While the European festival scene has changed drastically over recent years, it’s instantly noticeable that Helsinki’s Flow Festival has managed to embrace the shift while also holding on to the traditions that have consistently made it stand out from a plethora of similar events.
The main sponsor appears to be a Scandinavian oat milk company, for instance, while the crowd itself is distinctly Scandinavian, and at least half of the bill has been saved for emerging artists from Finland and neighbouring countries.
Whether that balance, musically-speaking, quite works is somewhat by-the-by, and while it’s true that there is a tangible difference between the ‘local’ acts playing during the day and the international big-hitters at night, the importance of remaining true to its roots surely outweighs any minor irks.
On paper, the opening day appears to be somewhat top-heavy, however Sweden’s megastar-in-waiting, Skott, eases any worries with a beautiful set of brooding scandi-pop, delivered from the middle of Flow’s inspired 360’ stage. Later on Aphex Twin more-than packs out the second-stage, leaving many of us feeling his wild bass from outside and afar, before main-stage headliner Lana Del Rey steals the show, her subtle set exquisitely underplayed, allowing that dusty voice to weave a magical spell; captivating and poignant throughout.
Flow Festival (Tom Johnson)
We’re promised an almighty storm on the Saturday (literally) but thankfully folk singer Julie Byrne holds it off with a spellbinding set of sorrow that breaks hearts as well as clouds; the dark, distant billowing replaced by beautiful sunshine. For now. Perhaps then it’s Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s stirring electronic compositions that finally summon the storm, the dramatic thunder and lightening suddenly arriving late-evening and shutting down the whole site for a couple of hours, taking a few main-stage sets with it at the same time. It eventually passes, however, allowing The XX to bring their whispery pop music to a somewhat sodden crowd; a suitable soundtrack if ever there was one.
Flow’s rather stunning site (in the grounds of an old power station) is back in the sunshine for the final day, allowing some exploring of the local label fair, art spaces, and various other hidden gems that give the festival its unique identity. Princess Nokia kick-starts the music with a performance both powerful and empowering, Vince Staples is full of fun and fury in a truly vigorous show, while Angel Olsen broods with both contempt and desire throughout.
It’s left to Frank Ocean to round the whole thing off in his own enigmatic way, and while he makes apologies for his lack of a “real” performance, his voice alone is more than enough to make the whole thing something both loveable and lasting; closing track ‘Nikes’ deft and enchanting as it fills the colourful night sky, a suitably stirring end-point to this gem of a festival.