Frankly, Lucrecia Dalt ruined the rest of the evening for Incendiary. The bar was set too high and anything after this was a coda to what went before.
Day two… did I mention the rain? Den Haag sat squat and damp under lowering skies, with cloudbursts driving most people off the streets. Still, the weather couldn’t dampen expectation as Incendiary was meeting up with a bunch of old friends to take in day two of Rewire. Plus one of the artists we really, really like, Lucrecia Dalt, was first on the bill. That’s the sort of thing that allows you to give the weather a good beating with the largest shitty stick to hand, regardless.
After a pint or two in the well-appointed quease fest that is the Grote Markt, (a sort of Benidorm for posh kids), we sauntered over to the Spanish church Teresia van Avila to take in Lucrecia Dalt’s gig. We would get real acoustics, amplification, a big setting… the works. Last time we’d seen her play, the poor lass had had to stand on a table in a poncey arts ‘n crafts shoppe in Utrecht. No to concessions to bijou consumerism would be allowed here at Teresia van Avila; we fey urbanites were hanging with The Lord. Incense hung heavy in the air, (maybe a sign that the authorities had taken precautionary, purifying measures to nullify the impact of the Barbarians at the gates), and the warm lighting and ochre hues made the whole thing look like a backdrop painted by Titian or Velasquez. Dalt, a small, unprepossessing figure sauntered to the mic, switched on her array of samples and pedals and started to create a brilliantly sensual wash of sounds. Her music, previously located in a delicate, gently enquiring, glitchy space, has started to move into the transcendental areas occupied by Ash Ra, or Daphne Oram; this was old, powerful and physical stuff and, given its supreme patience and sense of timelessness, music forever lurking at the back of your mind… Slowly, like some ponderous carp slowly rising from the murky pond to take the bait, the audience started to connect; old nodal points in the brain were fired up again, gut feeling sounds releasing a slow steady trickle of endorphins. Dalt's brilliant trick of repeating slow washes of sound and then cutting them off, or using beats as a sort of mnemonic device (mnemonic as in “hey, there should be a beat there, where’s it gone?”) kept everyone hooked in. The whole gig developed into a sensual pact between us and her; the lights at times adding to the feeling that we were stuck in some weird rite that only adepts could decipher. Frankly, Lucrecia Dalt ruined the rest of the evening for Incendiary. The bar was set too high and anything after this was a coda to what went before.
Line up issues meant a number of dashes between gigs to take in acts; the curse of the reporter at a festival, you can never really do justice to what’s on offer. Still, a quick check on the brilliant Valgeir Sigurdsson at the Prins27 was in order. The bit we caught was for the most part it was the sound of ice sheets cracking, of smashing collisions of texture and sudden eruptions of white noise against an ever ticking, trickling micro beat; tectonic, subterranean action made manifest. As with a lot of music from Iceland, there’s the feeling that the geography is integral to the sound, and that Icelandic composers try to find some spiritual release from confronting their own landscape. Brilliant stuff, even if we only caught 15 minutes. Then, time for a quick rush across the road to take in Jerusalem in My Heart at the Paard. I had 5 minutes to let the music take hold before Julia Holter but walked in on a bit where, frankly, all I heard was a lot of low moaning and cooing and all I saw was a never changing flicker of burning candles as a backdrop. I’m certain that this would have been fantastic but I walked in at the wrong moment.
So to the church again for Julia Holter. What is it about Holter’s music? I have written before that she can drive me up the wall with some of her more Baroque flights of fancy, (I really didn’t dig Ekstasis, for instance). However, her talent is never in doubt, and her vision, though sometimes wildly off kilter (to these ears) is a determined and sometimes exhilarating one. Tonight her band played this kooky, sensual, ambitious sound to full effect and the gig was in places stunning; but she could hardly fail here given the towering backdrop the backdrop to the altar provided. The sound was open and often loose and slightly jazzy, given violin and sax; a strangely unnerving, Gothy chicken in a basket sound, with elements of prog; to illustrate, (for argument’s sake), I detected a dash of Peter Hammill’s aesthetic weirdness or a pastoralism redolent of Kevin Ayers. For the most part her material was drawn, unsurprisingly, from her new LP Loud City Song, we didn’t get anything like Goddess Eyes, but we got This Is A True Heart and the In The Green Wild an ever changing piece - brilliantly executed too - which somehow navigated a well-heeled path between Teagrass and Gong.
But what fascinates me about her isn’t really the music. The music is just one part of the whole box of elements that make her gigs a must see at the moment. For one there’s Julia Holter herself. There’s this superficial feeling of the admonishing schoolmistress about her, the way she says things, even when it’s something along the lines of “we really like playing here” or “thanks for coming” brooks no answer; but you detect that it’s balanced with something of the quirky loner, or the slightly preppy historian. She comes across as real mixed bag and one you suspect has plenty more to reveal.
And somehow, through her music, she’s engineered a brilliant psychological coup d’état; emoting the sort of fuzzy, day trip to Ikea/the craft shop/artisan food emporium feel that her audience will recognize; the feeling of gentle consumerism, of precise, thoughtful, principled purchase. People listen to Holter’s music because they can understand its quality; understand that it’s just avant garde enough, and that she’s taking the risk of sounding pretentious for them. I find it very significant that this demographic felt at home in a church watching Julia Holter. It was their way of expressing belonging through a sort (albeit an admittedly vague and undemonstrative sort) of spirituality, and it’s compounded that the main actor on the stage required no reciprocal act of communion from them. The deal was done off stage, this church was reduced to the role of attractive, visually appropriate “space”, God’s been locked out, and the religious signifiers looking like a lot of stuff you’d see in a lifestyle “nicks and nacks” shop. The huge carved wooden pulpit looked like some grotesquely magnified white elephant; a Sheesham wood carving for home furnishing, a prop in Carpet Warehouse.
After this it was a run to catch some of Baths at the Paard, who were laying down the law but again a 5 minutes watching brief before getting the train wasn’t enough to form a judgement. It did sound fantastically snappy and enervating though and their rumbustious, crackling sound stuck in our heads on the slow walk home to Den Haag CS.