This time last year I was soaking up the sounds of Sweden amongst Gothenburg’s quaint cobbled streets, its idyllic surroundings reflecting the effortlessly cool and clean cut nature of their ubiquitous pop culture. This year though, it was towards Finland’s Helsinki and Flow Festival I set my sights, and found a place that was rougher around the edges, but all the more intriguing for it.
The festival, held at the beautiful abandoned Suvilahti power plant, played host to an incredible array of international acts such as Kraftwerk, Kendrick Lamar, Bat For Lashes, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Factory Floor, Mount Kimbie, Haim, Alicia Keys, Azealia Banks and our favourite of the weekend, Goat but with such a strong native line-up, we thought we’d explore what makes this festival different from its weekend counter-parts, namely Norway’s Oya and Sweden’s Way Out West.
Helsinki occupies a place on the map which means it’s part of Scandinavia but also only a three and half hour journey from St. Petersburg, allowing Eastern European influences to creep across its borders. Everything is a little bit harsher, a little bit colder, a little less polished but in that it finds its character, one which we in turn found echoed in its more than your standard scandi-pop fare. With all that in mind, here are our favourite Finnish picks from the weekend.
If motorik rhythms and dark krautrock inspired disco sounds like your worst nightmare, then feel free to skip over this one but do so know you’ll be missing out on something fantastic. Having released their debut EP in 2010, K-X-P are easily one of the best bands to break out of Finland in the last couple of years. The trio, formed of Timo Kaukolampi, Tomi Leppänen, and Tuomo Puranen with additional drumming from Anssi Nykänen, create an expansive electronic canvas with broad brush strokes allowing their beats to breath and references all manner of genres, 70s pysch included.
If you’ve yet to hear Husky Rescue’s bittersweet, captivating and experimental take on electronic pop you should definitely look towards their recently released record The Long Lost Friend. Taking to the Nokia Blue Tent on Sunday afternoon, their explorations of life, love and friendship take on a more bracing form. The faster numbers are pushed through with relentless, pacing percussing while Sweden’s Johanna Kalén whispering, romantic vocals soften the edges. Famous for focusing on the interaction with their live audience the show takes on a life of its own, the band’s own unique sensibilities informing every understated, breezy note.
Having signed to Beggars for his publishing last year, Helsinki man Jaakko Eino Kalevi is soon to pique international interest. With band in tow and female vocal partner up front, their set at the Black Tent kicked our Saturday off in the best possible way. His knack for crafting wonderfully rich aural textures and irresistible, alternative pop hooks in the same breath was a pretty captivating thing to behold.
Taking to the Boiler Room’s small, corridor-like housing Helsinki DJ Desto – aka Risto Roman – put together an incredible set perfect for the darkening hours of Saturday night. Stepping in for his label mate Teeth at the last minute – the pair run a label called ‘Signal Life’ together – Desto honoured his absent cohort by dropping some of his brand new material amongst his own rich creations. Minimal bass lines and strong percussion elements combined with futuristic glitches, heavy dub lines and that industrial edge favoured by many local artists. It was raw, a little bit calamitous but my god everyone was dancing.
The Other Sound stage was a uniquely relaxed sanctuary in the middle of the festival site that sees everyone inside watch performances from a cross-legged position on the floor. The programming on this stage certainly catered for the weekend’s more avant-garde experiments, Lau Nau being no exception. The moniker of Helsinki born musician and singer Laura Naukkarinen, Lau Nau’s brand of semi-improvisational folk is reminiscent of Ólöf Arnalds - less sleek but just as charming. Intricately woven tales are sung over a backdrop of drowsy instrumentals and clattering, menacing keys while a projectionist sits at the front of the stage, creating live visuals with a Tiffany lamp and different coloured light bulbs. The over all effect is not too far away from Esben and The Witch.
Fuzzy guitar pop of the highest calibre, The Liebling’s released a track called ‘It’s All Gonna Fall’ back in May of this year to quiet, but extremely positive, rumblings from those in the know. The track is a pretty good insight as to what can be expected from the rest of the band’s oeuvre, all tinkering Death Cab-esque melodies and simple yet poignant vocal refrains. Playing the 360° Balloon Stage on Friday afternoon, their breezy indie was on display from every angle – the depth of their playful nuances gradually revealing themselves under the afternoon sun.
Lead photograph by Jason Williamson