Flow Festival, Helsinki, Finland, August 11-13, 2023 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, March 4th, 2024  

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Blur, Litku Klemetti, Suede, Maustetytöt

Flow Festival, Helsinki, Finland, August 11-13, 2023,

Aug 24, 2023 Photography by Sami Heiskanen (lead photo) Web Exclusive
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Finland’s biggest open-air Flow Festival channels the transformative power of music. Art-punk provocateurs Devo appear on the festival’s main stage in black and change their attire to trademark yellow overalls after the eighth track of the setlist, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, the Rolling Stones cover featured on their debut album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!. The red energy dome hats are left backstage. Saturated with visual elements, including fragments from their home videos, the strikingly energetic show is part of their 50 Years of De-Evolution tour, marking the band’s anniversary. “How many people tonight think that De-Evolution is real? You know it – there is a planet on fire, there is an artificial intelligence just waiting to take over and there are a bunch of right-wing fascists running free all over the globe.” Devo’s raison d’etre introduced by the band’s bassist Gerald Savale sounds as relevant as ever. While the daytime temperature in Helsinki seems higher than usual at this time of the year (+28), the metaphorical de-evolution resonates with the key topic of the current edition, that is, sustainability.

(Photo by Riika Vaahtera)
(Photo by Riika Vaahtera)

For the organisers, this year has been eventful. Acknowledging the upcoming construction of the Suvilahti Event Hub, the festival team announced the 2023 edition to be the final to be held in this historical setting – a former energy production facility which has been home for Flow since 2007. However, following a complaint from local residents the construction got postponed by a year, which won the team a chance to organise the next-year edition in Suvilahti again. A few weeks before the festival kicked off, an important decision was made as Flow refrained from partnering with Heineken due to their activity on the Russian market. Hence, the change of the flavour, with drinks provided by the local brand Hartwall. The festival visitors are seen with Lapin Kulta and the legendary Original Long Drink, which was first introduced during the Olympic games in 1952.

Litku Klemetti (Photo by Riika Vaahtera)
Litku Klemetti (Photo by Riika Vaahtera)

Despite being an international event, Flow Festival is a distinctly Finnish festival giving insight into the national psyche. A quirky sense of humour counterbalances trademark melancholy. The name of the duo Maustetytöt translates as Spice Girls. Despite their moniker alluding to the upbeat pop outfit, sisters Kaisa and Anna Karjalainen play sorrowful synth-pop along the lines of Russian post-punk collective Motorama, tinged with a glimpse of hope. The show is accompanied by a classic of Finnish cinematography – The Match Factory Girl by Aki Kaurismäki.

Maustetytöt (Photo by Riika Vaahtera)
Maustetytöt (Photo by Riika Vaahtera)

Like the film’s female protagonist dealing with the offensive behaviour of the upper class, the festival tackles contemporary issues in a somewhat radical way. In response to global warming, Flow Festival obliged the cafes and restaurants on its territory to exclude red meat and poultry from the menu. At the press tent, journalists and photographers are happily feeding on vegan chocolate and coffee with oat milk. Similarly, gender equality politics redefines the music landscape with a particular focus on women artists and musicians who define themselves as queer, e.g. Christine and the Queens. On Saturday evening, the main stage and slightly smaller Silver Arena are taken simultaneously by New Zealand’s Lorde and Tove Lo. The former has a theatrical presence with dramatic gestures and a silk dressing gown that brings to mind The Great Gatsby.

Playing on the main stage during the daytime, Finland’s Litku Klemetti is different genre-wise yet equally captivating. At Flow, the kinetic artist performs with Viihdeorkesteri (Entertainment Orchestra), featuring additional string and horn sections. The eclectic set-up matches the music drawing inspiration from Finnish schlager, prog and art rock. In one of the interviews, Klemetti mentioned that the major musical discovery during her formative years was We’re Only in It for the Money by Mothers of Invention. The overall quirkiness brings to mind that of Frank Zappa and Co.

Litku Klemetti (Photo by Riika Vaahtera)
Litku Klemetti (Photo by Riika Vaahtera)

Perhaps it is the liminal quality of the venue but the programme of Flow Festival seems to be on the borderline between straightforward and strange. Alongside what seems to be easily digestible dance music, the Other Sound pavilion offers a different kind of experience. The immersive set of Mikko Sarvanne Garden combines haunting melodies from the realm of traditional folk songs and avant-garde jazz experimentalism – a dense and intense bog of sounds bringing to mind late 60s Estonian collective Collage and local psych-folk heroes Paavoharju.

Suede (Photo by Riika Vaahtera)
Suede (Photo by Riika Vaahtera)

As 2023 has seen the revival of Britpop, two of the emblematic collectives, Suede and Blur hit the stage on Friday and Sunday respectively. While Suede’s frontman Brett Anderson repeatedly descends into the photo pit and falls into the arms of the audience, Blur’s members remain somewhat more aloof, with Damon Albarn saying very little between the songs. Both bands recently released albums. Songs from The Ballad of Darren, the ninth record of Blur, are seamlessly integrated into the set of twenty numbers inevitably including hits such as “Coffee & TV” as well as stomper “Song 2”. The set culminates with The Narcissist, a moving ballad from the latest album, evidence of the band’s capacity for writing impeccable songs that linger on one’s mind long after this final show of the festival. And while the lights of the power plant gradually fade away and the area remains silent til next year, there is a glow inside emanating from everything that has been soaked in.

Blur (photo by Konstantin Kondrukhov)
Blur (photo by Konstantin Kondrukhov)



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