

frieze magazine

September 2017