Over 80,000 ticketholders took over the steampunk Suvilahti district in Helsinki this weekend, as the music and arts extravaganza Flow Festival was organized for the fourteen time.
The brainchild of co-owners Tuomas and Suvi Kallio and DJ Toni Rantanen, Flow Festival has grown in little over a decade from a small Finnish soul and jazz music event into an international music spectacle.
Top-name bands like Patti Smith, Lauryn Hill, Charlotte Gainsbourg and the Arctic Monkeys attracted sold-out crowds on Friday and Saturday, and Sunday's line-up is the climax of the weekend, with headlining Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar joining the likes of St. Vincent, Lykke Li and Brockhampton on the festival's many stages.
Included in the crowds this year is a record number of foreign reporters; some having travelled from Asia, South America and the tip of Africa to observe the festivities. The organizers of Flow have enlisted the help of PR firms in the UK, France, Germany and Russia to help get the word out.
Taking notice in the UK
A reporter for the UK news outlet The Sunday Times, Lisa Verrico, is a first-time attendee. She says the festival's reputation as a promoter of sustainable development was one of the things that drew her to report on the successful Finnish music event. Verrico covers music festivals throughout Europe for the Times, and she says that UK music festivals are far behind Flow in that they are just starting to prioritize environmental considerations.
"I'm curious to see how Helsinki has organised this urban festival and what makes it special," she says. "Sustainable development principles have become a key agenda item in Europe. I think the festival industry in Britain has a lot to learn from festivals like Flow."
She says that Finland's Flow Festival is still not widely known in the UK, but that is changing quickly, as Helsinki is also considered a hot destination in the UK at present.
"If Flow has artists like Kendrick Lamar performing, it is sure to attract attention in Britain," Verrico says.
"Best festival near Moscow"
Sergey Yakovlev is the editor of Russia's Esquire magazine. He has already attended the festival many times, and plans to come back next year as well.
"When I came here the first time three years ago, I decided to write about this festival in Russia. I found Flow so interesting," he says.
Yakovlev says Flow is more than a music festival.
"It is a creative and friendly place for anyone at all who is interested in art, music or even architecture," he says.
He's also thrilled about the short one-and-a half-hour flight between Moscow and Helsinki
"Flow is the best international music event that is close by," he says.
Yakovlev says he will write about the new trends he observes at Flow for his publication in Russia.
"They are very important to us because we always want to become more European. […] I believe we can find a creative combination of different things here that we can use in Moscow," he says.
NME: "Great music, healthy food"
The British music website New Musical Express (NME) has also sent a reporter to Flow, Thomas Smith. He says he was treated to a Finnish sauna on Friday night, courtesy of the festival's arrangers, and late at night, he walked from the Suvilahti festival grounds to check out the Helsinki city centre, only returning to his hotel at two in the morning.
He says Flow's friendly people and good food have made a lasting impression.
"You can't take this for granted at other festivals, where you are likely to run into brawling festival goers and bad grub," he says. "I think Flow is so popular because of its fantastic location and because people are taken care of here."
Smith says that competition between music festivals in Europe is tough, so things like top-notch artists and healthy food make a difference.
"Festivals survive if they can put together a programme that is as diverse as possible – like Flow has."
A winning concept
A recent article in Finland's leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat says Flow Festival's budget for this year came in at seven million euros, with about half of this amount going towards securing the performing artists. HS reports that the "family-owned business" has eight permanent employees and contracts over 1,000 temporary workers annually.
In 2016, Flow Festival recouped an astonishingly high result, taking in net sales equal to 870,000 euros per employee – more than ten times the industry average. Last year, however, the event recorded a loss of 29,000 euros after a storm hit the festival area on Saturday night.
Ticket prices to the event have steadily risen since the festival began. This year the scale was between 99 and 215 euros per person, when just three years ago the price of admission was between 89 and 169 euros.