Crafted in the shadows of a disused power planet about a 30 minute walk from the heart of Helsinki, Finland’s award-winning Flow Festival sprung to life on Friday for its 14th year, threaded throughout the already existing infrastucture of the Suvilahti cultural precinct with a heady mix of music, food & drink, and art. It was the start of an entire weekend defined by this dynamic event, powered by Helsinki’s famously intelligent design which evidently helps the festival run exceptionally smooth.
There is a dizzying amount of things to do on-site in between the monstrous music program, which for Friday was headlined by the likes of Lana Del Rey and Aphex Twin. An impressive amount of the city’s finest restaurants and eateries are spread across the grounds, offering everything from BBQ pork and truffle cabbage sandwiches and gourmet pizza to fresh lobster sliders and Bibimbap; pop-up bars are massive and brimming with friendly Finns, with even the site’s permanent microbrewery and bar remaining open for the entire weekend; and there’s also a heavy dose of art, covering the festival grounds with the vibrancy of street art clashed with video installations, architecture and design. There’s even a dedicated vinyl market popped up nearby the festival’s most impressive concept stage, Bright Balloon 360°, which is a circular open-air theatre with seating all around where performers like the legendary Roy Ayers and Joshua Redman put on some of the day’s most popular sets underneath an enormous white balloon (which glowed red after sunset).
Acts from and around Finland dominated the first few hours of the festival. Young Finnish duo Kauriinmetsästäjät impressed over at the Zalando Black Tent with their highly textured 80s-tinged electronic pop, an early highlight as far as local music goes. Elsewhere, the eye-catching Red Garden proved to be the rowdiest area while cutting-edge European DJs Vladimir Ivkovic and Lauri Soini spun back-to-back for hours to open up the Resident Advisor Front Yard, a lawn area surrounded by art-covered shipping crates.
Legendary composer Philip Glass was given a special tribute by the talented NYKY Ensemble, who played inside a space called “The Other Sound”, which also played host to the likes of Laura Cannell and Black Motor throughout the day. This was the place to be for those into more complex, headier music that represented swift push away from the contemporary licks of Finnish indie-rockers Satellite Stories – who opened the main stage for the weekend – or the rawness of Detroit techno pioneer Model 500.
Beth Ditto canceled her performance at the last minute, so Atlanta’s Young Thug was quickly moved into her slot at the main stage, leading the crowd with his distinctive style though plenty of people tapered off towards the end to make their way to the enormous Lapin Kulta Red Arena, ready to immerse themselves in Aphex Twin’s complex digital walls of sound. The iconic British producer started his set off with the ebb and flow of digital waves, fuzzy and sharp textures that were slowly built into tremendous and energetic bursts of electronica, defined by rougher shapes that were smoothed by ever-changing rhythms and bass that made the arena feel like a sweaty warehouse rave. His more-is-more approach to lasers and strobes was a dazzling sight, which changed into hilarious projections towards the end of the set which depicted various artists on the Flow line-up with distorted faces, along with politicians, sports starts and pop culture figures.
Fresh off releasing one of her best albums to date, Lana Del Rey delivered a delicate but exciting headline set on the main stage, backed by a full band and a two dancers. Though the band may have played it safe, save from the exhilarating instrumental extension of set-closer “Off to the Races”, Lana’s voice was in fine-form considering an open-air stage sucks plenty of life out of vocal-driven performances. Imbued with a nostalgic noir aesthetic, the singer’s serene, sugary notes lifted tracks both old and new, from “Cherry” to “Shades of Cool” to the Chris Issak twang of the always-stunning “Blue Jeans”.
Midnight performances will help end the first two days of the festival for those who felt like kicking-on after the headliner. For Friday the choice was between the garage rock of Black Lips or the high-flying trip-hop inflected pop of London Grammar; it seemed most chose the latter, as the Lapin Kulta Red Arena spilled out beyond the tented area. Lucky Hannah Reid’s transcendent voice was clear and powerful enough that even those milling towards the back were wrapped in the otherworldly atmosphere of songs like “Strong” and “Rooting for You”.
Lana Del Rey Set List.
Shades of Cool
Born to Die
Music to Watch Boys To
Off to the Races
Feature image: Konstantin Kondrukhov.