In the weekend of 22/23 september, the 13th edition of the annual festival for contemporary experiments in electronic music, art and digital culture, electrified the city centre of The Hague. Founded in 2005 and conceived by a group of ex-squatters, artists and cultural progressors, TodaysArt is a festival that continuously looks for other ways. Featuring key performances and audiovisual highlights by Hauschka, Ata Kak and Sote and Tarik Barri, an extensive art, exhibition, panel and workshop program as well as two club nights on the majestic backdrop of an 18th century classical theatre, the festival inspired over 6000 visitors across 3 main venues on both days.
The festival opened with an opening speech from The Hague’s mayor Pauline Krikke, standing on stage with a ‘Wifible’, a wearable wifi router, around her arm. Festival goers came across this device spread throughout the festival venues, and once connected participants were able to see video pieces on their browser displaying some of the festival’s artworks. “Algorithms, blockchain, data, design ethics, riot in the matrix, robot employment agencies, complexity – and „Just because it is complex, does not mean it is complicated“ were words flashing across the screen during festival director Olof van Winden’s opening speech. TodaysArt 2017 was an ode to complexity with a program seeking to challenge and disrupt by putting contrasts next to each other, be it in reference to the programming, setting or audience of the two day festival.
Whilst experimental by design, TodaysArt featured a spectrum of world, European and Dutch premières and headlining shows. As the opening concert “Sacred Horror in Design” by Sote and Tarik Barri enthralled the audience with an impressive blend of traditional Persian instruments, electronics and enticing abstract apocalypse visuals shaping and shifting live on stage. Coming straight from Reworks Festival in Thessaloniki, as part of the We are Europe network, Hauschka opened his concert with a short introduction, highlighting the need for European collaboration. His concert, one that goes into the TodaysArt history books, took the audience on a journey through imaginative soundscapes based around piano and electronics—a deep experience within the setting of the classic royal theatre.
Another highlight of this year’s program was Still be Here with Japanese virtual sensation Hatsune Miku. A hologram performing pop-star with millions of fans, the show came to the Netherlands through TodaysArt for the first time and attracted many visitors, amongst them some Hatsune Miku cosplay characters. The piece, which straddles the border between hologram performance, pop-concert and documentary format, engaged with the phenomenon and the fascination with Hatsune Miku and left many audience members questioning the nature of this unique performance.
Mesmerising audio-visual pieces oscillating between performance and installation were Force Field by Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand and Chris Salter and TeZ’s Dissense.
In the evening the festival’s main venue, the Koninklijke Schouwburg, transitioned into a dance club, highlighting music from across the electronic spectrum on three different stages. Christian Löffler played in an intimate room in the theatre’s upstairs attic, while Torus and Mexican label collective NAAFI with Fausto Bahia, Lao and Omaar played on the main stage with their back to the auditorium and the theatre’s stunning gilded hall illuminated by strobe lights. DJ Panic was one of Friday’s highlights, closing the main stage with an iconic gabber set.
A club night conceived as a spatial intervention, TodaysArt plays each year with the very concept of a festival. The exhibition and Context program was equally well visited and served an important function to embed the festival within the larger purpose of engaging with, and putting into question, our contemporary cultural moment. This year the festival included panel discussions on Algorithmic Complexity, Design Ethics, Gender Inequality, and Riot in the Matrix. Each panel engaged with how technology permeates our lives, resonating the festival’s opening note on complexity. The Context Program functioned as a connecting point for the different festival programs and audiences taking a panel discussion themes further into workshops (Cryptoparty, Make your own self-driving car, Pyramid of Technology) and expanding the performance and music program, with a workshop by Thomas Ankersmit, prior to his evening performance, on the history and his use of the Serge synthesizer and a highly attended DJ workshop for women.
Artworks were on display at all three theatre venues as well as at collaborating project spaces The Grey Space in the Middle and Quartair with artists engaging with ideas around automation, machine learning and algorithmic complexity. Amongst other pieces the royal theatre was a fitting backdrop for Jacob Tonski’s Balance from within, a 170-year old sofa balancing and teetering on one leg, supported by a robotic mechanism. Jonas Lund’s Happy or Not gathered visitors data around their exhibition experience and Bogomir Doringer’s selected footage from his ongoing research project I Dance alone, screening at Filmhuis, engaged with the movement of clubbers as an organism. A powerful work by BAT, a Mongolian artist in residence at TodaysArt, mesmerizing visitors to the Grey Space in the Middle. Philip Vermuelen’s Physical Rhythm Machine / Boem BOem, an installation which shot tennis balls at speeds up to 150 km/h onto sound boxes, created an immersive visceral acoustic instrument.
Saturday also saw the headlining performance by Ata Kak, whose energy was infectious. With The Hague marking the final gig of his European tour, the band celebrated with champagne fountains on stage. The club night opened with Richard Devine’s modular synth performance releasing unhinged scattering beats upon the crowd. Club highlights were Clap! Clap!, Tomasa del Real, Marie Davidson and Inga Mauer who, for the last set went b2b together.
TodaysArt 2017 was full of discoveries, contrasts, disruptions, weird little interventions. From a pop-up rave in the royal theatre’s men’s bathroom to a gabber set on the backdrop of a majestic auditorium, to Hatsune Miku cosplay characters, Andreas Trobolowitsch’s sound performance with 25 performers playing melodicas, balloons and cable tubes to mesmerising audio-visual and sonic explorations, the creativity, ingenuity and rebellious undercurrent on both the artists and audience side made this edition yet another one to remember.
The dates for TodaysArt 2018 are set: 21-22 September.