16 performances you need to see at Helsinki’s award-winning Flow Festival this month

In one week it will be time for Helsinki’s highly regarded Flow Festival to once again fill the historic Suvilahti Power Plant (a disused power plant, that is) with an entire weekend of international and local artists spanning music, food, drink and the arts. This year’s headliners include none other than Frank Ocean, the xx, Lana Del Rey, Aphex Twin and Flume, though the entire line-up is packed with quality both young and old, drawing on cutting-edge acts from Finland to South Africa to U.S to Australia. The line-up’s variety is endless, and choosing just a few top picks was a hard enough job, but we think we did okay.

If you’re heading along to Flow Festival this year, or you’ve still got gaps in that dream European summer trip to fill, then take a look and listen to some of the artists below. They’re guaranteed to make the weekend one for the record books; you know, in addition to art installations, top local chefs, pop-up bars, conceptual stages, and more.

Lana Del Rey

Day: Friday
Stage: Main Stage
Time: 10:45pm

There’s no one quite like Lana Del Rey, on or off the charts. Her fifth album, the just-released Lust for Life, proves that ten times over, presented as one of her most vital and important projects seven years after Lana’s beloved self-titled studio debut. With a smokey voice and a penchant for world-building songs that are imbued with great warmth, sadness, love and regret, there’s no doubt that the songstress will be owning Flow Festival’s first night. It’ll put you in a more downbeat mood of course, but you can always pick the party back up by catching London Grammar afterwards.

London Grammar

Day: Friday
Stage: Lapin Kulta Red Arena
Time: Midnight

Hannah Reid’s penetrative, transcendent voice has reached far beyond breakout hit “Strong” over the years, with London Grammar building a healthy pile of hits which is impressively expansive for a band with only two albums, the latest of which is still fresh in the hearts and minds of fans around the world. Whether you call them pop or trip-hop, this midnight set from one of the world’s hottest acts is guaranteed to go down smoothly, ascending Flow Festival’s first night straight to the clouds.

Death Grips

Day: Saturday
Stage: Zalando Black Tent
Time: Midnight

Dark and heady hip hop is what Death Grips will be dropping at midnight on Saturday, one for those who prefer those rougher, harder textures when compared to clashing Aussie hero Flume. This clash will probably present the toughest choice of the festival, but those who choose the enigmatic “industrial hip hop” duo will be rewarded with all-out chaos as MC Ride and Zach Hill take the audience on a journey through hypnotic, mind-bending experimental rap with a heavy dose of punk. Of course there’s the added bonus that a Death Grips performance is very, very rare. Experience collectors won’t want to miss that.

Flume

Photo: Josh Brasted

Day: Saturday
Stage: Lapin Kulta Red Arena
Time: Midnight

As the only Australian on the worldly line-up this year, Flume will undoubtedly be doing his very best to bring a slice of Sydney’s Future Classic sound to Helsinki. No one down here in Australia is surprised at the young producer’s world-dominating success, propelling him to true powerhouse status as he waves the flag high for the kind of EDM that is sketched with more textural variety than Many of Europe’s historic old towns. This will be the perfect set for those who are still on a high from the xx’s headlining performance, and who want to continue with something a bit more in-line with Jamie XX’s addictive house-inflected beats.

Aphex Twin

Day: Friday
Stage: Lapin Kulta Red Arena
Time: 9:15pm

Is there any wild card on the line-up as wild as one of the most unpredictable musicians of our time? Aphex Twin’s discography is damn near mythical, squashing lesser musicians and showing them what real experimental EDM sounds like. His new live show has been described as “difficultly brilliant” so look for the mysterious producer to put one the most unique performances across the entire weekend.

Goldfrapp

Photo: Daniel Boud

Day: Saturday
Stage: Main Stage
Time: 9pm

Stadium synth-pop with Alison Goldfrapp’s mesmerising vocals and Will Gregory’s intelligent production; that’s what Goldfrapp should be bringing to the main stage on the Saturday. With their new album, Silver Eye, still making waves across the globe it should be really interesting watching this acclaimed duo bring their discography to life, sandwiched between the oddball rap of Danny Brown and house-inflected indie rock of the xx to make for a perfect Saturday line-up.

Sampha

Day: Saturday
Stage: Lapin Kulta Red Arena
Time: 8pm

That sweet voice from Solange and SBTRKT cuts has emerged as one of the most defining artists of the past few years. Bringing the soul back to R&B, Sampha – who recently completely sold out a performance at the iconic Sydney Opera House – should be presenting quite the spectacle at Flow Festival, and he won’t be needing visuals – although he may have some – or fancy production to do it; that voice is more than enough.

VIRTA

Day: Saturday
Stage: Bright Balloon 360° Stage
Time: 2:30pm

For international visitors heading to Flow Festival it’s going to be an ear-opening experience just combing through the line-up to find local Finnish bands to check out. Discovery is one of the most important and memorable parts of any music festival, so it’s a good opportunity to use this well-curated showcase of local talent to find some new favourites. Take instrumental trio VIRTA for example. Just a listen to some of their tunes and you can tell that these are highly intelligent musicians who are more than capable of meshing together experimental layers of Nordic jazz, post-rock and electronica. More often than not, instrumental bands are the best at giving audiences insight into the creative process, by building entire pieces from careful layering and interesting use of instruments. I’ve not seen nor heard Virta live before, but it seems to me that if any Finnish band on the line-up is going to present these kinds of delicately built pieces then it’s these guys. If you’re the type who’s planning on spending most of Friday at the musically complex Bright Balloon 360° Stage (any line-up that includes Roy Ayers and Joshua Redman is heaven for music nerds), then make sure your Saturday afternoon includes this three-piece.

Sparks

Day: Saturday
Stage: Lapin Kulta Red Arena
Time: 6pm

These American rockers have been around since 1972, true pioneers in contemporary music with an influence that has reached the likes of Björk and Nirvana. With the release of their first album since 2019 coming in September this is going to be an essential showcase from the music veterans, and if festivals around the world have proven time and time again, it’s often the most experienced acts on the line-up that rank among the ‘best of’.

Frank Ocean

Day: Sunday 13th August
Stage: Main Stage
Time: 9:40pm

Frank Ocean is one of the most sought after musicians of our time. There’s no doubting his immense popularity, especially when even the mere mention of his name is enough to get the ol’ media-machine spinning, causing headlines around the world and endless social media hype. He rarely performs, but when he does it’s as if the entire music-loving world stops, with all eyes and ears focused in on what he does, what songs he performs, how he does it, and even what wears. What’s better is that he is one of the few musicians with this kind of status that actually justifies the hype with pure talent. From 2011’s overlooked Nostalgia, Ultra to his breakthrough Channel Orange to the more recent Blonde and it’s prefacing visual album Endless. There’s a whole heap of material Frank can choose from now, and watching him and his band bring these R&B gems to life on the final night of Flow Festival 2017 will be absolutely unmissable.

Vince Staples

Day: Sunday
Stage: Lapin Kulta Red Arena
Time: 8:30pm

Vince Staples has grown into one of the best emcees in hip-hop today. His distinctive voice, effortless flow, and clever wordplay placed over hard-hitting new-wave west coast beats is a winning formula, as proven by the recently released Big Fish Theory. His second studio album has received universal acclaim, cited as one of the best and most important hip hop releases this year; watching him take us through the project and thread it into a performance of new and old material is going to be, as they say, “lit”.

Monsp Records 20th Anniversary Show

Day: Sunday
Stage: Main Stage
Time: 5pm

It’s always a beautiful thing when an indie label sits atop a decades-deep pile of history and declares celebrations are in order. Finnish label Monsp Records has been operating since founded by Keijo Kiishkinen in 1997, and an impressive 20 years in the business has no doubt amassed a roster of some of the country’s finest. For Sunday, the record label will be given 90 minutes to give back to fans and win over international visitors, calling upon some of the label’s most important artists including Ruudolf, Karri Koira, MC Notkea Rotta, Eevil Stöö, JVG, Kube, Loost Koos, Kemmuru, DJ Kridlokk, Ritarikunta, Likanen Etelä, SMC Lähiörotat, Memmy Posse, Stepa and Tuuttimörkö. They only get to celebrate turning 20 once, right? Look for this to be one of the highlights of Flow Festival’s final day

Angel Olsen

Day: Sunday
Stage: Zalando Black Tent
Time: 8:45pm

Always anticipated and exciting, the supremely talented Angel Olsen will be bringing her irresistible folk-rock to wrap around the Sunday night crowd like a warm blanket. Powerful vocals and some of the best song-writing around is going to be a hard combination to beat, even with the Sunday line-up being packed full of world-class talent. One listen to the exceptional “Sister” and you’ll know that you need to be in that crowd.

FAKA

Day: Sunday
Stage: The Other Sound
Time: 9:15pm

This performance art duo from Johannesburg make very interesting, hypnotic music making use of South African rhythms for what they describe as “Qqom-Gospel”. It’s unlike anything on the line-up, an incredibly innovative layering of melody and rhythm that’s interesting, thoughtful and engaging. Their performances and presence are said to be just as powerful as their music, so as long as you aren’t planning on camping out at the main stage for Frank Ocean, head along to The Other Sound stage and prepare to be completely entranced.

Ceebrolistics

Day: Sunday
Stage: Lapin Kulta Red Arena
Time: 4pm

Legends on the Finnish hip-hop scene, Ceebrolistics seem to hold a special place in the hearts and minds of locals. Even for someone who doesn’t understand a word when they flip rhymes in Finnish (though they rap in English sometimes), their sound is hard to deny. They’ve been described as “the Radiohead of Finnish rap” for their inventive and experimental approach to hip hop, no doubt a result of smooth-as-butter tracks like “Hyviä Juttuja” and “I Struggle”, the latter of which sounds to be inspired by left-field pioneers like OutKast. They’ll be making a big comeback on the final day of the festival, and quite early in the day too, so if you’re looking for a must-see local act that doesn’t clash with any of your big-ticket internationals then try these guys out.

BadBadNotGood

Photo: Drew Gurian

Day: Sunday
Stage: Bright Balloon 360° Stage
Time: 8:30pm

There’s a good reason why the name BadBadNotGood has been popping up on a lot of high-profile collaborations over the years. The supremely talented band are some of the most interesting musicians around, making some of the most interesting music of our time, representing a younger generation who have a tight grasp on multi-genre experimental music, featuring rich and vibrant layers of jazz improv, kraut rock and futuristic hip-hop, just to name a few of the many sounds and textures this group of musicians regularly employ to drop jaws around the world.

Helsinki’s Flow Festival is regarded as one of the best music and arts festivals in Europe. It takes place in and around a former power plant on the city’s edge from 11th-13th August. For more information about the festival head to their official website HERE

the AU review will be on-ground at this year’s Flow Festival so be sure to follow us on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) at @theaureview for all the action across the weekend.