Helsinki, 7-11 August 2013
Most festivals these days – apart from those catering for a specific audience – attempt to cover three bases. First, the heritage headliners who’ve been around for years and whose musical influence you can hear in the second group, the middle-aged parents, if you will, of the festival, artists who’re maybe three albums in and have established themselves in the independent or commercial worlds. Then you have the babies, some of whom are yet to release a full album. It’s a rare thing for a festival to cover all three generations successfully. Flow, though, achieves it.
First, the brand new. Californian sibling trio Haim draw an enormous crowd to hear their sun-kissed road-trip pop. Danielle has a throat infection so Este and Alana take most of the vocals. When Danielle says ‘fuck it I’m going to sing this one’ before ‘Forever’ the sewn into the palms of their hands. Musically, they’re completely engaging, playing the hell out of their instruments, head-banging the shit out of their hair and bantering with the audience. They finish with an impressive rhythm jam, hands moving so fast they’re a blur. Earlier on, Alana brings the Haim fun to Angel Haze‘s set, another newish artist yet to release her album, gate-crashing the stage with a clownish dance and bowing down. Who isn’t? Haze’s energy and catapult-quick flow is breathtaking. From the off she’s in the crowd, firing clever, ballsy rhymes and displaying why she’s top of her game. More velocity from New York comes in the shape of Parquet Courts, the foursome whose stream-of-consciousness punk-fuzz, feedback-heavy rock has come a long way.
The calibre of the artists a class ahead was just as impressive. Kendrick Lamar was received hysterically and gave a goosebump-inducing set around new album ‘Good Kid M.A.A.D City’. Disclosure‘s sleek, plunderphonic UK nu-dance renaissance send the crowd into ecstasy for ‘White Noise’ and ‘When A Fire Starts To Burn. Bat For Lashes’ intense, theatrical performance showcased her incredible voice. The emotion of her screaming ‘Thank God I’m alive!’ in ‘Lilies’ and the tragic story of Laura were lightened by ‘What’s A Girl To Do’ and the fantastical of ‘Horse & I’. Grimes closed the festival with a set that challenged at times. Occasionally she’d go into what seemed like free improv for a while between massive songs ‘Genesis’ and ‘Oblivion’. It was clear what the crowd wanted to hear and Grimes assured us ‘ It has to get a little weird sometimes but now I’ll play some pop songs’.
Cat Power, though, was the crowning glory of the group. As is often the case because of her personal and gig history, there’s a sense of hope and goodwill towards Chan Marshall when she walks on stage. You want her to be OK. ‘Metal Heart’ was emotionally wrecking but wonderful. She flattened the notes in ‘Manhattan’ making it sounds threatening and somewhat sardonic. ‘Ruin’ had an alternative verse about Detroit and LA. As she sang, with two microphones often, her stories of booze-stained pain and misery, it felt like she was living through the pain again on stage.
Of the big daddies at Flow – My Bloody Valentine, Kraftwerk, Alicia Keys, Public Enemy – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds stood out. Cave and his band are one of the older heritage acts still writing and performing music worth listening to. ‘Push The Sky Away’, their album released this year, took centre stage. The set was even more dynamic against Kraftwerk’s by-rote rendition of songs past.