While all eyes and ears were on Frank Ocean for the sunlit final day of Flow Festival 2017, there was plenty of quality live performances, from artists both renowned and obscure, to cap the annual event in the best way possible. The atmosphere was electric all through the day, and unlike Saturday there wasn’t a single lightning flash in the sky. Instead the power came from Finnish and international acts, many whom drew the weekend’s biggest crowds and highlighted an evidently deep and passionate love for local music that, for an international journalist, was refreshing to see.
Finnish hip hop trio Ceebrolistics stomped around at the Lapin Kulta Red Arena for the first big set of the day, edging into the later afternoon with experimental, syncopated beats and a multitude of flows that would morph and shape throughout the set, making it seem like a lot more than just three artists were on stage. Their electronic-inspired production would complement the constant, intense strobes that reached far beyond the tent, drawing more and more people towards the stage until it appeared as if the entire festival was there.
And if the entire festival was in that tent then they certainly made a mass exodus as soon as the set was over, straight to the main area where a very special performance was being put on by local indie label Monsp Records, celebrating 20 years being major players on the Finnish music scene. Though they seemed to have started as a punk label, the set was largely made up of Finnish rap, the kind that certainly had that punk energy with aggressive deliveries and impeccable, raw beats. The variety on show was impressive as well, on par with the significantly more renowned European non-English raps that France and Germany are known for. Though there were plenty of Finnish hip hop acts on display throughout the weekend, it wasn’t until this set that the scene proved absolutely viable for the international stage.
Monsp Records were rightfully given an extended set, while elsewhere stages came alive with all types of music, from Princess Nokia at the Black Tent and he fascinating Jonna Tervomaa at Bright Balloon, to a memorable and odd set from Finnish local Mesak at The Other Sound, who was accompanied by a variety of self-made instruments, including the human voice that would echo through the intimate industrial space while electronica banged from wall to wall.
The Red Garden was the place to be for those itching for a blast of 90s U.S R&B, featuring an excellent vinyl set with rotating DJ’s who really, really knew their stuff. Everything from Groove Theory and Michael Jackson to SWV, TLC, Destiny’s Child, R Kelly, Maxwell and Ginuwine flowed in a seamless string of rhythm, packing out the small colourful area and getting everyone in the mood for the day’s headliner.
Cali emcee Vince Staples proved that his new album, full of brightly textured electronic-leaning beats and tough-as-nail raps, was necessary for him to build a live show that is far beyond what many of his peers can put together. The spasmodic, twisted EDM of tracks like “BagBak” fit in perfectly with the energy of fan favourites like “Senorita” and “Blue Suede”, Vince pacing back and forth in front of a bright neon-orange backdrop while guiding the crowd with his dexterous raps.
A custom built island stage was being set up over at the main area for Frank Ocean, apparently the festival’s most requested artist of all time, with seemingly random doodles sprawled over the sides while on the actual island sat an imposing amount of electronics and instruments, including an enormous tape deck. When time hit for the man to enter, he slowly walked down the runway, preceded by a scuzzy, surround-sound recording of “Pretty Sweet”. The first official song Frank performed was Blonde favourite “Solo”, re-started halfway because apparently Frank could sense a few sound issues.
It may seem pedantic, but being a stickler for precision helped Frank put on a performance that exceeded expectation, even taking his more average tracks like “Biking” and “Lens” are turning them into set-standouts, lifted by incredibly detailed and clear expressions both in beat and in vocals, compartmentalised so you could really hear the nuance in these songs. And if taking it the next level is what this approach could do for songs like “Close to You” and “Good Guy” (both great, but not his best) then imagine how incredible it was too hear “Thinkin ‘Bout You” (performed twice, both in full, with the second time remixed with J Dilla’s “Time” – a perfect choice as it turns out), “Forest Gump”, “Nights”, and “Pyramids”. If anyone had any doubt Frank could put on a performance that truly articulates his talent, then this live show will certainly put those to rest.
Flow Festival just wouldn’t be content with letting the night end with the headliner though, giving punters the choice between various festival-closers, including the legendary Moderat or some afterparties around town. It’s pretty damn obvious that the whole city comes to life for this festival, which leaves little surprise as to why it’s been considered one of the best music and arts events in all of Europe.
Frank Ocean Setlist
Solo (Restarted due to sound issues)
Chanel (Restarted due to sound issues)
Comme des Garçons
Be Yourself (Instrumental)
Poolside Convo/Self Control
Close to You
Pink + White
Thinkin’ Bout You
Thinkin’ Bout You (Remixed with J Dilla’s “Time”)
To learn more about Helsinki’s award-winning Flow Festival head to their official website HERE.
Feature image: Flow Festival / Konstantin Kondrukhov