Top 16 Sets at Flow Festival 2014
Flow Festival 2014; All Photos by Laura Baker-Finch
Helsinki, Finland -- Flow Festival celebrated its eleventh year with 57,500 visitors and 130 artists this past weekend in the historic Suvilahti former power plant area of Helsinki. Both using the structural remnants of the plant and winding make-shift structures throughout, Flow created 9 distinct venues for its eclectic lineup of old school favorites, local up-and-comers, and hip buzz bands from across the world. Music was accompanied by daytime Lunch Sessions, visual art installations, art house cinema, and 30 restaurants dishing out the best (and most vegetarian-friendly) festival food you’re likely to come across.
A whole day could be spent at the open air festival, regardless of the set time of your first must-see band. Festivalgoers could grab some truffle popcorn and watch a documentary in the indoor Cirko’s Maneesisali (Mistaken For Strangers was a great choice to kick off The National’s headlining day), take a seat in Liberty or Death’s cocktail bar sponsored by Lumia, wander through the various indoor art installations, or make their way through as much festival fare as possible while chatting in the skate park.
Having never attended Flow Festival in previous years, or any music festival in Europe for that matter, we had to dissect the experience through the lens of our collective American and Australian festivalgoer experiences. Rather than judging the food options on taste alone, we found ourselves harking upon the wide variety of vegetarian options at each stall compared with US festivals. Instead of people watching or festival fashion stalking the same way we would at, say, Governors Ball, we commented on the killer braids worn by Scandinavian men and women alike and observed crowd mentality and behavior as if we were anthropologists in the field. However, as much as the location and people contributed to our Flow Festival fun, the music alone was enough to shoot Flow up to our list of must-attend festivals. Here are our 16 favorite moments from Flow Festival 2014.
Best of the Fest
The National was one of our most-anticipated artists playing Flow Festival, and we pumped ourselves up even more by watching the documentary made by Matt Berninger’s brother Mistaken For Strangers in the festival’s film area earlier the same day. When they finally took the Main Stage that evening, hairs were raised across the audience in response to the American alternative rocker’s sheer perfection. Every component is so intricate and thought out; Bryan Devendorf seemed to play every bar as if it was a drum fill, the horn section came in and out with varying intensities, and guitarists Bryce and Aaron Dessner made each new riff make you forget the last. On Trouble Will Find Me single “I Need My Girl,” three guitars made an appearance on stage, one used to subtly hit against the floor and weave in front of monitors to create that eerie distortion found in the recorded track. For “England,” the brass section shined through the rest of the band from their upstage position without overpowering Matt Berninger’s vocals. Dressed up in suits and drinking wine onstage, The National appear as refined rockers - until, that is, Mr. November begins. As their standard and beloved set closer, the crowd gets ‘Mr. November’ed’ as Berninger climbs into the audience dragging his microphone cable with him to continuously shout “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November” over and over as he weaves around the crowd before making his way back up stage right to complete the song and the set.
Outkast’s 20 year reunion tour across 40 festivals began with slight controversy, and I’m not talking about Andre 3000’s nod to “selling out” with his price tagged outfit. Fans and critics alike responded to the comeback with slight disappointment of the duo’s live performance. After the first time you witness the reunion set, however, the disappointment disappears. The setlist and stage setup barely varies from fest to fest but, without expectations dampening entertainment, the comeback can be enjoyed for what it is.
At Flow, Outkast played up their Americanness with Andre’s ever-changing jumpsuit catchphrase reading “Narcissistic Americans” and all utilizing the vocal catchphrase “What the Hell-sinki!?” The duo bursted onstage to “B.O.B.” and rocked through hits like “ATLiens,” “Rosa Parks,” and “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” with some help from Sleepy Brown before ending part 1 of their set with “Ms. Jackson,” but not before playfully asking the crowd if they “know a Ms. Robinson? Michael Jackson? Blanket Jackson? Janet Jackson? Okay, Ms. Jackson?” 3000 then left the stage for Big Boi’s time to shine through “Kryptonite,” “GhettoMusick,” and “The Way You Move.” Andre 3000’s turn was up next for the sultry “She Lives in My Lap,” “Prototype,” and a rendition of “Hey Ya!” complete with Finnish festivalgoers shaking it like a polaroid picture on stage (sadly Janelle Monáe remained in the photo pit unlike at Gov Ball). When the two reunited they took the crowd way back to some songs many probably hadn’t heard off 1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik before ending with “The Whole World.”
Outkast’s reunion makes us remember why we all fell in love with Big Boi and Andre 3000, but it also reminds us why they split up. With their own separate sections mid-set and end-of-the-spectrum attire (Big Boi decked out in a matching tracksuit and giant gold necklace and Andre using his jumpsuit to show he is aware this tour is ‘selling out’), we’re glad we’ve had the chance to experience it live but we can accept this is the end.
Best Worst Nightmare
With offensive lyrics, startling appearances, and a self-created culture for poor people "that are fancy and have style" (zef), it is hard to tell where Die Antwoord’s rap-rave projects fall on the sincerity spectrum. Does Yo-Landi Vi$$er really talk and sound the way she does on “I Fink U Freeky?” Is the demonic look across Ninja’s face as he paces the stage and does front flips into the audience genuine? Do they really believe they are “The Answer” as their name translates in Afrikaans? Their high-energy set at Flow Festival may not have answered these questions, but it did solidify them in our minds as a mystifying entity, and perhaps that’s the point. They make you question political correctness, conformity, and even musical genres all while you watch and wonder whether you like it or if you’re in the middle of your worst nightmare.
Best New Band of 2014
Jungle has released some of the most interesting new music of 2014 so far through their self-titled debut, and you can bet it has to do with their fondness for DIY instruments. These electro-funk Brits utilized found sounds for Jungle like creaking doors and crushed cans and their live rendition was no less intricate with decked-out keyboards, guitars, layered vocals, and glass Coke bottle chimes adorning the drum kit. The quintet busted through 10 of the album’s 12 tracks, leading the crowd in no-holds-barred dance parties during their singles “The Heat,” “Lucky I Got What I Want,” “Busy Earnin’”, and “Time.” While founders of the collective Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland no longer keep their names and faces hidden, an air of mystery remained due in part to stage and light design and largely to the new sounds they put forth.
Best Superstar Moment
Janelle Monáe is a superstar and it is no where more prevalent than in her command of her audience. After playing through slow jams “for the lovers,” hits like “Electric Lady” and “Tightrope” (sadly sans Big Boi), and a James Brown “I Feel Good” cover with her dapper-looking, black and white-clad band, Monáe requested everyone get low - and low they went. The entire Main Stage audience (diehards up front and casual onlookers at the back bar alike) dropped to the ground, where they remained until prompted to stand - but only so she could crowd surf, of course.
Röyksopp & Robyn
When Royksopp and Robyn joined forces for the Do It Again EP, the entire music world had an “oh, of course!” moment. With similar dance music tendencies and penchants for elaborate performances, of course the Norwegian electronic music duo would team up with Sweden’s dance-pop songstress. The Nordic collaborator’s joint set was split into three parts, with both acts separately playing 5 tracks before taking the stage together for “Sayit” and “ Do It Again.” The 3-in-1 experience set their time slot apart from the rest of the festival, truly presenting itself as a spectacle all its own.
Best Reason Not to Look at Stage
Considering the dates of Slint’s short-lived career (Their first record was released in 1987 and their last in 1990) line up with the mean birth year of Flow festivalgoers, these post-rockers drew quite a crowd Friday night in the black tent - and they weren’t there for the showmanship. All standing as far back on stage as possible, it was clear Slint still enjoys their relative obscurity despite sporadic reunions over the past ten years. Even when guitarist Brian McMahan approached the edge of the stage to add vocals to select tracks (like opener “Breadcrumb Trail” from Spiderland), he did so facing away from the audience and as far to stage right as possible. It’s not showmanship Slint fans need to see but their syncopated rhythms, haunting themes, and intelligent guitar lines - all of which were present at Flow.
Best WTF Moment
The crowd Friday night was expecting a Mos Def show, but they got a Yasiin Bey show instead. At first it was difficult to decipher the root of my confusion - had Mos Def gone crazy or could it be attributed to the fact we were in a different country that speaks a different language? I settled somewhere in the middle of the two theories as Bey schizophrenically jumped from lesser known material to religious chanting to quick shuffle dancing to covers of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Niggas in Paris” and Notorious B.I.G’s “Juicy.” Never really completing a song or thought before switching to another, Bey’s show is far from what would have been expected from an original Mos Def show, but perhaps that’s equally entertaining.
Best Electronic-Rock Experiment
Darkside is the culmination of electronic musician Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington’s experimentation and developed language while on tour together in support of Jaar’s Space Is Only Noise. Through hazy, mono-colored lighting, they effortlessly played off each other’s talents - Jaar’s soulful vocals and piano work and Harrington’s instrumental prowess. The improvisational beginnings of the duo in addition to Harrington’s jazz background are still apparent despite their refined setlist; each Psychic track evolves live to become something new and even better than the recorded version.
We saw some pretty terrific dance moves over our weekend at Flow Festival but Yuimi Nagano topped them all hands down. No one could take their eyes off the Little Dragon frontwoman (who had lost her drum pad in favor of more dance room since we last saw the Swedish group in 2012) no matter whether she was singing, expressively gesturing, sharing the keyboard with Håkan Wirenstrand, or, most importantly, dancing. No matter whether they played Ritual Union’s hits like “Please Turn” or its eponymous single or songs off this year’s Nabuma Rubberband such as “Pretty Girls” or “Klapp Klapp,” Yukimi’s moves were on point - seriously, she made the running man look good.
Best Sunday Afternoon Set
Since the release of Atlas earlier this year, Real Estate has become my go-to lazy Sunday soundtrack, making their 5:30pm Sunday time slot ideal. Their laid-back sound was upbeat enough to groove to but relaxed enough to not overwhelm tired festivalgoers on their third day of nonstop partying. The setting was also idyllic, with most audience members sitting in the risers that encircled the 360° Balloon Stage. It seemed the band members themselves were psyched with the set up, commenting on their first time in Finland and on a round stage, “I think it’s fun. I like it, nice change of pace.”
Best Midnight Dance Party
Jamie xx live can be hit or miss, it is often hard to tell whether it’ll be a DJ set or live set and whether it’ll be his own music or remixes. Luckily for us, his midnight set at Flow Festival featured both. Both jazz elements and crisp, Caribbean steel drums were prevalent throughout the set, as was deliberate moments of silence and quieter space that briefly removed the crowd from their trances only to force them back in even further once the sound was brought back up. Highlights included “I’ll Take Care of You,” Jamie xx’s remix of Gil Scott-Heron and “All Under One Roof Raving,” his most-recent single.
Best Use of Full Band
Flow Festival had a solid selection of electronic artists ranging from dubstep producers (Skrillex) to remix artists (Jamie xx), but there wasn’t much variation in set up. One DJ stands behind one deck/laptop/keyboard setup, you know the story. Bonobo, however, was different. From behind his raised, center stage setup, Bonobo (aka Simon Green) lead his band through studio recreations of tracks off The North Borders, Black Sands, and a couple pre-2010 songs for good measure. With Green on keyboard and bass, the rest of the band takes up saxophone, keyboard, guitar, percussion, electronics, and the occasional clarinet. Szjerdene rounded out the sound for vocals on “Towers” and “Stay the Same” (originally sung by Andreya Triana).
Best Poster Girl for Normcore
The basics piled into the black tent Saturday evening to catch a glimpse of MØ, the electropop singer-songwriter from Denmark who’s bringing normcore to the masses. Karen Marie Ørsted exudes an onstage energy at once awkward and powerful with lanky dance moves and a confidence that makes them desirable. There’s no denying her music is catchy - I dare you to listen to her 2014 debut No Mythologies to Follow without wanting to hit that repeat button - but what’s most imitable of MØ is her normcore style. Muted makeup, high ponytails, basic separates, sneakers, and scrunchies make up this Danish popstars’ ensembles inspiring a hole new generation of sporty spices.
Best Local Discovery
Since our first Flow meal Friday, the picnic benches on the side of the Lumia Blue Tent became our go-to break spot, allowing for a clear audio and easy access to some of our favorite food stalls. On Sunday afternoon, our lunch soundtrack was provided by Tuomo, a Finnish artist I came across when making our Flow playlist but didn’t know anything about. Despite the relatively early set time, the crowd overflowed from the tent moreso than at any other point over the weekend (including Skrillex on Friday and Die Antwoord later Sunday night). Tuomo’s soulful voice and funky beats almost made me drop my Cafe No. 9 noodles in favor of a mid-tent dance party, but I opted to tap my feet and bop along between bites instead. Discussing Tuomo later in the day with some Helsinki locals, we discovered the solo artist we saw has been contributing to Finnish jazz and soul groups for years - so we may not have discovered a new artist, but we definitely have a new artist to add to our Office playlists.
Best Use of 360° Balloon Stage
Poliça’s use of Flow’s circular 360° Balloon Stage made her set feel more like a private band jazz session than a concert. Singer Channy Leaneagh and Producer Ryan Olson faced each other within the circle as the crowd encircled them on risers and on ground level to create an intimate experience that seemed almost accidental, as if we stumbled upon their studio. Both last year’s Shulamith and their debut Give You The Ghost can be enjoyed seated (which people in bleachers did) but are also great for grooving over all-out dancing (which those bottlenecked into the stage’s standing room wedges definitely did).
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