“This is my first festival in Finland,” announces Anderson .Paak as he bounds back to centre-stage after one of several sporadic and impressive turns on the drums. He stares into the crowd for a moment. “Lots and lots of blonde people,” he concludes, before whizzing back into his 100-mile-an-hour funk-laced hip hop. It’s a pretty accurate summation – though perhaps a tad reductive - of the nation’s capital, Helsinki, in which Flow Festival is currently heading into its teenage years.
In fact, there’s more to Helsinki than can possibly be enjoyed over just a handful of days – though the fact that the festival starts and ends late, and is just a quick tram ride from the city centre, means you can cram plenty of sightseeing into your schedule if you’re so inclined. Or you might need to spend that time recovering from the night before. This is, after all, one of the best festival line-ups of the summer.
This year’s Flow Festival welcomes the likes of Sia, Massive Attack, Iggy Pop, The Last Shadow Puppets, Chvrches, Anohni and FKA twigs to the site – which is a defunct Suvilahti power plant, mostly left bare and undisturbed, the industrial aesthetic only slightly softened with the help of some super-sized fairy lights, which delicately envelop former gas holders.
Away from the gas holders though, in one of the enormous tents (one of them, I’m reliably informed, is the biggest tent in Europe), Stormzy is one of the weekend’s first acts. What starts off as a bafflingly small crowd soon grows into something formidable as he blazes through his grime standards, eventually ripping off his shirt and proclaiming, “I’m gonna send pictures of this to my mum.”
Later on in the evening, Iggy Pop’s shirt is also, of course, absent. His trademark swagger is here in full force – though his signature stance, one hip jutted out to the side, is starting to resemble a medical condition more than it is a sexy statement of intent. Though his songs are as buoyant and timeless as ever, it’s all a little bit much when he sticks his microphone into his trousers and starts thrusting.
Massive Attack’s headline set rumbles with righteous intent, and when its political ruminations begin to edge into #makesyouthink territory, the sheer power of their music keeps the eye-rolls at bay. As does the presence of Young Fathers, whose collaborative single ‘Voodoo In My Blood’ is one of the night’s highlights.
The next day, two consecutive sets comprise women with their faces entirely covered, as images projected on screen do most of the physical performing for them. And yet, the two sets couldn’t be more different. The first is Sia, whose incredible vocals – which she frequently pushes to the edge of cracking, and yet always seems perfectly in control of – come alive even further on stage. It doesn’t matter that she stays rooted to the spot, an oversized fringe, one part platinum blonde, one part jet black, draped over her face. She’s got charisma enough without showing her face.
The next is Anohni, performing her stunning, bleak, political album Hopelessness in full. With a black hood draped over her head, it takes a while to figure out that her face, too, is covered in a dark mesh material. Behind her, different faces – young, old, black, white, always female – take it in turns to mouth along to her tracks. It’s an unsettling, overwhelming experience. Just, no doubt, as Anohni intended.