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Flow Festival is more than a music festival

We discuss with the artistic director of the most "cool and cozy" music festival in Europe that takes place in Helsinki from the 9th to the 11th of August.
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Flow Festival in Helsinki is the most "cool and cozy" music festival in Europe. We first visited it in 2014 and since then we keep coming back, giving you some glimpses of its inspiration, its wonderful atmosphere and the remarkable music it hosts. This year we will visit it once more with fresh eyes and new ideas. Our correspondents Leni Zonta and Martino Fantato will report everything they will experience, taste and hear from the 9th to the 11th of August in the Finish capital.

As an introduction, we contacted the artistic director of the festival Tuomas Kallio and had the chance to get some answers about the secrets that render Flow Festival a unique experience of music delight.

MixGrill: Flow Festival has been present in the Suvilahti district area of Helsinki since 2007. What does the festival mean for the city and why is Helsinki so tightly connected to Flow?

Tuomas Kallio: The festival has been organised in Helsinki since 2004 and it has grown from a small club event to one of the most unique experiences in live music today. The festival is held only a short walk away from the centre of Helsinki and is a prominent tourist attraction. In 2018, 17 per cent of the festival visitors were from abroad.

MG: Regenerating an area is not an easy thing to do but you achieved it and gave it back to the city. What is the impact on Helsinki?

TK: Suvilahti area’s development is something we have to constantly think. The festival takes place at the historic Suvilahti former power plant area in Helsinki and has been there since 2007. Our goal is to make the area available for events and people. This is also the City’s current future plan of the area.

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MG: Do you have any plans to expand the festival, adding new nearby areas and opening to other kind of arts?

TKIt’s not really possible to expand the festival significantly at the current location. Of course, the area changes a bit every year and actually this year the area is slightly bigger than last year. Other than that, there might be new small concepts outside the festival area such as the collaboration with The National Opera and their house this summer.

MG: Have you ever considered looking for other locations to regenerate and to use as a space dedicated to collateral events or launch parties during the year?

TKIn 2015 we produced Flow Festival Ljubljana in Slovenia, and in 2016 we had our own venue as a part of Tallinn music week. Besides them, we have produced some smaller pre-events during the years. This year Flow’s art program is expanding outside the festival area to the Finnish National Opera, as Contemporary dance, electronic music and audiovisual art take over the Finnish National Opera’s Almi Hall the Wednesday and Thursday preceding Flow Festival the 7th and 8th of August. So we’re definitely open to new kind of possibilities – still Flow Festival Helsinki is the main focus.

MG: What is Flow's secret? How is it possible for the festival to keep a fresh perspective on the future of music without losing its own identity?

TKSince day one Flow has been a festival for music lovers and has ever since been serving the tastes, values and ideas of like-minded people. Flow feels more like a community than a big mass of random crowd. Flow’s values have always included proactivity and the following of streaming and hit lists has never been a primary concern when outlining our program. Flow is curated similarly to art festivals and we have an active, seven-person programming group. Every year we try to produce an internationally remarkable entity that reaches both the interesting rising stars as well as the biggest phenomena in modern popular music. Flow’s program mixes highly experimental art and music with the largest international pop stars. Curiosity, exploring, surprising, and courage are keywords that guide the search/construction for our program.

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MG: What’s the best concert that has taken place at Flow Festival?

TKIt’s the 16th year of the festival and since 2004 there have been thousands of performers from different genres. Of course there have been many big names from the international music scene, like Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Kanye West, The Roots, The Black Keys, Beach House, Kraftwerk, Björk, M.I.A., Bon Iver, Alicia Keys, Kendrick Lamar, Public Enemy, Cat Power, Outkast, Iron & Wine, My Bloody Valentine, to mention a few.

MG: Could you name some acts that you haven't achieved to bring to Flow Festival, despite your persistent efforts?

TKSorry no. We don’t really think that way. It’s every year about a combination of different things. We are not that headliner oriented as a festival.

MG: Which role might other artistic forms (e.g. light design, cinema, visual arts) play?

TKFlow Festival’s art program features an impressive collection of works by a diverse group of artists, ranging from street art to light installations and performance art. This year, for the first time, Flow’s art program is expanding outside the festival area to the Finnish National Opera. Besides the actual art program, the festival area has been transformed into a perfect setting for the festivities with lighting design, decorations, design and the latest event technology.

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MG: We can consider Flow Festival a small world that tries to limit its footprint and you have achieved several goals in the field of sustainability. What do you think will be the challenges for the future to improve yourselves even more?

TKWe can act as ideological leaders and really make an impact. What we do today, can make an influence on our subcontractors and networks, and thereby make an impact on a larger scale to the whole industry. 

MG: Another key feature of Flow Festival is the effort put into gender equality in the music industry, as well as the refusal of any type of discrimination. Where to start to obtain a real and tangible balance?

TK50-50 balance has been our goal since the last 10 years, and equality one of our strongest values since the first Flow Festival in 2004. Still, we focus on booking great artists, not genders. Anyway, this year we have actually more female/mixed genders than male artists.

MG: How do you think Flow Festival will grow and evolve, and what will its inspirations be in the next ten years?

TKHopefully Flow becomes even more varied, international and ever-surprising.

MixGrill will be reporting from Flow Festival that takes place from the 9th to the 11th of August in Helsinki.

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