Live Report: Flow Festival 2022

One of Europe's flagship festivals...

Affectionately referred to as the ‘Daughter Of The Baltic’, Helsinki is situated across a low-lying peninsula having been founded by Swedish invaders in 1550. Since gaining independence in 1917, Helsinki has swiftly become a leading tourist destination heralded for its cutting-edge design and sustainability. The rugged landscape, climate and the country’s historic struggles – have helped forge a distinct Finnish culture, illuminating ideals of a progressive, clever, ingenious individual who can find a way through difficult circumstances. This concept is known as sisu, which refers to courage, stamina and perseverance. It’s an ethos reflected at Flow Festival – whose willingness to reinvent themselves knows no bounds, positioning it as one of Europe’s flagship festivals. 

The capitals sustainable ethos and progressive inhabitants have made it the perfect setting for a festival for several years. The event takes place at a defunct Suvilahti power plant and its industrial surroundings in downtown Helsinki’s immediate vicinity, welcoming both domestic and international artists. The sold-out festival gathered a record-breaking 90,000 attendees to enjoy the unique atmosphere during the three festival days that welcomed artists such as Gorillaz, Jamie xx and Bikini Kill. 

Music aside, the festival embarked on a mission this year to offer a truly environmentally-conscious festival – aiming to be one the world’s first carbon neutral festivals. The festival offers a sustainable rider, giving artists the ability to play their part with sustainable ground transportation and single-use plastic bottles. 

Amid a hyped crowd, flawless arrangements and political anthems, Afro-fusionist Burna Boy sets the festival alight with ‘Rock Your Body’, from his breakthrough album, 2018’s ‘Outside’. The show is nothing short of outrageous, we are all living in his world, and we’re totally okay with that. 

Meanwhile, Princess Nokia graces the Main Stage with one of the most dazzling performances of the festival. Her debut show in Finland cements her reputation as one of the most outspoken, unique and important voices in the hip-hop realm. The Clash Cover Star’s luggage was lost at the airport, so she dons a makeshift outfit, still pulling it off in true icon style. 

Festival goers gravitated in mass to see Gorillaz headline the opening night of the festival, marking their debut show in Finland. They delivered an audacious set that flaunted their burgeoning discography that propels you into their mind-bending universe. 

Revellers are treated to an exothermic concoction of funky numbers, pop futurism and art rock that showcases long-term collaborations from Sean Ryder to Schoolboy Q. There’s something quite unique about hearing Damon Albarn belt out synth-pop track ‘Strange Timez’ with the Cure’s Robert Smith, then moments later hear him vocally spar with slowthai on ‘Momentary Bliss’.

The set ends with De La Soul’s Kelvin Mercer teasing us into ‘Feel Good Inc’. Wielding chaos in the palm of his hand, he preaches words of self-gratitude to an all-adoring crowd, now totally transfixed – “repeat the following – I feel strong, I feel confident, I feel good!” The final track written to rouse the hearts of both vandals and poets does just that as the crowd are sent into a frantic dervish. Gorillaz are a band in the sonic elixir of the past, present and future of music. It is what positions them as a band so ubiquitous with British music culture and beyond. 

JARV IS… delivered an overindulgent set, that cries for a Pulp reunion. His indistinguishable vocals of souped-up sciffles jar with crashing riffs leave even the most diehard of fans growing tiresome. The first half of his set is received like a sonic stink bomb, forcing half the crowd to vacate. However, he quite comfortably persists with a crazed smile and knowing nod to the irony of it all.

Off the back of a viral Boiler Room, it feels odd not seeing Fred again… perform on the mainstage, but as the Red Arena packs out it quickly becomes clear this is the perfect setting for one last dance. Fred who describes his music as ‘Actual Life’, delivers a set that is about longing, loneliness and what comes next. Before playing Marea(we’ve lost dancing’), he tells the crowd it was written during the worst times in the pandemic, where over a phone call with the Blessed Madonna, she reassured him that what comes next will be truly magnificent. He then looks up to the crowd and says ‘this is what comes next’. What follows is transcendental rave bliss that showcase of his other tracks – From Kyle(i found you), to Baxter(these are my friends), he’s been through different phases in his life, absorbing these experiences and overhauling them into his music in the process. 

A twenty-minute walk from Flow Festival takes us to the state-of-the-art Erkko Hall, the hall’s 700-seat ascending auditorium which is venue for the play Tree of Codes – a collaboration between choreographer Wayne McGregor, artist Olafur Eliasson, and Jamie xx. 

The performance was an hour of chiming perfection, that documented the pain, love and fragility of the human condition laid bare. Jamie’s emotively-charged soundscape is one lurched from disaster, that fuses perfectly with the dancer’s movements. It’s a soundtrack drenched in emotion, it’s euphoric yet mournful, cascading from thunderous crescendos before reaching nimble moments of near silence where you could hear a pin drop. 

The highlight of the festival came courtesy of Erika De Casier who performed at Flow Festival’s landmark Balloon 360° stage. The seated area surrounding the striking round stage enables the audience to immerse in the music in a unique way, which couldn’t suit de Casier’s style better.  

De Casier’s breathy vocals are soaked in a reverb-heavy, retro-affair. The crowd gradually lights up track by track with the audience waving their lighters, with de Casier’s stage presence growing with each track. de Casier finally drops crowd pleaser ‘Little Bit’ to an all-adoring crowd, all now swaying in unison. breathy vocals are soaked in a reverb-heavy, retro-affair that sends listeners to celestial heights. 

The festival ends with a walk to a public sauna – in every sense of the word – it was built by a group volunteers during the pandemic. You might initially be hesitant upon entering- there are no staff, showers, service or storage. But, show trust and you’ll be rewarded with a sense of community and truly unique experience. 

Festivals so often encourage us to run away from reality, Flow Festival does the polar opposite; it challenges us to embrace our surroundings, meet new people and tell everyone from back home about it. Never have I felt so welcome at a festival.  

Words: Josh Crowe

Flow Festival is back in 2023, running from August 11th – 13th. Find out more at https://www.flowfestival.com/en/

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