Tuesday 16 August 2016

Flow Festival 2016: 5 Of The Most Interesting Leftfield Performances

Finland's Flow has been gaining a reputation over the last few years for being one of Europe's coolest and most well curated festivals. Set in the grounds of the historical Suvilahti,a former power plant area in Helsinki, it manages to bring together big international pop acts with more avant garde artists from both home and abroad. 2016 was my third time at the festival and rather than providing a traditional review as I have in the past (which I'm taking a break from this year) I'm going to focus on 5 of my favourite experimental or leftfield performances I witnessed during the 3 days.

Hyvät Pahat Hajut

Finnish is not my strong point when it comes to language ( I can manage about three words ) but I'm reliably informed that Hyvät Pahat Hajut translates into something along the lines of Good Bad Odours. More of an art happening than a standard concert, this 'gig' took part in 3 parts in 2 different rooms. The concept was that the performances would include smells -  something that was unique for the moment and could not be recorded. So instead of bass, guitar and keyboards we got droning miked up microwaves with erratic rhythms provided by cooking popcorn, gurgling coffee machines being used as drums, jars filled with fragrances to smell whilst music played as well as some more traditional drum and violin work. The aromas were quite delicious and after the 'show' had finished the performers shared the drinks and snacks with the audience. It was utterly bonkers, but was weirdly enjoyable, even if it did feel a little odd applauding someone who essentially had just put some popcorn in a microwave in a pitch black room. You probably had to be there. I guess the chances of seeing something like this at Reading or T in the Park are pretty low.

Osuma Ensemble

If you think percussion is just bashing drums repetively, think again. Featuring five percussionists the Osuma Ensemble created unusual rhythms from all manner of devices, turning percussion into theatre even when they had no traditional instruments and just a table as shown in the video below.

Ian William Craig

Using portable cassette players and various electronic gadgetry Ian William Craig created ghostly, choral, textured soundtracks in the dark space of The Other Sound stage. Probably one of the few gigs of the weekend where laying down and shutting your eyes, possibly even drifting off to sleep, felt entirely appropriate. Craig created layered ambient sounds that bore some resemblance to hipster monks chanting, his voice floating in space in parts, whilst at other times displaying some robust almost operatic delivery. Sadly some of Craig's audience left before the end of his show due to a time tabling cross over with New Order who were playing nearby, but those who remained witnessed the totality of something rather special. (And for those who jumped ship early, it was your loss - I still managed to catch all of both sets by both artists)

NYKY Ensemble Plays Reich

The NYKY Ensemble was formed in 2009 at the Sibelius Academy, part of the University of the Arts, Helsinki and acts as a forum and for contemporary music projects and a window for trends. At this performance a large group performed several pieces of Steve Reich's lesser known music on instruments that included marimba, glockenspiel, vibraphone and organs. It was an absorbing concert of minimalism, repetition and moments of beauty.


What is Sia, a main stream pop artist and writer of huge hits doing on a list of the most experimental performances at Flow you may ask? Whilst Sia's music may be as unchallenging as Usain Bolt's competitors, her performance had me questioning the whole concept of what a gig should be. Drawing the biggest crowd of the weekend (partly because there was very little else on at the time she performed) and with a completely empty stage except for a large square video screen, the singer herself standing on a small podium near the back (or at least I assume it was her, it was impossible to tell as she wore her now trademark long fringed wig) was accompanied by no band, just pre-recorded music and pre-recorded visuals which matched the stage set up exactly. The visuals (and stage) featured dancers giving abstract interpretations of the songs, so closely matching that at times I started looking to see if I could see hidden cameras on stage. Watching the stage was like watching a pop music video. Watching the videos was like watching the stage. It was life imitating art imitating life. It was certainly intriguing, but despite this it somehow lacked the raw emotion that you get from the best traditional live gigs. 

Flow Festival returns in 2017. It comes highly recommended by Breaking More Waves for both weird stuff as well as the big names.

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