DJ Pierre, Roman Flügel, Sleaford Mods, Helena Hauff, Black Madonna….
The quest for fun continues. That’s the general feeling that descends on Facebook around March when the first festival related questions start to circulate. That annual moment of existential panic “am I still able to camp for 3 days?” … “with 25,000 ah… close friends in a field… Listening to dub at 6am.” Argh.
Good thing then that these days one can smile fitfully imagining the future, for now we can festival (yes, it’s a verb) in our favourite cities. That was the thought as I walked through the gates at Flow Festival in Helsinki for the first time. A tiny town of amped-up possibilities…
Second thought was: if Trump wins and Britain floats off even further on its lonely Atlantic trip I want to live here. Picture the scene, post industrial buildings reimagined for colour and melodies and joy. A massive pink balloon, that looks ready to take off, hangs above the site and a crowd that looks like it might be about to attend a hip wedding, hatted, made up, smiling like this is their town.
And a glorious little town is how this feels… Competitive chefs face off across the site, a microbrewery that could hold its own in Brooklyn or Hackney is pouring for the cognoscenti, and as we walk in the achingly sunny voiced Laura Mvula is conducting a soulful service to thousands on the main stage.
Day one at Flow Festival kills with the eclectic. In about 3 hours we’ve already stood in a rammed hall while the big band sound gets deftly rebuilt by Norway’s Megalodon Collective (who said jazz was for dinosaurs? You can’t move in here …); dj Roman Flugel has galvanised a crowd with a 3am-worthy in the golden light of 8pm and I’ve watched a team of two prepare a fresh papaya salad with great love (and mortar and pestle, obvs). You consume well here, is my point.
Over at the Black tent things one could check in for reports from two of my home country’s best contemporary reporters: grime star Stormzy and angry blokes extraordinaire Sleaford Mods. Whatever you think of the Britain that voted for Brexit, these two give me so much hope. Grime’s power is crowd fuelled “give me your energy Helsinki! We need it!” Yells Stormzy cutting some deftly moves over the sound of the suburbs given a chart pop sheen. Later Sleaford Mods invite the entire tent in for their idiosyncratic brand of pub lock-in shout fest. It’s glorious. Hard knock spitting from the effin’ sceptical but tellingly, here to share not running away to stuff it’s head in the sand. You listening Britain? Sleaford Mods for Foreign Secretary I say.
Back in the centre of this happy (and easily traversible – winning) village there’s a river of people amassing at the Balloon Stage for Paperi T X Pekka Kuuisto X Samuli Kosminen. The amphitheater stage faces in on a music in the round set up that lends every show here a kind of homecoming quality, and for this baroque-rap supergroup show that’s exactly how it feels. I’m not gonna claim my Finnish is up to the snuff to read the runes accurately but there’s a loping, laconic smartness that comes across just the same. Local heroes to judge the crowd.
DJ Pierre has discovered the secret door that leads back to 1989… #smiley #acid #bloody #heavy Ein von Thomas Venker (@kaput_mag) gepostetes Video am
Later, to even more swollen crowds, the charming discovered-pop of Ata Kak is utterly disarming. As I walked in he was leading a massive singing lesson for the men and the ladies before speeding them up to a frenzy. There’s something so redemptive about pop music when it’s perfect, and the look on Ata Kak’a face says “see? I always told you music was the answer!” It was going to be hard to top that but in between time notable shout outs must go to DJ Pierre for reminding us that good Acid is a bedroom-based music, and then having the good grace to bring seemingly his entire bedroom studio onstage to prove it. Big. Smiley. Faces.
Helena Hauff out in Resident Advisor’s yard (note: more clubs should have yards with trees, it’s nice, it adds…) takes us on a dance journey that’s part the sound of two weeks ago, part 1991 rave nation, and is just a little bit glorious for this ambition.
There’s a righteous crush to get in and hear Anna Von Hausswolf close out the first night at Flow in The Other Sound’s village hall. It’s soaring and glacial and a blast of light as the night’s fallen at last.
As the immaculately clean train pulled out of Helsinki station I finally had a nice 20 minutes to think (straight) about the wonders of the Flow. A good festival is both a holiday from reality and yet a super-concentration of the best bits of reality. Entertainment that descends like a mood but that’s as potent as that first espresso hit. And really, something rather delightful about the concentrated cute-industrial village that Flow creates makes this the prevailing experience. In no particular order the second half of the festival that I saw (your mileage may vary) was lit up by the bemused electro funk of Liima, a gangly bunch of affable mad professors let loose on the main stage; set on fire by the one-man-funk-soul-revue that was Anderson.Paak (take note: more rappers should be singers and drummers), and an aching sunshine that kept coming back for more.
Delights there were many:
- The sheer amount of women in Annie Hall-esque hats.
- Food assembled by crafts people who’ve seeming got lost on the way to a classy restaurant somewhere in the city. The widespread enthusiasm for Arca’s glitchy darkness despite the aforementioned sun blasting outside.
- Watching the agog faces staring at the stage during FKA Twigs headline set on Saturday night. It might be music, it might be dance, it’s definitely art and it’s all encompassing.
- Resident Advisor’s blinder-playing programming all weekend and the unphased way the locals were up for a full-on party even mid-afternoon. Big props go to Red Axes, Helena Hauff, Roman Flugel, Kim Ann Foxman and the other dance captains.
- Morrissey sounding as full of voice (and advice on vegan menu ideas) as ever. Big Moz looks more like your favourite pub singer with every passing year. Long may he continue to rule over us.
- A lovely, if far-too-rare Ripatti set. A joy to see someone work so hard putting together a hard set with the lightest of touch. Epic visuals too.
- That you can wander about 84.3 metres from said electronica feast and be rocking out like a 90s punk with The Descendants, still surrounded by more Annie Hall hats that the mind can comfortably conceive of #winning.
- They queued to get in to see Kamasi Washington for at least an hour and even then it was standing room only. Your humble correspondent was trapped up against a hot dog stand, pinned into place by crowds and the artful funk of a modern jazz master. There are definitely worse ways to spend an afternoon.
- Megastar Sia deciding to play it arty, and for this big points are awarded. Dancers, guest actors, playback, wigs… isn’t this why all kids want to grow up into pop stars in the first place?
- And at which other festival do you also get to hear the first ever Finnish performance of two 1970s works by Steve Reich? An incredible concert from the NYKY Ensemble kicked off Saturday, reminding everyone that minimalism can be incredibly moving. A rather poetic way to start a day that ended in two techno-fuelled after parties across town.
This was just incredibly moving… Steve Reich in the afternoon #minimalism #maximalism #flowfestival #2016 Ein von Alexander Mayor (@alexfestival) gepostetes Video am
Simple yet full of thoughtful details, arty yet utterly approachable (and walkable!). A curated and cultural mini-town you’ve been given the keys to. Helsinki itself seems weirdly empty once you walk out under Flow’s gates. But on every level this is a wildly imaginative weekend.
Flow – really the model of a modern music festival (and missing you already).