Flow Festival: An in-depth recap
“What the Helsinki,” Outkast’s Big Boi exclaims on the third day of Helsinki, Finland’s three-day music festival to a sea of thousands to close off Europe’s ever-growing jubilee. More than 100 performers from all over the world from genres ranging from hip-hop and electric dance music to folk and funk and nearly 58,000 people are in what seems like the centre of the universe to take part in the unforgettable three-day experience. Three days of European culture and international music. Three days in utopia as the 24-hour clock ticked by.
16:00 – The sun is hot in Finland’s nation’s capital of Helsinki when the sound of vocal warm-up, microphone testing and symphonic music blasts over the city heat waves and the tips of each tent pointing high into the blue sky. They are covering the stages that are about to be alive with international music. It is the calm before the storm.
Boats are being launched in the pier over choppy waters as thousands of festival guests make their way by bike, car or foot around the industrial area to the festival grounds, chugging their bottles of wine and cans of beer before tossing them away as security searches their bags. Some families wait with black garbage bags to pick up the pitched cans and glass bottles in order to get paid off of the litter. It is a sight of privileged elitism, but it is a reality.
16:30 – Doors open and immediately the grounds are abuzz with wide-eyed hope. There are art instillations, graffiti, booths and stages everywhere. Messages like “Come On, Die Happy” and “Make Sense, Not War” are painted onto the old cracked and chipped buildings. The thought-provoking “The Road Not Taken…” art piece by Baghdad artist, Adel Abidin, provides a dark walkway from one stage to the next, granting anyone the opportunity to choose which entrance they want to take. Entries like “Gay” and “Straight”, “Minority” and Majority” as well as “Hypocrite” and “Sincere” allow anyone to be who they truly are in the most honest way through the empty tunnels.
17:30 – Iconic DJ, Peanut Butter Wolf is taking part in a Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) Session at the RBMA Backyard area, answering questions and sharing stories about his relationships with J Dilla and Madlib. “Dilla took us to the strip club in Detroit. That was fun,” he smirks while reflecting on their friendship inside and outside of music.
18:45 – The black tent is packed to the point of dark suffocation because G.O.O.D Music’s Pusha T is about to come out. His name is displayed across the screen in red and he emerges with his trusty hype-man M to rip apart every My Name Is My Name hit. Pusha seems different though. He doesn’t look like he is about to rip anyone’s soul out with his bare teeth, the way that Pusha usually performs. The power is there, but it isn’t stern intensity in his eyes that reigns supreme. He’s grinning a kind of grin reserved for those that are pleasantly surprised in the moment. Amazed about where he is and what he has accomplished. There, Pusha ran through “Blocka”, “Millions”, “Sweet Serenade” and his verse on “Move That Dope” as the Finnish fans rapped along through their thick accents.
After the set, he cools off backstage and he recalls that he’s performed in Helsinki once before with Kanye. He walks into his dressing room as M takes photos with screaming fans outside of the backstage tent area.
22:30 – It is sunset and the UK’s Evian Christ is spinning a legendary DJ set under giant lanterns dangling above the green lawn full of dancing festival goers celebrating the immense moment that seems to be as close to perfect as there ever has been.
23:00 – Mos Def emerges to screams at the main-stage as the night’s one headliner. He is too conscious and epically amazing for the drunken European crowd to appreciate as he is forced to continuously make sure the sea of intoxicated people is still with him. They are dancing off beat and no crowd dancing off beat deserves Mos Def. But Yasiin Bey doesn’t need a crowd. He just needs a stage as he jigs and raps “Umi Says” and “Mathematics” for the night sky.
14:00 – A blanket of clouds covers the sun as the doors open.
15:00 – The festival grounds are clean despite being littered the night before. The porta-potties have been cleaned; there is no garbage on the ground. The festival looks eerily untouched as if the groundskeepers worked all night to clean the area just for it to be littered again. At the Adidas booth, festivalgoers are fighting over free Adidas merch that it being given away like shoes and backpacks.
16:00 – Finland’s upcoming emcee, Noah Kin, is worried about how many people will show up to his set as his scheduled time to perform is penciled in right after the doors open for the day. But when the 20-year-old hip-hop artist takes the stage, the Black Stage is just as packed as it was for Pusha T the day before. The young emcee raps with passion and conviction and holds the large stage and ever-growing stage like a champion. He brings out Cocoa Music comrade Gracias to perform their collaborative pieces and the crowd can’t get enough.
17:00 – Finnish DJ, Didier, is spinning as the sun makes its appearance, warming the faces of those sprawled out on the grass by the RBMA Backyard area, enjoying some old R&B tracks that are being spun. Many get up and begin to dance in the sunrays that decide to stick around.
21:00 – As Statik Selektah spins, Pro Era’s Joey Bada$$ makes his way to the stage rocking a Stolkhom Olympic Adidas crewneck and smoking a large spliff. It’s kush, a smell that was yet to be smelt throughout the festival grounds previously. His “95 Til Infinity” and “Big Dusty” hits are performed with excitement in celebration for his first-ever performance in Finland. The Brooklyn spitter even tries to speak some Finnish for the crowd who erupts in applause for his attempt. When an artist performs in a new place for the first time, they tend to go extra hard and Joey is no different.
And of course, he rounds off the set by paying homage to his late Pro Era comrade, Capital Steez, a ritual that he seems to truly give his heart to each time he performs, despite the repetition of it. It is humbling. The crowd loves him.
Backstage after the set, as Joey takes selfies with media, Statik is attempting to find out where the after-party is at, despite having to leave back to New York at 4 in the morning. It seems like Statik is always looking for the after-party.
17:30 – Blood Orange sets up its ample amount of equipment in the Lumida Blue Tent before front man Devonte Hynes emerges on crutches showcasing his injured leg. The bloody set is fresh off the Lollapolooza drama where Dev and his girlfriend Samantha Urbani were apparently assaulted by festival security. But despite the injury, Dev still gets jiggy to the band’s “Chamakay” “Time Will Tell”, and Samantha joins her bae to serenade each other and the overheating crowd with “You’re Not Good Enough”. Switching his attention from guitar to the dance-moves that made him famous, Dev steals the show as his eccentric-looking band creates the retro melodies live.
18:00 – UK’s mystery band, Jungle, who has built an incredible fan-base, despite not sharing details about each member’s identities, show face (sort of) in the black tent. Spotlights behind them create silhouettes of the band members as they play “Busy Earnin” and “The Heat” with animated excellence. Their tribal funk sounds create the perfect playlist for fans to dance through the concrete jungle.
But Janelle Monae is about to take the stage elsewhere so people soon begin to head for the sunlight at the end of the tent.
18:30 – Janelle Monae is on the main stage and she is perfection. Literally. From her vocals to her stage presence to her appearance, the performance is flawless and the black and white show ran through hits like “Electric Lady”, “Tightrope” and “Q.U.E.E.N.”. Janelle is one of those rare artists that loves what she does to the point that the joy of being on stage radiates through everyone in her presence. She is addicting in all of her pleasant talents: while posing for the photographers fighting for shots in the media pit, serenading her fans with a perfect pitch or never losing eye contact with those who came to witness her shine.
19:30 – Action Bronson waddles on stage in his bearded ginger glory taking a long moment to light his joint and smoke some of it while the crowd reacts in utter pandemonium. His DJ is spinning Toto’s classic rock anthem “Hold The Line, Love Isn’t Always On Time” and Bronson sings the chorus through smoke puffs. He doesn’t even have to do anything. He could just stand there and it would be enough.
But Bronson dives into some Blue Chips 2 tracks like “The Don’s Cheeks” and “Contemporary Man” before the stage is no longer enough. The overweight rap jester leaps off the black tent stage, over the media pit barrier and through the large crowd of however many thousand people fit inside the tent area and those dispersed throughout the festival grounds, who are inhaling cigarettes and chugging down seven euro Heinekens. Bronson barrels out into the gathering, tossing a drunken fan to the ground who tries to get too close while he continues to rap along to his tracks, until he’s too far away from the tent to hear the music. Stealing a beer off of the bar, Bronson chugs it back, spilling most of it on his old grey T-shirt before taking a rest on the bench with some fans to take selfies.
A mob follows him from the stage area, snapping photos of the bearded beast before he makes his way back to the stage to finish his set of Blue Chips greatness.
21:00 – Outkast is about to hit the main stage to close off the festival and the vibe is uncontrollable. Thousands of fans clap as a black Outkast banner is pinned to the DJ booth. And just like that, there is no warning. “Bombs Over Baghdad” begins and Andre 3000 and Big Boi come storming to the stage. “In-slum-national, underground, thunder pounds when I stomp the ground.” It sounds perfect. They haven’t lost it. They don’t miss a beat, a bar, a word. Big Boi maintains the middle of the stage as Andre 3000 heads from one corner of it to the other as the overcrowded media pit attempts to get their shots of him.
All tour long, Andre 3000 has worn a reunion tour ensemble of a wig, glasses and black jumpsuit with a new custom Andre-ism displayed across it. Flow Festival is no different as his chest reads “narcissistic Americans.” It’s an interesting choice to rock so far from home.
But he is a God, showcasing more power, more skill, more energy and more fluidity than the majority of rappers in the game, including those nearly half his age. His athleticism has him running around, dancing, doing push-ups, and grabbing the Outkast banner to use as a cape as he flies around the stage. It is impossible for fans to keep their eyes off of him. He is the star.
From “Hey Ya” to “Ms. Jackson” to “The Way You Move” to “Player’s Ball” to “So Fresh, So Clean”, the legendary duo showcase each song in all of its glory while Sleepy Brown is introduced to help out with a few of them.
Ninety minutes later and no one wants to go home. Something this magical is not supposed to end.
The entire crowd joins in to thank its Outkast heroes for the legendary set with “The Whole World” as the duo thanks its fans for 20 years.
24:00 – It’s over. It’s really over. It’s time to leave utopia.
Words By. Samantha O’Connor + Photos By. Kennedy Owusu-Ansah