With the turn of the millennium, the cultural map in Helsinki shifted, opening a new flamboyant, creative era. Arguably, Flow Festival is one of the main factors responsible for boosting the music scene in Helsinki and Finnish artists coming more and more onto the international radar. This year you’ll find legends Pa Salieu, and Gorillaz on the line-up.
Born in 2004 as an urban music arts festival, it now serves as a springboard for the Finnish music scene. Over the years, the festival has become an appointed date for international artists performing across Europe with eclectic lineups which have included Kraftwerk, Björk, Grace Jones, Public Enemy, The Cure, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Kendrick Lamar - the list is long. Furthermore, the festival comprises a hefty art programme together with The Other Sounds, where contemporary composers, non-commercial and more experimental music have their place at Flow. Located at a former power plant in the centre of Helsinki, Flow has pioneered sustainability with green electricity, reusing materials, smart transportation and social equality. We wanted to explore this exceptional development together with Flow's Artistic Director, Tuomas Kallio, who kindly engaged with us in the midst of getting Flow 2022 ready for 12 to 14 August.

Although Finland has an extraordinary heritage of architecture and design – especially talents and institutions such as Eliel Saarinen, Alvar Aalto’s Artek, Marimekko, Arabia, among others – more recently, the heritage expanded into the arts, fashion and music fields. Flow began in 2004, the year after Helsinki Design Week was established. In 2010 Aalto University became one of the most relevant universities in Europe for Technology, Economics, Art and Design, including the fashion design programme forming students soon-to-become team members for the major luxury fashion houses. With no doubt Helsinki has developed a unique character and become more and more attractive to the culturally savvy tourists. As a matter of fact, Flow takes place in the midst of August, when schools and locals are back in town, so Flow serves as a somewhat closing celebration of the summer in Finland.
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You are a well-regarded music producer in Finland. So, it sounds like starting a music festival  was sort of a natural step for you?
This was quite some time ago. But yes, in the early years of Flow Festival, like 2004 to 2007, running a small festival was sort of a hobby - something on the side. Then it got more professional over the years.
Was your partner Suvi Kallio involved in the festival at this stage when it was first conceived?
Suvi was involved but not on a daily basis until 2008 when she joined the team more or less full-time.
Some very good Finnish friends explained to me that during the mid-late 90s in Helsinki there was a kind of isolated feeling, culturally-speaking, especially for bands touring in Europe because it was sort of complicated to deviate from their road plan. How much can you relate to that feeling?
Yes, this is still true to some extent. Helsinki is a bit like an island and you need to take a ferry to travel via land. Also, after reaching here you can’t go much further with the situation in Russia today. Bigger summer events like Flow can have great international lineups but the all-year-round concert scene is still pretty dry if you compare to other Nordic cities with better land connections to mainland Europe - such as Copenhagen.
I think the festival started in a club with some jazz, nujazz and avant-garde bands and a year later it turned into an open air event with acts such as the likes of Jazzanova and Jori Hulkkonen. Please tell us a bit about the process of creating the festival.
Well, in the beginning – you must bear in mind that this was over 15 years ago, the concept was pretty much to invite our DJ and artist friends to perform at our little event. Nowadays things are slightly bigger and this is not so much the case anymore.
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Also, when and how did you realise that the festival could become something really big with a focus on more alternative and indie bands expanding to other genres besides nu-jazz that the festival used to focus on in the early days?
This was part of the festival growing from a specific scene to a kind of multi-genre festival that can pretty much present any sort of music. So far, in terms of genres we haven’t touched yet are commercial metal or trance music.
I believe the festival has been a game-changer not just to help with music culture in Helsinki but also boosting the local music scene serving as a springboard to the international audience. How would you describe the role and impact the festival has had locally?
Yes, sure there is a big impact on the scene and it is one way to get international attention. Also Flow is already a tradition for many Helsinki residents. It’s the one summer party to look forward to and also a late summer celebration around the time schools restart and a lot of people come back to the city from vacation.
Some big festivals in Europe such as Sónar, or Primavera have been taking place in more than one country. I think once you did Flow in Slovenia. How did that turn out? And are there any plans to expand Flow beyond the dates of August in Helsinki?
I think as of now there are no plans for Flow editions abroad. Slovenia was great though.
How did the opportunity of hosting the Flow Festival at the amazing location of the Suvilahti power plant come about?
We kind of found the location just when the power plant activity was beginning to fade. So we sort of were part of the process of re-use of the Suvilahti area.
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Another important characteristic of Flow is that it has been pioneering environmental-friendly music festivals. How has this worked during the years? How successful do you feel this endeavour has been?
Sustainability is a key value for us from the beginning. We feel it is impossible to produce a mass event without trying to do so with minimum negative impact to the environment. Also, this is something we try to do better each year. We only have one planet to play with.
Please tell us at least two of your most favourite moments at Flow from all these years.
Opening the doors for the first ever Flow Festival in 2004, and most likely opening the gates this August after two corona-cancelled-editions.
I believe some artists can be very extravagant or difficult to please with their requirements.  Not at Flow but once I heard Morrissey was demanding to be picked up at the airport by a pink Cadillac only. What is the most extravagant thing an artist has asked for in order to perform at Flow?
I have not heard this story of Morrissey but that’s not to say it couldn’t be true. I am also not particularly interested in rider or catering needs and requests so I don’t have any good stories to share on this side, sorry. I am happy we have such good people taking care of our artists needs and catering and thus far I think they’ve done a good job as I seldom hear anything or complaints from that department.
Before I was asking about how Flow helped the local music scene. As a matter fact, the festival includes The Other Sounds, with a fine selection of Scandinavian and international contemporary composers. This is really interesting. Please tell us more about it.
The Other Sound has been running since 2010,  I think. Nowadays it’s not tied to any specific region and genre but the idea is to present mostly kinds of experimental music but also contemporary classical and such. Music to sit down to and think.
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Helsinki is a beautiful city with an amazing heritage in art and design. How do you think this inspires you in shaping the culture of the Flow festival?
We are quite design driven and have a specific appetite for art too. Flow Festival has to be an experiment of its own with or without the music acts that are playing there. I like to play with the idea that a truly good music festival has to be worth visiting even with all the music and bands taken out from it. If it is only bands on stage and beer in the back, I don’t think the festival is really that good.
Due to the recent pandemic it's been two years with no festival. It is no secret the industry has shifted on many levels, many professionals had to find alternative work and they are no longer working in this industry. In short, how has this affected you?
Finding certain experienced staff and professional labour has been an issue but we have been successful in finding new talent and will be just fine.
Today Flow is at the forefront of music festivals in Europe. What are the plans or the vision for the upcoming years?
To become even better. Not the biggest, largest or oldest - but the best.
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