We’ve been anticipating this year’s edition of Flow Festival for months. Located just a few hours flight away from London or Berlin – and even less from Russia – it’s the perfect getaway for a weekend full of first-class music and food. While you can enjoy the luxury of sleeping in a bed instead of a tent, the festival site Suvilathi is less than 15 minutes away from Helsinki’s central station. For three days the old industrial complex turns into an impressive festival world full of local art. The ten different stages vary from 360 degrees balloon stage, the Red Arena or The Other Sound Stage. The festival program starts in the early afternoon and lasts until shortly after midnight – due to noise restrictions. But finishing at midnight was no problem, due to plenty of afterparties nearby with world-renowned DJs such as Honey Dijon.
Meat-free zones and sustainable booze
With this year’s edition Flow proved, that in 2019 festivals should not just contain a great music line-up, but also a great food line-up. Where else can you eat Mac’n’Cheese in a cone or Asian Tacos while listening to your favorite artists? Being one of the most sustainable festivals in the world, Flow also offered an area with exclusively vegetarian food. All other food stands included at least one vegan meal on their menu, as well. You could also bring your own water bottle to the festival and refill it at one of the numerous water stations. By the way, the festival drink of choice in Finland would be ‘The Original’, a long drink mixed with gin and grapefruit juice. Even drinking booze could be environmentally friendly at Flow. Instead of getting your 1 Euro deposit back, you could donate it to plant a tree.
Flow also proved not just their fine taste in food, but also in booking some of the hottest artists in the world. One of them is without a question Slowthai. The British rapper just got nominated for a Mercury Prize with his debut Nothing Great About Britain. Though he already performed on the first evening of the festival he delivered probably the most energetic set of the whole weekend. He motivated the crowd to form a huge moshpit, chant swearwords, and even brought a fan on stage. It could’ve been another memorable fan performance like legendary Alex from Glastonbury, but the Finnish fan didn’t know the lyrics of Skepta’s rap part in ‚Inglorious‘. At least he jumped around the stage topless, in style of Slowthai himself, who stripped down to his boxer shorts towards the end of the performance. The rapper joined the audience when he got off the stage, making his first show in Finland a truly memorable one. He certainly could have rocked the main stage as well. (The Black Tent actually looked more crowded than the Main Stage for Earl Sweatshirt.) Slowthai will probably be playing the bigger festival stages soon.
Gracing the main stage, Erykah Badu later played a set of the perfect potpourri of R&B, soul, funk, and Jazz. But it was disappointingly short. After coming up half an hour later than planned, she only sang for a brief 35 minutes. Headliner Solange’s set didn’t go as planned either. She did extend her set but after midnight the sound technicians put an end to it. That was not by mistake but due to the strict noise restrictions in Helsinki. Even though angry fans criticized the festival’s decision on Twitter afterwards, it was a necessity to save the festival’s existence. Nevertheless, Solange’s performance showed that she is certainly not standing in the shadow of her bigger sister Beyoncé anymore. She does her own thing and delivered the finest R&B and a minimalistic performance. The Houston-born artist stepped in for Cardi B – who canceled several festival performances on short notice.
Local artists and confetti bombs
On Saturday evening, Berlin-based Finnish artist Jaako Eino Kalevi finessed indie Pop on the Balloon Stage, an impressive 360° stage. The lineup of Flow equally features local and international artists. As a flagship for Finnish music, Alma debuted her debut album Have You Seen Her? on the main stage. She was the only local artist playing the stage at peak times. Following her was Tame Impala who had probably not heard of the festival’s sustainable program. With big confetti machines he opened Let It Happen. ‘Let’s do this‘, Kevin Parker shouted out before unleashing the colorful madness. But it felt a bit routined, as did their whole psych-pop set. Earlier, Blood Orange mesmerized the crowded Laptin Kulta Arena with songs of his recently released mixtape Angels Pulse.
The electronic duo Amnesia Scanner – also Finnish expats in Berlin- played The Other Sound Stage later that night. With a distorted and disturbing set, they left an ecstatic audience behind. Closing the festival night was no other than Robyn. The Swedish singer danced around the stage accompanied by a vogueing dancer. And she even made more than one audience members shed a tear with her hit ‘Dancing On My Own’. Another heartbreaking performance came from Mitski on Sunday evening. The American indie darling admitted to feeling ‚terribly depressed’ in the morning. Nonetheless, she seemed even more energetic than usual. While fighting a big table that is standing on the stage she announced to go on a ‚indefinite‘ hiatus in September after years of touring.
After 40 years of touring, it is truly remarkable how Robert Smith’s voice sounds even better than in their 80s heyday. With black hair and makeup, he didn’t seem to have altered a lot, either. The Sunday heading slot at Flow Festival comes in a row of European festivals for The Cure. As a celebration for their legendary album ‚Disintegration‘ – which turned 30 this year – their energy was unstoppable. The band performed more than 2 hours, straight. This might just be as good as it gets this year – their set proved to be all killer, no filler with a setlist full of all the hits you can think of. The Cure-mania was maybe the reason why, in the beginning, James Blake’s set wasn’t as crowded as usually. After playing just two hits from this year’s stunning album Assume Form, the British artist dove into rather freestyle dance music. In front of an entranced audience, he announced his song Don’t Miss It – dedicated to his experience with anxiety and depression – as his last one.
The party was over at the main stages, at just 11.30, but it continued at the Resident Advisor Front yard where Russian DJ Nina Kraviz blasted out stomping techno. She is – without question – one of the most talented electronic artists out there – alongside Peggy Gou, The Black Madonna, Amelie Lens, and others. A few years back who would’ve thought that in the ‘oh-so male-dominated’ electronic business one day female artists could lead the way? Gender equality is an important question for the Flow Festival bookings, as it participates in the Keychange initiative. This year 65% of the performing artists were female.
The morning after the festival, Kraviz posted to her over one million followers a selection of videos of her Flow Festival performance – with commenting that Flow Festival is one of her favorite festivals in the world. We couldn’t have put it any better. This year’s edition of Flow Festival showed that enjoying music and partying for three days comes in hand with important political questions. In times of Friday’s For Future and numerous climate activism movements, Flow sends an important message by promoting sustainability and the future of our world. Like that, the festival is more than a mile ahead of its many competitors in the European festival market. Like Robert Smith himself once said: ‘Flow Festival, we’re in love.’
All photos by Louisa Zimmer