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Things Learned At: Flow Festival 2013
Thomas Hasson , August 15th, 2013 10:56

Tom Hasson finds that Nick Cave has met his match in Ebo Taylor, and that Fisherman's Friend cocktails are the only thing that might stop you enjoying Helsinki's pristine streets

Finnish enthusiasm takes some getting used to

Dancing. Clapping. Cheering. These are some of the ways I show my enthusiasm when watching live music at a festival. The Finns, or at least those in attendance at last weekend’s Flow Festival, don’t seem to go for any of that. They do a lot of standing still; perhaps transfixed by what they’re hearing, perhaps just politely and respectfully allowing each act to perform. For the majority of acts playing over the weekend this uniquely Finnish enthusiasm is what they’re met with. Though not all of them. After spending a weekend in the Helsinki sun, it seems that the problem didn’t lie in a lack of enthusiasm at all. These Finns just have very high standards.

It’s hard to follow a set by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, but not impossible

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds’ set was masterly. And the crowd let them know it. As Nick Cave glared out into the audience, standing atop the crowd barrier, men and women stroked his legs, clawing at this sharp-suited messiah of a man as his Bad Seeds hammered through a set drawn heavily from Push The Sky Away. After an explosive ‘Red Right Hand’, we were beside ourselves. Buzzing, high as kites and full of energy sent straight from ‘Stagger Lee’ we made out way to the next big booking of the night: Beach House. I lasted ten minutes, if that. A friend pointed out that Ebo Taylor & Odapajan were playing on the other side of the festival site at the amphitheatre-style Balloon 360° Stage, so off we went. Walking towards the stage we could see something that certainly wasn’t happening for Beach House; people were dancing, and then so were we. Following a Bad Seeds set is a hard thing to do, but with his long-since perfected Ghanaian highlife songs and Odapajan backing him, Ebo Taylor managed it just fine.

Blixa Bargeld is popular in Finland

The likelihood of people dancing throughout Blixa Bargeld’s ‘solo vocal performance’ set on the fairly small Other Sound stage wasn’t particularly high. You also wouldn’t expect the former Bad Seed and risotto enthusiast’s set to be so popular, but it was. In fact, it was at capacity well before the gig started and there was a 1-200 person queue outside the venue throughout the entire performance. The bouncer had to shut the doors to prevent anyone from barging their way in. The biggest let down of the weekend was missing this set, but my lesson was learned; if you’re ever in Finland to see Blixa Bargeld, get to the show early.

No one seems to know who Factory Floor are

Would you believe it? ANOTHER Quietus writer who loves Factory Floor. I know. But it bears repeating: Factory floor are the single most exciting band of 2013. A recent Quietus interview with the band stated that “Factory Floor demand your participation.” Unfortunately, I don’t think the Finns got that message. Looking around the Black Tent at Flow Festival on Saturday night (a tent that could comfortably hold a couple of thousand people), it looks like only about 200 people made their way in for Factory Floor’s set (and plenty of them are are stood at the bar). It was a real shame, and something for which idiotic scheduling (they clashed with both My Bloody Valentine and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds) might be blamed. The industrial, machine-like beats and Nik Colk Void’s menacing guitar fitted in perfectly with the disused gas-works the festival is set in. But on the bright side, the small crowed did give me more room to dance.

Kraftwerk's dimensions mean nothing

Dancing room wasn’t an issue at the Düsseldorf robots’ gig on Sunday either. The show was busy but there was still plenty of room to move. You certainly wouldn’t have guessed that this was the same band who’d previously crashed the Tate Modern’s website when they performed there. The 3D show Kraftwerk have been touring for the last two years has been taking up residencies in art galleries and museums but recently they’ve brought their three dimensional show to festival crowds around Europe. Unlike their set at the Tate Modern earlier in the year, where the setting lent itself to the visuals, here, in the expanse of the former gas works, the music takes over and you wonder why they even bother with the 3D.

Watching someone else enjoy themselves is enjoyment enough

Alicia Keys headlined the festival on Friday night. It was always going to be hard to compete with this reviewer’s love of Cat Power, whose spectacular set finished moments before Keys’ started, and I barely managed one Keys track before leaving to check out U.S. Girls instead. Performing after staying up for three days had left Meghan Remy delirious, but her set was enjoyable none the less. And when Remy’s slot was over there was just enough time to grab something to eat before the most recommended Finnish act of the weekend played the Black Tent. Huoratron, which I was told translates roughly as ‘whore-robot’ or ‘whore-machine’, is essentially the Finnish Skrillex. And the Finns love him. His set was the most packed I saw all weekend. But before squeezing myself into that bass-heavy strobeathon, I was getting something to eat. As the eight or so women took orders and made falafels at the FaFa stand near the main stage, Alicia Keys was getting to the end of her set. Just as I hand over my money to one of staff, they all burst out singing in unison with Keys: “This girl is on fire!”

Despite frying falafel and spreading hummus on pitta bread at ten to midnight instead of being in the audience itself, each of these Finnish women were having the time of their lives. And that made my night far more than the Finnish Skrillex was about to.

You can’t not try Fisu

Once Huoratron’s set was over and the festival ended for the night, we head into Helsinki’s city centre for some drinking. Early on, we’re told that if you’re in Finland and you’re drinking, then Fisu is the drink to try. Fisu is a cocktail made with a type of Finnish vodka and Fisherman’s Friend mints. It tastes exactly as you’d imagine it to and will, in the best possible way, ruin your night and you’ll feel it the next morning. Thank god the festival didn’t start till 2 p.m. then.

Finland is expensive, yes, but it’s beautiful

Booze was expensive. Food was expensive. Everything was expensive in Helsinki. But it’s a beautiful city full of things worth the expense. Mostly flat, the city is perfect for cycling, and actually, hiring a bike was probably the least expensive (comparatively) thing to do in Helsinki. The Kamppi Chapel, the 'Chapel Of Silence', is beautiful, and you won’t regret going. The trams are an easy way to get around the city, as is the single metro line (which makes it hard to get lost too, though a touch of Fisu will see to that). On top of that, the care and attention to detail that went into Flow Festival is something you suspect could only happen in Helsinki, Finland. I’ll be going again, expense be damned.

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