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Flow 2013: Is bigger better?

Helsinki's Flow Festival opened Wednesday night as some 3,500 people packed a tent in Suvilahti to see Swedish electronic duo The Knife. The festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, resumes on Friday.

The Knife keikalla.
Flow Festival 2013 opening night: The Knife Image: Donagh Coleman / Yle

Flow has undergone massive expansion since its humble beginnings at the old VR warehouse buildings. The festival, which has grown into one of the biggest in Finland, opened on Wednesday evening for the fourth time at the old gasworks in Helsinki’s industrial Suvilahti area.

For eight years, Erkko Lehtinen has been working with Flow. He’s part of the festival’s programming team, especially focusing on the indie music selection.

Lehtinen recalls the old days with a touch of nostalgia.

“Sometimes you could feel like you knew almost every second person at the festival, because it was so much smaller, and there were a lot of friends around and stuff, but still I think I prefer the current situation that there is a big programme and there’s a lot to see,” he says.

Flow hits the big time

Some critics are more than nostalgic for the old days, when flow was a small, hip event representing the vanguard of alternative music.

With headliners like Alicia Keys, who plays Suvilahti on Friday, has the festival sold out to commercialism?

Erkko Lehtinen.
Erkko Lehtinen. Image: Donagh Coleman / Yle

“It’s big, and the headliners are big, and obviously there is business involved. But still, the alternative side is really strong at the moment. I think the size of the festival also makes the possibility to introduce a lot of smaller acts, actually. Acts that would probably never have a show of their own in Helsinki,” Lehtinen observes.

Cutting edge

The kick-off to Flow 2013 was nonetheless cutting edge. The Knife opened the proceedings with their hyped “Shaking the Habitual” show, which blurs distinctions of gender, live band and performance.

With a dizzying variety of music genres and some 150 acts, how should the uninitiated navigate the weekend festival?

“One recommendation would be to not just stay at the main stage, and the big stages, but try to explore the smaller stages too. The best is when you find something by accident, bump into some show, and it’s something you really like suddenly. Maybe you’ll find some new bands,” Lehtinen advises.

Among his tips for the weekend are Atom TM by German electronic music guru Uwe Schmidt. The experimental show has resonances with Kraftwerk's massive 3D-performance taking over the main stage on Sunday evening. Other acts Lehtinen recommends catching are singer-songwriter Julia Holter from Los Angeles, Parquet Courts from Brooklyn, Factory Floor, and K-X-P from Finland, a new group featuring Timo Kaukolampi of Op:l Bastards.

Go with the flow

According to the indie Festival Programmer -- who is also performing at the festival as a DJ at the Saturday Night Tavastia Disco event (which is on Friday night) -- you don’t have to be a hipster to get something out of the weekend.

“Even my mum who is over 60 now comes to Flow every time, so I think there is really something for everyone here."

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