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Photo by Sami Heiskanen

Flow With The Festival

Lily Allen’s tears overshadows what is fast-becoming the only international music menagerie to attend.

Bawling her eyes out, rubbing her nose with a single digit to stop the tears, or, as the nearer press were asiding and assuading to themselves, to hide the evidence of something more sinister, Lily Allen howls, “It’s my fucking back, I had a nasty fall and they injected it, I’ve never cried onstage before, this is the first time I’ve ever done it,” smudging her Bat For Lashes blue eye make-up that spreads across her face to her temples, amassed curly brown hair. “It’s Monday tomorrow in’t it?” sugarplum sweet sing-song British voice, she says, “Monday - back to work. Bit shit,” ploughing down a bottle of wine, “this is my guy on the drums, my man on the bass, and I’m Lily on the wine,” sauntering into “this song is dedicated to my back... Fuck You.”

Inevitably the first bells of 'Fuck You' filter through the soundclap machine and bass-driven onstage speakers, she does drum and bass versions of songs including 'It’s Not Fair', and twiddles her SFX hub, wiggling her ass to the beat as appropriate. She’s later seen carried through the Crowne Plaza foyer by a burly security man dressed in yellow plastic Flow Festival mac, both carrier and carried duly drenched by the ever-present Finnish rain.

It’s the defining moment of Helsinki’s premier Flow festival that boasted a headlining line-up of Final Fantasy (very good), Fever Ray (astounding), Jenny Wilson (“Tired, but dressed nicely” she herself proclaims backstage) and the aforementioned Lily, imbibed and wide-eyed, and, as the London Lite wouldn’t print, chest exposed, her newly slim-lined bust bursting out of a transparent lace leotard that nipped into an unflatteringly baggy pair of jeans. Well it was raining, and, it is said, her first costume choice had been shorts.

“Flow festival is fast becoming a contender in the festival stakes,” says Dazed favourite, Le Corps Mince de Francaise’s Malin Nyqvist, when we meet backstage in their rider to discuss the surprisingly heaving and very-much-talked-about tribal set they did in the tent stage – high waisted acid-wash denim, fox fur hats and killer heels abounding. She’ll later be papped two days on the trot for fashion-forward Helsinki blog You Feelin It?, run by Finland’s style go-to Petra Koivisto, whose entrance was announced daily with Lykke Li hair buns, Mary-Kate Olsen Chanel glasses and fur-lined zip-up boots.

“Le Corpse Mince de Francoise were amazing. One of the highlights,” NME aficionado and one-time F@ck editor Jessica Hazel who danced headily front-row at the gig, says of the band who debuted cuts from their new album, just as feisty, but a bit slicker and more Americanised than original hits Cool & Bored and Bitch of the Bitches. They sing the new bass-enflamed Ray Ban Glasses, then the original as an encore. The original gets a louder reception, but the new one is almost as good. “We spent more money on the new video than the production of the songs,” laughs lead singer Emma backstage, not long returned from LA where filming took place.
“Lily Allen? She’s too easy” Grace Jones’ PA announces to us in the cab on the third day. Grace Jones, we’re to assume, being less easy, requires only blue napkins, not white, and room temperature oysters in Jamaican sauce. And, later we’re told by backstage staff, an accordion player adept in German balladry. She kills her set in futuristic headgear and little else, doing the same routine that’s been wowing crowds for months, hula hoops and all.

Oddly enough, the opening night’s big draw, Kraftwerk, are lacklustre by comparison. 'MACHINE MACHINE MACHINE', they chant over a vocoder, barely moving, the guy in the middle looking like someone’s granddad, ending with metal mannequins of themselves faux-playing the synths to set highlight Models. A sombre audience head bobs, not singing or dancing – Dazed being followed by security for being a solitary dancer in the drone-like crowd. This introduces us to a new type of mature, clean and altogether polite form of festival that continues until the final night. People stand, keep to themselves, don’t sing along and recycle their beer cans after consuming. It’s refreshing, but detracts from the festival feeling. But the ever-fashionable crowd, who all tie their buns on their head and drink the traditional Olympic drink of gin and grapefruit juice in a can, at least know good music. “Every year it gets bigger and more international,” says Ville Kilpelainen, Head of International at Fullsteam Records, who have a number of acts playing at Flow.

This year local heavyweights like Jenny Wilson, who looked like Zandra Rhodes and sang out of key once or twice “because I’m really tired” – were paired off with Vampire Weekend – who was watched on-stage by New Young Pony Club, sat close enough to smell them, telling everyone about their big plans for a new album, and Ladyhawke, who really didn’t want to main-stage so lowered her price to take the small tent stage. A decision that meant the crowd was so heaving most people had to watch from the toilets. Myself being elbowed in the face by an over-zealous teen in the makeshift mosh-pit.

Ealing’s very own, White Lies surprisingly wowed with excellent renditions of Death and similarly titled To Lose My Life, later enjoying the buffet at Crowne Plaza, where all but Grace Jones stayed, lending itself to the odd event that we later check out behind Fever Ray’s Karin Dreijer Andersson, make-up free with straggly blonde hair and knackered eyes, her entourage that had, the night before looked like a Diane Arbus exhibit, with hair face-masks, mad hatter top hat and Wendy House doll make-up, now just tired Nordic hotel dwellers waiting for their ride to the airport. To add to the laid-back, casual and downright mature feeling of Helsinki’s Flow, we all share the same driver, journalists and artists alike, but for star of the show Lily Allen, who gets a limo. Bad back and all.