Pictures: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today
“She don’t stop, she don’t stop . . . ,” Laura Mvula sings with her tender voice.
Mvula, the British soul singer, is performing in the middle of “She” when the microphone starts squealing in a way that the Danish scientist Søren Absalon Larsen, who discovered the principles of audio feedback, would describe as “interesting.”
Mvula surely wouldn’t use that word. The feedback had been a continuing problem during her set at the Main Stage of Flow Festival at Helsinki’s Suvilahti district on Friday evening.
During another interrupting noise, the audience start cheering and clapping. They feel her pain and support her. Problems or not, they want to hear more.
Mvula continues with “Green Garden” and “That’s Alright.” Her baroque soul and smooth voice combined with a team play of a harpsichord, glockenspiels, harps and background vocals earn loud applauds. She thanks for the appreciation and walks off stage with her eyes fixed forward.
“It’s very rare that sound problems like this happen,” said a guy working the backstage after the gig. “This was a problem with her equipment failing to communicate together properly.”
Earlier during the day Eevil Stöö, the Finnish rapper wearing a balaclava and rapping through a voice changer, hypnotized a whole tent full of people with his intimate rap of life. His latest album Iso Vauva Jeesus (Big Baby Jesus) is considered by critics and hip-hoppers the best Finnish rap album to come out this year. And it showed.
The audience lived the words by rapping along. During “Yksinäinen” (Lonely) they lifted up their lighters. “Tyyppaa viel (Try Again) climaxed the show. The song features a masterful beat by Nuori Derrick (Young Derrick), which honorably samples the late R&B star Aaliyah’s “Try Again.”
On stage, Derrick was playing some of the beats on his wristband, which abled him to contribute to the energy by dancing and adding ad-libs to a wireless mic he was carrying around. Nuori Derrick produced the whole Jesus album and is better known as Desto, a DJ and bass music virtuoso.
The headliner of the evening was the British trip-hop legend from the ’90s, Massive Attack. During “Inertia Creeps,” the group displayed Finnish news headlines on the screen, which was a backdrop for their performance. “Voodoo in My Blood,” which featured a Scottish rap group Young Fathers, pumped a massive heart-pounding beat from Massive Attack’s latest EP Ritual Spirit, which they released in January 2016. The group’s dark sound thrills on album but punches you in the face from stage. The trip-hoppers are still making records, but they most certainly provide powerful visuals and live shows.
It was a fine opening for the first day of the three-day festival. Friday attracted 25,000 people to the party.
On Saturday, M83, the French electronic music group, known for me from the score of Tom Cruise’s 2013 sci-fi thriller Oblivion, attracted about 15,000 spectators to the largest tent, the Red Arena, which is 75 meters wide and 40 meters long. The atmosphere was sweaty, and walking through the crowd was no easy task but worth every step.
Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band gave the spectators a real, intimate afrobeat treat on the Balloon 360° stage. Pat Thomas is a legendary Ghanaian vocalist, whose voice is filled with life. His rhythm section pumped hip-shaking beats with songs like “Mewo Akoma” and “Odoo Be Ba” from their self-titled album released in 2015. The band played many highlife tunes, a jazzy horn- and a guitar-driven upbeat music genre that originated in Ghana . . . tunes too rare to name, too rare to find – without extensive digging in the crates. The stage held seats for 1,000 people and featured an area covered with concrete for dancing, which at times, felt a bit small, due to the masses unable to resist the heat of the African rhythms. The incredible sound system made the listening experience a pleasure. The music poured out with just the right volume, with no need to dig in the backpack for earplugs.
On Sunday, dark clouds were gathering in the sky but the crowd kept smiling. Flow is one of the happiest festivals in the country. And the soberest? It’s hard to find an overly drunk guy or a lady in the area. It’s a clear indication of people, who are serious about their favorite music. They are people who want to remember what they heard the next day. They are also people who want to enjoy the taste of gourmet hamburgers, fish and Asian delicatessens and more, culinary food, which a total of 40 food vendors were serving.
Flow is also a place where a sober-looking selfie is kind of a must. People dress nicely, put an effort in their outfit, the matching colors, trend and style. After that, there’s nothing left but to smile. In addition, modern contemporary art in various forms from graffiti to installations were scattered around for the visual pleasure of the spectators.
Daughter, the English folk-inflected indie rock group, took over the Red Arena in the early evening. The crowd was in tears from the beginning of their first song “Now.” The band was that anticipated.
After a half an hour in their performance, the band tuned into “Doing The Right Thing,” a sad, slow and thought-provoking song about memories and loss. It had just started raining and the crowd packed tightly into the tent. The experience gave me the chills, in the most positive way.
Before the headliner of the evening, Sia, would perform on the Main Stage, the Finnish Helsinki-based DJ Marc Fred made the people move to bass-inflected disco boogie tunes at the Champagne Bar & Lounge.
At 23:00, the Australian pop icon Sia Furler stepped on stage. Wearing a big white bow tie on her head, on top of a shining black wig that covered half of her face, it was obvious she was going to stay anonymous and focus the spotlight on her music.
This was hardly news to anyone familiar with Sia’s style and life. In 2014, The New York Times described Sia as “the socially phobic pop star.” In the article, she discussed the prospect of becoming famous as “horrible.” “I just wanted to have a private life,” she said. In 2010, Sia was on a verge of a suicide but then a friend came up with an idea that Sia would start writing songs for other artists. To date, she has written songs for Christina Aguilera, Kate Perry and Rihanna, to name a few.
At Flow, she presented an acoustic version of “Diamonds,” the song she wrote to Rihanna. While yet to hear Rihanna singing live, in my opinion, Sia’s voice possessed more depth than the album version of the world-famous R&B diva. Sia, too, is far from unknown. (Or anonymous – one google image search reveals countless images of her smiling face and blonde bob hairstyle.) She has published seven albums, sold over 25 million records and was in 2014 ranked as the 97th richest Australian person under the age of 40.
Sia’s performance was accompanied by dancers in bodysuits, just like in her videos. The piano-driven “Breath Me” was one of the beauties of the gig and the last song of the set “Chandelier,” the hit song dating back a few years, brought tears to the eyes of many spectators.
In 12 years, Flow has grown into the Rolls-Royce of Finnish festivals, a multimillion euro product where the love for music still springs from the heart. The festival attracts an international crowd as well, especially people from Russia. Last year, 4,000 spectators came from abroad.
During the weekend, a record crowd of 75,000 people visited Flow. The festival was sold out. The big question is: Is there still room to grow?