August 6, 2015

Flow Festival exports its brand abroad

Festival-goers take a break on benches made from wooden pallets.
Festival-goers take a break on benches made from wooden pallets.
Matjaž Rušt / Flow Festival

“A midnight garden” is how the residents of Ljubljana describe the first Flow Festival organised in their city. The event, which took place in June, also marks the first time Flow Festival took place outside of Finland.

The scene in Ljubljana looks no doubt familiar with its inviting purple, turquoise and white benches built from wooden pallets.

This year, Flow Festival celebrates its 12th anniversary. Originally held in VR’s old railway warehouses in Helsinki, the festival has grown over the past decade into a major event that has also garnered attention from outside Finland. Last year’s festival broke a new attendance record, with more than 60 000 visitors.  Last year The Huffington Post named Flow Festival as one of Europe’s best boutique festivals, and The Guardian ranked the Helsinki festival in the top ten best small music festivals in Europe.

It was just a matter of time before Flow would venture outside of Finland. Flow’s artistic director Tuomas Kallio explains how Ljubljana came to be chosen as the site for the first Flow Festival outside of Finland:

“The geographical location of Ljubljana and Slovenia is ideal – near the Mediterranean Sea and far enough south that at 9 pm on a midsummer’s night it gets dark out. There are also many neighbouring countries and cities within a 200 kilometre radius.”

Enhancing a stark industrial setting

Like in Helsinki, Flow Festival Ljubljana was set up in an industrial environment. The Tobačna mesto industrial site was a tobacco factory in the 19th century, with administrative buildings and offices adjacent to the site.

“In line with Flow’s ideology, it is especially places that have not had much – or even any – activity like this that can give rise to unique and significant events. Flow’s objective is to create something new – not just to respond to a certain environment. Correspondingly, the mindset has changed tremendously in Finland and Helsinki in the events industry in the past decade since Flow was started,” says Kallio.

Kerttu Auvinen describes Ljubljana’s Flow Festival as an amazing experience. She likens it to Helsinki’s Flow, but without being an exact copy of it.

Kerttu Auvinen describes Ljubljana’s Flow Festival as an amazing experience. She likens it to Helsinki’s Flow, but without being an exact copy of it.

Sivi Harkoma

Kerttu Auvinen attended Flow Festival in Ljubljana. She recalls Tobačna mesto as a depressing place where she went to apply for a residence permit after moving to the city to study in 2012.

“At first I didn’t even recognise the administrative building that used to be so familiar to me. It’s definitely out of the ordinary and simply lovely. It’s great to let loose and have fun in an area that was once mostly a source of frustration for me,” she says.

The area at the back is full of stands selling local fare: Bistro Bazilika serves chick pea–avocado burgers and Gajbica Sadja whips up smoothies. Pop-up shops hidden in the maze of factory buildings offer up the creations of local artists. It looks and feels like Flow, but with a somewhat more intimate atmosphere.

“The venue is similar to the Helsinki event, but it is definitely not an exact duplicate of anything I’ve seen in previous years of Flow,” Auvinen confirms.

Music in the spotlight

Ljubljana also tried out a new concept this year: an open-air salon with a hair stylist offering services to willing patrons. Swedish singer–songwriter José González, one of the main performers appearing on Friday, was one such patron, sitting in the chair for a trim before his gig.

Graffiti artists paint the wall next to the main stage where simultaneously Serbian hip-hop trio Bad Copy perform. An artificial climbing wall has been set up 50 metres away. A one-metre-high statue adapted from Ljubljana’s famed dragon symbol was built next to the Flow sign.

“A local focus is extremely important,” says Kallio. “The idea behind Flow is to promote a local, grassroots approach and to link local and global aspects as diversely as possible.”

Although the venue is interesting, music still takes centre stage. Among the artists featured at Ljubljana’s Flow Festival weekend were Roísín Murphy, Run the Jewels, Bonobo, Metronomy, Caribou and the Pet Shop Boys.

The local context was also reflected in the music, which featured Ljubljana-based synthetic-pop band Torul, folk-inspired rock band Jardier, and Polona Kasal x KALU, playing melodic synths.

Electronics to end the evening

As the night grows darker, a light show featuring Flow’s logos changing shape and colour begins on the wall next to the main stage. The old tobacco factory looks majestic, but dreamy and romantic at the same time. It’s at this point that the strength of the Finnish festival organisers shines through: exploiting the urban element and transforming a barren environment into a festival of lights.

The atmosphere of the festival has also sparked the attention of the local residents.

“Slovenians are usually quite sceptical when it comes to new projects, but this event was the talk of the town that weekend,” says Flow Festival Ljubljana’s press officer Gregor Zalokar.

Zalokar praises the Flow team and says he will particularly remember the way the Finns dutifully kept to the precise schedule, right down to the minute.

The Pet Shop Boys, the final act on Saturday night, announce that this is their first time performing in Slovenia. The crowd goes wild.

“Since its inception, Flow has been an international event brand for us. By its very nature it was meant to be taken to global markets as diversely as possible. Our global conquest will definitely continue,” Kallio promises.

Ljubljana’s old tobacco factory received a facelift for the festival.

Ljubljana’s old tobacco factory received a facelift for the festival.

Matjaž Rušt / Flow Festival

Text: Karolina Miller