This year, the three-day Flow Festival in Helsinki’s Suvilahti district attracted a record crowd: 70,000 visitors.
Let’s take a look of what exactly went down at the festival a week ago from August 14 to 16.
It’s well-known that the Flow Festival (already the 12th) is a prestigious meeting ground between the young and the beautiful and the music lovers who don’t ride the current of mainstream music just looking to attend the performance of the next chart blower. They are, instead, looking for talent.
On Friday evening, the British new soul artist, Lianne La Havas, moved the crowd with a few tunes that make you want to put on your dancing shoes (turns out the majority was prepared). The crowd loved to dance to Is Your Love Big Enough and Unstoppable, which are some of the grooviest songs from her two albums (Is Your Love Big Enough (2012) and Blood (2015). However, most of Lianne’s songs are slowish and moody – spiced with influences of jazz, soul and Jamaican music, a fusion, which moved the spectators in a slow swaying motion.
The next crowd mover was Chic, the funky disco ensemble from the late ’70s. For many, Chic and the vocalist and lead guitarist, Neil Rodgers, 62, is equal to the song Good Times: “Leave your cares behind, these are the good times . . . ,” the tune with the stomping bassline, famously borrowed by the Sugarhill Gang for their song Rapper’s Delight, which made them a sensation overnight. At Flow, Chic even pulled dancers from the audience to join the good times on stage. Another crowd favourite was Le Freak, known by everybody who has ever attended a disco. Let’s Dance by David Bowie was another audience favourite, mixing soul and Bowie’s rock.
Starting from the afternoon, there were many DJ sets and Finnish bands playing at various smaller venues across the festival area, which encircled the disused power station built at the turn of the century. The decoration was glitter, glamour and bright colour.
The beer was relatively expensive (a small can 7 euros) and gourmet food delicious after putting about 10 euros on the counter. Many people were dressed in a trendy outfit chosen specifically for Flow; women wore big fedoras in various colours and their bodies were wrapped in matching long summer dresses. The men looked like they just arrived from the hairdresser.
The last performer of Friday was Major Lazer, a group of American DJs and producers fusing dubstep to dancehall and reggae to rap and drum’n’bass to electro house . . . you get the picture. The stage was decorated with huge screens flickering with psychedelic images. Booty-shaking women in bikinis did their thang as background dancers. The crowd kept bouncing, and during the evening many squeezed towards the centre of the stage where the sound was as loud as thumping.
Saturday was the night of the Irish electro pop artist, Róisin Murphy, and the British pop icon, Pet Shop Boys.
I wasn’t too familiar with the music of the both, so I was waiting for the day’s headliners to impress me.
With Murphy it was obvious from the beginning that she liked to constantly change dresses like Steven Seagal likes to change guitars (I saw him change guitars in Berlin between every song). Murphy’s taste in clothes ranged from strange to glitter and beige.
But who is Murphy (Seagal the actor doesn’t need an introduction, does he??)? She is the former singer of the 90’s electro-duo Moloko, maybe best known for their song Sing it Back. Here’s a refresher of the catchy hook: “Sing it back, sing it back to me . . . ” Indeed, Murphy performed their own version of the song among other Moloko-infused tracks and the crowd loved it (them) but most of their songs consisted of tunes from Murphy’s solo efforts, which surprisingly – based on the standstill reaction – turned out unfamiliar in the ears of the crowd.
Pet Shop Boys’ performance was about imaginative stage props and clothes (think vertically standing beds and bull outfits) infused with well-known crowd-pleasers such as West End Girls. In short, the spectators seemed more pleased with the British pop duo’s efforts than Murphy’s.
On Sunday, the weather kept blessing the festival as the temperature climbed well over 20 degrees.
When the sun started to set, one of the most anticipated artists, Beck, started preparing for the stage.
For those who don’t know (but should), Beck is an American multi-instrumentalist with a career spanning three decades. He has produced 12 studio albums, several singles and a book of sheet music. He plays guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, banjo, tambourine, the glockenspiel and more . . . He often wears sunglasses and when you see a close-up shot of him from behind the glasses, one can see a gaze with immense focus, a zen-like state of nothing but the present. Oh, and Beck grabbed the Grammy for the Best Album in last February, too. Afterwards the rapper Kanye West was quoted saying that Beck is not “a real artist,” which caused an outrage among Beck’s fans and a petition of over 100,000 supporters demanding to ban Kanye from performing at a big rock festival. Don’t mess with the fans of Beck!
At Flow, it was obvious from the beginning that Kanye didn’t know what the heck he was talking about.
Beck stepped on stage trusting in neutral colours from black shoes to dark blue pants and he was wearing a dark blue blazer over collar shirt resembling snakeskin. The outfit was completed with a dark fedora and brown sunglasses. He grabbed the guitar, and very early in his set he owned the crowd with his ’90s hit Loser: “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me . . . ” After a strong beginning, he played a few slower songs but soon it was time for Black Tambourine, a mix of a funky rhythm and a rockish melody. Hot damn!
Like they say, Beck is at his best while combing pieces from different genres. Hell Yes (remix) was definitely a picture perfect example of that – blending rap, electro, funk and pop. The synthesized loop was hypnotic and the rap sat on top of the beat like they were glued with Eri Keeper. Sexx Laws was another high rhythmic crowd-pleaser but for some reason, Beck barely touched the songs from his new album Morning Phase (2015), the only song being the acoustic guitar driven Blue Moon, which however seemed to please the crowd, too. Beck’s choice for the encore was the soulful Debra from the album Midnite Vultures (1999). A perfect ending for the perfect gig.
But, as unbelievable as it sounds, the best was yet to come.
“If you are here with someone and you love someone, we want you to raise them up,” requested a woman on stage with long blonde hair, a thin white shirt, white trousers and no shoes. “Lift your girlfriend on your shoulders. Lift your boyfriend on your shoulders.” The crowd obeyed; and it was the exact opposite to some other festivals where the security would be quick to pull the revellers down.
The scene during the song Rabbit Heart was not very far from the beginning of the English inde rock group Florence (Welch) and the Machine’s set.
At this point, Florence Welch had already made a lasting impression. She moved and danced across the stage barefooted and when she sang, it was like she lived every word. She had many wonderful songs in her set list, such as What the Water Gave Me (Ceremonials 2011) and Ship to Wreck from her latest album How Big How Blue How Beautiful (2015). There was a moment when Florence asked the crowd to join as the choir for her song Shake It Out. The spectators sang lovely, while some waved Queen of Peace signs in the air at Florence.
Florence shook hands with the crowd in front of the stage and from afar it looked like she even did some crowd surfing. Other highlights of her gig were the songs from her 2009 album Lungs: Drumming Song and Spectrum. As the last song of the performance, Florence asked the crowd to take off a piece of cloth and wave it in the air to the rocking rhythm of Dog Days Are Over (also from Lungs). “The dog days are over. The dog days are done. The horses are coming. So you better run . . . ”
After the final accords, the crowd of thousands cheered and started to awaken slowly from the trance of something beautiful and real – off the highlight of the Finnish festival summer that we were all privileged to witness and hear.