Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy keeping it tight at this year’s Flow Festival

FEATURING nearly 150 performers, the largest in the history of the event, the tenth edition of Flow Festival came to a close at Suvilahti on Sunday. Attendance at the four-day event reached a total of 61,500 visitors. Bold, new ideas were tested this year, including a move to renewable energy sources and a redesign of the festival area layout, with the intention of reducing congestion. It is questionable how well the later concept functioned, as the area seemed to lack the harmony of previous year’s models. But when it came to the program, Flow pulled out all the stops this year.

Closing the festival on the main stage on Sunday were German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, performing their cutting-edge 3D Show. The audience was a sea of smiling faces, all sporting identical white 3D glasses as the band invited them into their own peculiar time warp. Kraftwerk’s spectacle was at once retro-futuristic and a milestone of technological stage-show innovation. With the towering relics of industrial architecture that make up the Suvilahti area all around, the band could not have asked for a better backdrop for their concept. The show was a phenomenal audio-visual experience.

Kraftwerk was not the only legendary group to hit the main stage on Sunday. With an explosive, high voltage display, Public Enemy rocked the power plant, sending the audience into a frenzy and delivering one of the key shows of the festival. The seamless rap interplay between Chuck D and Flavor Flav demonstrated that none of the chemistry in the band has faded over the years. Toward the end of their performance, Chuck D reminded the audience that they have been at this for 26 years and quipped, “if you like hip-hop…it’s not as easy as it looks.”

Other highlights of the festival included the highly anticipated return of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who sent chills through the audience, Alicia Keys, who delivered a flawless performance, giving her fans exactly what they had come for, and the exotic appeal of golden voiced Bat for Lashes. Femme En Fourrure kicked up the heat in the Boiler Boom but seemed a bit disturbed by the layout of the Nokia Garage. The masqueraded Swedish band Goat capped off the festival madness with a show that one delighted viewer likened to “an invitation to some weird cult.”

Even the best of festivals are not without flaws. The volume levels of concerts have been creeping up gradually over the years until today, when it is all but mandatory to wear earplugs if one wants to escape hearing damage. My Blood Valentine’s show on Saturday was clearly over the top. Although the band’s music relies upon the need to be heard load, this concert was an auditory disaster. Not only was it far above the safe decibel range, it was poorly mixed with the vocals being drowned out by the screaming guitars. In the interest of the safety of their visitors, perhaps it is time that music event promoters no longer just leave it to the bands to decide how loud they want to play, but enforce safe limits on the volume levels that will be allowed.

Another area for improvement has to do with Flow’s recycling practices. The festival prides itself on implementing environmentally friendly practices and overall succeeds quite well, but let us hope they are not simply resting on their “green” laurels, so to speak. The newly introduced Nomad Kitchen, which even went as far as to serve its dishes on lettuce leaves, with egg carton plates, was among a growing number of beverage outlets that were not included in the festivals can and bottle deposit program. The area was littered with ginger beer cans and other assorted beverage containers that, offering no incentive to return to the collection points, were often left scattered about. That said, Flow did have teams of trash collectors doing a fine job of keeping the area tidy.

The Flow Festival is one of the most highly anticipated cultural events in the entire country. This year the festival organizers put together an astonishing program of quality and variety. In pushing the boundaries, retaining a high level experience for the festival goer can be a tricky business. Large scale productions such as Flow demand constant refinement in order to keep the original spirit of the festival alive. Hopefully, the Flow Festival will continue to flourish for years to come.

Robin DeWan

Photo: Robin DeWan