Organised since 2004, Helsinki’s Flow Festival has grown into an urban “music and arts boutique festival”, a much-hyped event combining a variety of hand-picked acts from various fields covering indie pop and rock, r’n’b, jazz, electronic music all the way to feminist poetry (and a cinema… but not sure if that one is necessary at a festival like this).
Flow Festival is the standout festival of Finland, an exploration without muddy and tired camping area. The festival, located almost in the centre of Helsinki, is an old power plant and industrial space offering the unique premises for the three-day event. It’s a massive production of 83 000 visitors, combining concerts, DJ-sets, talks, local design and whatnot. The area is well done, maybe even getting better year by year, with it’s “insta-friendly” hangouts and many pretty things to see. It’s far from an intimate get together festival, but no one expects it to be that – instead, it is a get together of contemporary art forms.
So how was the music?
Besides the obvious world-class picks Tame Impala (finally Kevin Parker in Finland!), Blood Orange (lovely show), The Cure (two-hour mass-singing with everyone dressed in black) and Solange (last-minute add because Cardi B cancelled), the club and DJ-selection was of course of our interest. The artistic director of the electronic music is Helsinki’s “club emperor” Toni Rantanen aka. Lil’ Tony, a man behind the famous Kaiku and Ääniwalli clubs. Rantanen has formed a long-lasting relationship with Resident Advisor. RA was present also this year, hosting “Front Yard” stage inviting mainly commercial electronic music acts, such as Nina Kraviz (who returned the festival after debuting in 2017), as well as Palms Trax, Black Madonna and Baba Stiltz to name a few.
The city of Helsinki is lovely but it is not necessarily the oasis for techno-orientated people. Instead, Helsinki’s “main” sound could be described as something between electro and selector house, and it was understandable that these genres were present also in this years music curation. Helsinki’s own space techno hero Samuli Kemppi was this year playing at the afterparty, but the festival guests got to enjoy some excellent techno at the Front Yard by Donato Dozzy himself. The Italian maestro presented his signature sounds, teasing and heating up the crowd for good 45 minutes before starting the proper dance party with heavier snares and kicks, finally serving the spoiled crowd with world’s best kind of hypnotic and contemporary sounds.
On Friday we also liked Finnish Tuomas A. Laitinen‘s show at the Other Sound stage, placed in a massive hall, offering a space for experimental acts that one could enjoy sitting down. It was not a dance-floor stage, but a stage for immersing oneself with a gentle blur of audiovisual art. Mexican Ana Gutieszca‘s live was another festival highlight, and it even lured the some guests to dance in front of the stage, enjoying Ana’s broken techno beats, hypnotic noise music, the performance intensifying towards the end of the hour.
Another stage that deserves a shout-out is the “party oasis” Red Garden, mainly a DJ-stage hosted by a bunch of Helsinki’s “club kids”, dancing in their all-red outfits at the all-red stage that offered an all-red visual experience. Red Garden is a true concept, more and more inviting multidisciplinary artists to perform, and this year it had for example painters and fashion designers in the booth. It feels that Red Garden’s goal was for everyone to have fun, and it was the stage with the wildest dance moves and most smiles on people’s faces – fun! It was indeed a funny moment to see the crowd going crazy for Gabber Eleganza‘s set on Sunday evening, wondering how people have that much energy left.
Another fun moment took place at Reaktor Backyard stage on Saturday evening, when Helsinki’s local dj/producer favourite Sansibar was closing the stage with his “eclectic style dipping wildly between Detroit electro, jackin’ chi-trax, futuristic techno-bass and all the things between”. Sansibar was like at home in the booth, also having fun, even serving a bottle of red to the front row whilst entertaining the full and hyped floor with his energetic set.
All in all, Flow Festival is an interesting festival with fresh focus on various art forms, offering new experiences for people with a curious and open-minded attitude, with taste exceeding the genres of techno and electro. Each year there is plenty to discover, and the whole selection is very well thought and professionally executed. The coming years could offer more later-time slots especially for the local established electronic music artists, so the international guests would discover them better – because we know there will be more and more international guests, as the festival’s reputation is deservedly growing each year.