The death of the music festival. Long live Flow Festival

Flow Festival 2017

This summer I entertained the idea of only attending festivals with a lineup I didn’t like it. Just a festivals presenting bands and artists I don’t want to see. Why? There’s no time for music. Modern festivals have such an extensive program of activities that music becomes secondary.

Festivals are not concerts any more, but a destination and weekend-long experience. Not much different than a trip to a spa. You can choose to watch movies, play classic 1980s arcade games or enjoy art exhibitions and visual arts. What about yoga or running a 5k along fellow festival goers. Plus, let’s not forget the high-profile culinary offerings and top-notch cocktails and craft beers.

In addition to all those activities, there are concerts. Bands that play music in front of thousands of people. However, concerts are just a sideshow. Background music. Festivals represent well how the last decade cheapened music; even more so since the introduction of streaming services. At a festival, we experience music in a similar way as we consume Spotify: the playlist mode. We listen to a few songs, snap a pic or two, and quickly move on to the next show. Like it often happens when we listen to a playlist, it is very easy to skip to the next song, changing genres and music styles in seconds. The traditional one-hour festival show is way too long for our current attention spans, impaired by newsfeed and never-ending scrolling. Concerts are the background music for Instagram stories. It’s all one song, really.

Flow Festival is no different and its evolution has been towards this model. Pick up the official magazine and you’ll read not only about music, but art, design and food. You won’t find a complete list of artists. This is not what drives the ticket sales. It’s the Flow experience what does. Don’t care much about Ryan Adams or Frank Ocean, go and see Pulp Fiction at the pop-up cinema, instead.

This year, the Flow experience is enhanced with a bigger festival area and new activities. The festivals adds 1.5 hectares, but the daily capacity remains at 25,000. New Flow, old Flow. There are also changes to the configuration of the stages. The iconic balloon stage is doubling its number of seats to over 1,600. This is a much needed improvement as last year the Balloon Stage area was dangerously overcrowded to the point it was no fun to try to see a show there. The chill-out zone, the Backyard, has also been redesigned and will host yoga classes. Perhaps the best new idea is the We Jazz Vinyl Market. If you’d like to buy some vinyl records, a number of labels are setting shop next to the Balloon Stage. There, you can sit in Eero Aarnio’s classic furniture. Isn’t that cool?

That’s the 2017 Flow experience, but what about the music?

And then there’s the music

Despite all the noise, Flow continues to offer a leading music program of the highest quality. I can argue this year Flow presents one of its strongest lineups in recent years. Or at least, I find a high number of must-see shows. Characteristically of Flow, the program strikes a balance between genres -pop, rock electronica, jazz, folk, hip hip, and cleverly combines mainstream headliners with solid list of artist to be discovered.

Who’s the main headliner? Your choice is a good as mine. Frank Ocean is an audience favorite and the artist most requested, but the variety of the program gives you the opportunity to choose your own main act.

This year I’ve done my homework and I have figured out my schedule and made a list of artist to watch. I’ll have to endure a few hectic moments, running from stage to stage with no time to breath. The program packs too many artists in the prime evening hours. And of course, there are some painful overlaps as well. It’s so bad I’ll miss Black Motor, Jenny Hval and The Holy among others.

Anyways, below are my picks for Flow 2017. You may have others.

Friday night is punk night

This year’s opening night will be ear-splitting. In Finland, there’s not a proper rock and roll festival any more. The Horu Smoku Summer Boogaloo festival was wonderful, but didn’t happen this year. So, thanks Flow for not ignoring rock fanatics. In 2016 we saw Descendents and Iggy Pop, and this year we have the opportunity again of seeing great guitar oriented rock bands.

On Friday night, loud guitars will soar with the spaced-out this-is-how-your-worst-nightmare-sounds black metal of Oranssi Pazuzu, followed by the garage rock of Car Seat Headrest and The Black Lips.

Teens of Denial was one of my favorite albums last year, so I’m particularly thrilled to see how Car Seat Headrest presents these lo-fi songs on a big stage.

Re-energized after a line-up change, which now adds sax player, and with a solid brand new album, The Black Lips should throw an entertaining, danceable end-of-the-night party. Expect a bunch of songs that revisit 60s proto-punk.

Laid back Saturday night

On Saturday night, I’m missing a big headliner because I don’t really care about The XX, back at Flow’s main stage for the first time since 2010. Goldfrapp don’t do it for me either and the hardcore-meets-rap of Death Grips is a question mark. It could be a mind-blowing show or simply a headache. Therefore, my Saturday at Flow is looking like a relaxed evening of mellow and elegant sounds at the Balloon Stage. Just like grown-ups do.

In the late afternoon, Julie Byrne will be the first performer at the Balloon Stage. It’s the right setting and time for her warm and intimate songs of her latest album, Not Even Happiness. Let’s just hope the audience will be silent and quiet. Her songs need it.

Saxophonist Timo Lassy and his band can be considered the festival’s house band. Almost every year, Lassy has performed at Flow in different configurations, always making the audience dance with his groove. This time the band will welcome some very special guest including American singer Joyce Elaine Yuille and Finnish jazz-legend Eero Koivistoinen.

Last year Mikko Joensuu’s performance was one of the high points of the festival. The Nordic Music Prize nominee returns to Flow, but this time Joensuu is taking the Balloon Stage. The show is bringing closure to the Amen trilogy

All in Sunday

The third and last day of Flow Festival is packed with A-List performers. Coincidentally, the names of these artists carry the letter A: Astrid Swan, The Afghan Whigs, Ryan Adams and Angel Olsen.

Astrid Swan’s latest album, From the Bed and Beyond is brilliant and I can’t recommend it enough. While a festival tent can’t provide the intimacy the music deserves, you should not miss an opportunity to hear these songs live.

The last time I saw Ryan Adams was more than a decade ago at the Azkena Rock Festival in Spain. Without doubt, that was the worst show I’ve ever seen. Of course, there’s not much show when the singer, drunk as a skunk, barely sings or plays, making his band stop and start songs randomly. Luckily, Adams got it together and during the last decade he’s produced a solid body of work and some remarkable songs.

Over time The Afghan Whigs have become one of my favorite bands. Leader Greg Dulli has that rare talent of being able to write songs and perform straight to your soul. It’s that emotional. The band’s records combine rock and old school R&B to soundtrack the perfect crime.