This Proves The Scandis Even Do Festivals Better Than We Do

If Insta feeds full of Glastonbury highlights got you in the mood for great music in the sun, Flow Festival in Helsinki is one you should seriously consider…

Flow Festival

by Anna Silverman |
Updated on

There was a time, not long ago, when ‘festival’ was a synonym for ‘cool’: think Kate Moss and Pete Doherty at Glastonbury circa 2005. Then came the problematic Native American headdresses, the ‘festival’ clothing lines on mainstream sites and the Instagram glitterati. And just like that, whispers that festivals were for ‘basics’ started doing the rounds.

But Flow Festival in Helsinki proves all the naysayers wrong: set in a disused power plant against a backdrop of converted gas holders, Flow isn’t your averagefestival. It’s edgy, urban, but most impressively, doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard. It takes things back to basics by being all about great music – with a few added bonuses - while radiating effortless Scandi-cool.

Here’s five reasons why this one is worth the achy legs and week-long hangover…

1. The Atmosphere

Think 'festival' and it's likely you're scarred with memories of being caught in the middle of a smashed surge of people swaying towards an exit, all shouting, throwing cans and pushing each other too hard. But these Scandis don’t drink like the Brits – and the festival is a lot more pleasant for it. There’s a constant buzz, but the only thing people are (seemingly) high on is the music. There’s also a lovely air of trust and respect: people of all ages stop and chat, leave their bags unattended and don’t automatically chuck litter on the floor. No one even checks wristbands at one of the biggest after-parties, and the atmosphere stays friendly right into the wee hours.

Flow Festival
Festival goers at Flow, where the atmosphere stays friendly late into the night ©Flow Festival

2. The Space

The stages themselves are a work of art. The Nordea Globe Balloon is a theatre in the round-style stage, situated underneath a giant balloon. Headliners on the main stage perform against a backdrop of gas cylinders, decorated with fairy lights at the disused power station. It’s an Insta-dream, but everyone is so achingly cool it makes me think twice about retaking a failed selfie. There's also the collections of street art and light installations dotted around, which I admire when I find myself estranged from the group I’m with. But the Goldilock-like size of Flow – not too big and not too small – means I’m with them again within half an hour.

3. The Food

Hurray, there’s real food here. And I mean real; everything from Michelin Starred restaurants to late night burger vans. The range of food vendors is what really gives Flow the edge for me, and, this August, it will see some of Helsinki’s best restaurants setting up camp to serve locally sourced, seasonal fare. Last year, 46% of all meals sold were vegetarian or vegan. Flow doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to sustainability, caterers are given sustainable guidelines, where they’re rated according to the sustainability of their meals. There isn’t a straw in sight and everything is biodegradable or compostable – including the cutlery. But I can assure you, the prawn cakes at Emo taste just as delicious off a fork that will biodegrade. Flow is also one of the world’s first carbon neutral festivals and recycles every material used. It’s simple – pay a deposit on a drink cup and return it at the end. Why haven’t we been doing this all along?

Flow Festival
Some of Helsinki's best restaurants will set up food stalls at this year's festival ©Flow Festival

4. The After Parties

The Finns know how to after party. Both official and unofficial after parties are worth going for alone: but for the really Finnish experience it has to be unofficial route. Think desolate carparks with the Helsinki skyline glistening in the distance, speakers, beers… and a sauna in the middle of all this. This is Sompasauna – a free-for-all community sauna a stone’s throw from the festival site on a nearby patch of industrial land (I told you they were cool). Everyone strips off and piles into the wooden shed, but it doesn’t feel creepy – promise - just like you’re taking part in a sociable, cultural tradition. Even the prudist of Brits end up in the buff, barely noticing the stray nipple or buttock brushing past them as they chat earnestly to the person next to them. The clubs and bars in the heart of Kallio district also come alive after hours. Flow’s afterparties are held at Ääniwalli, a hyped club in a factory area of Vallila district known from their amazing sound system and great gigs, and at Kaiku. The Finnish National Opera House will also host two evenings of pre-festival parties for the first time ever this year.

Flow Festival
Flow has an impressive line-up of megastars, but is also great at championing Scandi artists ©Flow Festival

5. The Music

Last, but perhaps most importantly, the music is something to write/email/Insta home about and it’s hard to beat this year’s line-up of megastars: Cardi B, Eryka Badu, Tame Impala and The Cure will all be there. But Flow is also great at championing talent closer to home. I discover dozens of new, Scandi artists I've never heard of who go on to slide right into my most played Spotify lists. There's also a generous line-up of world-class DJs on the Resident Advisor stage. This year, it's bound to get busy for Nina Kraviz, trippy hypnotic Donato Dozzy and Swedish techno oddity Baba Stiltz. Fresh from his headline-grabbing set at Glastonbury, Northampton rapper slowthai will be there for his first ever performance in Finland. Nubya Garcia’s set on the Nordea Globe Balloon Stage will be a sax-fuelled moment of afro-tinged jazz and FLOHIO is another one not to miss on the same stage.

Flow festival is on 9-11 August in Helsinki, Finland.

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