News / / 19.08.13


Helsinki, Finland | August 7-11

With two million saunas in Finland and only a population of five million people, the Finnish are certainly a nation who’re comfortable in their own skin. This has been truly reflected in the bold ambition of Flow Festival. Currently located in the historic Suvilahti; a former power plant near the centre of Helsinki, Flow has grown over the last 10 years to become a Scandinavian cultural highlight and a real draw for people to visit the country. So when Crack was asked to come out to cover, among others, Kraftwerk’s 3-D show in the confines of the former power plant, we packed our mini sauna towel without hesitation.

Attention to detail at Flow is notable everywhere you look. From the bold graphics and art direction that reflects the fact Scandinavian design is some of the best in the world, to the options of soaking up talks with record labels and producers, watching film screenings and sampling impeccable local food, it’s made clear that Flow is a festival that’s clean and proud.


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Arriving on Thursday, the festivities got underway with the renowned party starter Jackmaster at the RBMA stage. Set outdoors and partly shaded by a few trees, it was one of the only green areas available at the festival. With painted tree stumps offering seating for people to gather around during the day, the area offered a space for people to relax before thrusting themselves into the festival spirit.

Next it was over to the main stage to catch rap’s man of the moment Kendrick Lamar, who commanded thousands of arms to be thrust in the air throughout his set. Wanting to get involved, Crack pushed forward with beer in hand, though this proved problematic, as security prevented any drinks from entering the barriered area at the front. No one enjoys forced limitations when it comes to drinking at a festival, and to be honest, this was no different. Kendrick prowled the stage in all black, hood up, with the Top Dawg Entertainment Logo cast behind his entourage/live band. The bass levels here were truly rib-shaking, almost to the detriment of the overall sound. But for a UK hardened reviewer so constantly frustrated by sound restrictions in the UK, it was exciting to witness, particularly knowing My Bloody Valentine were playing the next day.

Over at the Nokia Blue Tent, Chan Marshall of Cat Power fame was captivating her crowd. Her execution live really excelled, with Manhattan proving a real highlight. Next it was the short walk over to permanently popular Other Sound stage to see Megan Remy, ie US Girls, who was claiming she hadn’t slept since Wednesday and had boarded five flights to get here, and her delirious but dreamy performance had the required effect on the quietly focused audience who were sat on the floor in this dark and intimate room.

The appearance of Berlin electronic royalties Modeselektor and Apparat, unified as Moderat, was exactly what we needed to finish off the night. With a new album under their belts and a visual backdrop which consisted of projections being mapped onto four screens that that intersected each other, it provided a fitting engrossing and euphoric climax for the evening. Old songs Nr. 22 shook the tent hard and Apparat getting his guitar out for Les Grandes Marches provided a true highlight. Their sound translates so well on the live stage, catching them while touring their second album is a must.




Saturday’s bill was so good we were struggling to contain ourselves. Starting the day again over at the RBMA stage, we were warmed up by the excellent Tim Sweeney. His Beats In Space radio show has seen him grow in profile and here he continued to showcase his diversity and understanding of a late afternoon slot. His tactical dropping of Can’s Vitamin C was a particular highlight.

Over at the intimate Other Sound Stage again we were treated to a taste of Finnish alt-folk culture with the popular Lau Nau. With live shadow puppets animated via an over-head projector and a swarm of layered delayed vocals, there was a real DIY approach that would have easily found a home on some of the UK’s strongest folk labels such as Fence.

The mighty My Bloody Valentine took centre stage over at the Nokia Blue Tent and much to the long-term detriment of our ears, we were able to get within 20 metres of their amplifiers. Full grimaced faces were everywhere as you could do nothing but surrender to the loudest gig we’ve ever witnessed. Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butchers sheer wall of guitar distortion and noise was intimidatingly painful on our eardrums as we witnessed people having to leave as a result, but this pain was good. Classics Only Shallow and When You Sleep alongside the newer only tomorrow were unforgettable experiences and justified the band’s continued commitment to the magnitude of their sonics.

Reluctantly tearing ourselves away, we went over to catch Factory Floor perform their much lauded live show. A disappointingly thin crowd was Flow’s loss and our gain as we were able to slot in near the front as the tent continued to fill as the set went on. What we’re witnessing with Factory Floor though is surely the future of dance music. Infinitely more captivating than your ten-a-penny DJ fare, Factory Floor’s live industrial slant on techno was intense and thoroughly gripping throughout. The trio from London, with an unleashed animal in the form Gabriel Gurnsey on drums, were raw and relentless, not stopping for a breather until 45 minutes in.

Again tearing ourselves away was painful, but seeing as it was for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, it felt more than worthwhile. Cave had been spending the weekend in Helsinki with his family taking in the sights, and when we arrived at his performance his sons were handing him some music in between songs. The main stage at Flow carries a remarkably intimate feel, and getting close to Cave for this show was a privilege. Furiously intense with his wild prowling of the stage, explosive groin thrusting, and passionate lyrical delivery marked this down as gig of the weekend.

With Sunday upon us, we feel compelled to experience a true Finnish tradition and visit their newly built Sauna only a 10 minute stroll along the sea by the festival. Its a fully nude experience and has an area to dive into the sea and cool down once you can’t take any more heat. The building bares all Scandinavian aesthetics and leaves us feeling cleansed, new born, and suitably refreshed for Flow’s final day.

Back inside the power plant we arrive to catch Public Enemy bringing the hype with Chuck D and Flavor Flav’schemistry energising the crowd with classic after classic before we moved on to catch Godspeed You! Black Emperor bring their progressive instrumental drone rock to an appreciative early evening crowd over at the Nokia Blue Tent. We managed to squeeze into the exceedingly busy Black Tent to witness the meteoric rise of UK’s chart topping Disclosure. This Crack reviewer hadn’t seen the brothers since we booked them on back in 2010 for £400, and this tent was going off, with chart hit White Noise, unsurprisingly, getting the loudest response.

After exhausting various 3D glasses dispensaries to no avail, we realised that we’d had a moderate nightmare by losing our pair for Kraftwerk’s show. The blurred visuals were proving too much to take, so after harassing a few Finns we were kindly donated some spares and entered the experience a couple of songs late. Arriving late to the Kraftwerk party was soon a distant memory, as the deliberately primitive visuals took us to outer space for Spacelab, the autobahn for Autobahn, and Tour de France for Tour De France.


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What defined Flow for us was the stunning amount of music available in such a short distance from one another. In Flow’s favour, the intimacy of the stages meant that traveling between acts was easy yet somehow sounds didn’t clash. So with this in mind, we managed to quickly head over to catch Sweden’s psych rockers Goat enthrall a heady crowd back at the Black Tent dressed in a variety of Middle Eastern garments, coned hats, balaclavas, and burqas.

And it was with this standout gig it brought our time at Flow to an end. This festival was all about the music and more wholesome experience rather than the gruelling hedonism and multiple memory blanks of many UK based events. We’ve never felt so refreshed on a Monday after a festival ever.

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Words: Clark Merkin