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A closer look at the Flow Festival DJ lineup – what to expect?

by Mikko Mattlar

The nights are turning darker, and the opening day of Flow Festival is getting near, so it’s time to take a closer look at the DJs performing there. Club culture being a key element in the festival program since the first Flow Festival in 2004, the global underground electronic music and DJ scene is again widely presented in the lineup by artists from all around the world as well as Helsinki residents and local nightlife key figures.

Whether you’re looking for familiar and trusted faces who have kept the Helsinki nightlife alive and moving for years or even decades, ethnomusicological curators presenting obscure sounds or genres for dancers, the most interesting newcomers of UK and Helsinki club life, or just good music to make you dance and smile, there should be something to check out for.

Any regular visitor of the electronic music clubs in Helsinki will most likely recognize DJ Koze, Marcel Dettmann, Dixon, Katerina, and Antti Salonen who will DJ at the RA Front Yard stage. Dettmann, Dixon, and DJ Koze have regularly come to Helsinki for years to present their quality selections, but there’s always something new to expect from them. Local heroes Katerina and Antti Salonen have also already way back benchmarked their position in Helsinki club culture, and both are running their own record labels besides DJ’ing, Katerina being also an active producer.

Equally familiar names for the Helsinki club audience are Antal, Danilo Plessow, Lil Tony, and Kamma & Masalo, who will play their sets on this year’s Backyard stage. Antal and Plessow, AKA Motor City Drum Ensemble, have regularly come from central Europe to Helsinki to DJ in several venues, both indoors and outdoors. Kamma & Masalo have charmed local club audiences several times within the last few years, and Lil’ Tony runs the key clubs in Helsinki, having also been a resident DJ in his venues for several decades already.

Every DJ at the festival will make their audience dance, but a party will definitely happen when The Blessed Madonna is playing her set on the RA Front Yard stage. The powerful and positive DJ affects her crowd by playing music but also by showing them she is having a good time while playing. DJ Holographic performed on The Blessed Madonna’s We Still Believe tour years ago and will also provide a top selection of music to dance to at RA Front Yard. Also worth looking forward to is the genre-crossing DJs Jayda G and Bárbara Boeing (both at Backyard), whose sets on YouTube show they select good music and make people dance. Milanese Paquita Gordon (RA Front Yard) is also an exciting name for playing all vinyl and mainly old records that work well today.

For the traditional soul, disco, and boogie fans Zernell (Backyard) is definitely worth checking out with his more than 30 years of DJ’ing and personal history that begins in the clubs of Chicago already in the 1980s. The best of modern soul, boogie, and disco are also at the core of Soul Survivors (Backyard), the duo of Finnish DJ veterans Ionik and Sampsa Vilhunen. And even though they are younger generation DJs, the long history of disco is present when local disco heroes Hanna Ojanen and DJ Jese play their sets on the Backyard stage. A really active DJ recently, Hanna Ojanen has also featured on Kiosk Radio of Brussels several times this summer.

DJ’ing is usually about digging good tracks and finding the right place and time to present them to the dancefloor. Sometimes discovering and presenting can be about a whole genre or era. Acid Arab (FREE.fi Black Tent) have been making their arabesque and hypnotic electronic music for a long time, but in their case, they create something new with current artists of their genre. Julio Victoria (RA Front Yard) combines his Colombian musical background with traditional orchestral instruments, house, and techno, whereas South African Esa (Backyard) mixes African influences with electronic music. Millos Kaiser and Trujillo, who both play at Backyard, have been crate-diggers with a special genre: Kaiser is an expert on Brazilian music, Trujillo on Spanish, even though he is originally from Venezuela. Both have made their selections popular also by curating widespread compilation albums of these genres. Jussi Kantonen (Red Garden) is a crate-digger, but also a Finnish disco veteran with nearly 50 years of experience in the culture and venues. He wrote the disco history book Saturday Night Forever: The Story of Disco, together with Alan Jones, and as a DJ, he is an expert on the outskirts of disco culture from all around the world. DJ Bunuel (Champagne Bar & Lounge) celebrated his 60th birthday in June and has spent three-quarters of his life DJ’ing. He has never been a curator of a particular genre or style, just a selector of quality music on DJ gigs and airwaves on several Finnish radio stations.

Patrick Mason (Red Garden) is an energetic performer and a rising star in the new Berlin techno underground, and the global underground ballroom/vogue house scene is presented at Red Garden by Mike Q. He comes from New Jersey to Helsinki, bringing the energy and pumping rhythms of ballroom/vogue tracks for dancers. The vital Helsinki ballroom/house scene is also presented in Red Garden by DJ Mother Coco Ninja and the Finnish Chapter of the Iconic House of Ninja ballroom, who will perform alongside her.

Many of this year’s DJ names represent the history and present of UK club life. DJ Paulette and Marcia Carr, who play in Red Garden, have been a part of the London scene for decades. Heléna Star (RA Front Yard) and OK Williams (Backyard) are both young and rising stars in the UK club circuit and rely primarily on quality house and techno. The musical diversity of the country’s club history, from acid to house, breakbeat, UK garage, and drum ‘n’ bass, is present in the selection of younger British DJs Anz and Sherelle (RA Front Yard), whose sound is up-to-date. Still, their style of mixing genres has been appreciated by scene veterans also. Yung Singh (Backyard) will present a unique UK club sound with his Punjabi-Sikh influences and fearless mixing between different BPMs. His Boiler Room London gig was a party of the best kind, as shown in the video caption on YouTube.

The weather for this year’s festival is yet unknown, but several DJs will bring the atmospheres and warmth of southern continents with their music even if the temperature is cool. South African amapiano DJ Uncle Waffles (RA Front Yard) is a performer worth seeing – not every DJ’s dance moves have gone so viral as her People Are Burning -video last year. Amapiano is definitely a genre worth hearing with its roots in South African house and distinctive sound, long tracks, and BPMs sometimes close to downtempo. Indonesian Precious Bloom (Red Garden) is a tropical City Pop -influenced duo, and Jenifa (RA Front Yard) provides tropical, groovy, and percussive tracks, often including sounds of nature. Zoukous presents tropical rhythm music at Backyard, as well as several DJs performing at the Champagne Bar & Lounge. Cumbia Beat DJs play different kinds of rhythm music from Latin American countries, and Box’n’Dice DJ’s selection includes zouk, reggae, and African rhythms, but also disco and downtempo.

For friends of more dark and industrial sounds, one highlight will be Detroit electro artist DJ Stingray 313 (RA Front Yard), who visited Helsinki recently but left his audience wanting more. Cardinal & Nun and Giant Swan will also play dark yet danceable music, and they are worth checking out for people who are into dark electro and post-punk. Italo and electro are present, especially in Red Garden, where Italo disco lover Maria Wesander and Berlin-based Dreams of Neon club residents Naks and Lazercat will be DJ’ing. Even though he is originally Finnish, Naks has rarely played here, but he is active in Berlin, organizing electro club events with Lazercat. Originally from Finland but having DJ’d mostly outside our borders are also Red Garden performers Elina Tapio, who lives in Amsterdam, and Karlainthemix, who arrives at the DJ booth from Paris.

The lineup offers several other Finnish names to check out. Morphology and Mono Junk, who both perform live at RA Front Yard, are long-time heroes of Finnish techno and electro. Mono Junk, aka Kimmo Rapatti’s legendary reputation, began forming already in the late 1980s, when he was an Italo disco aficionado living in the small town of Imatra, just next to the Russian border. The late electro producer and journalist Perttu Häkkinen has written about young Rapatti’s trip to Milan in the 1980s, where he made his way to the warehouse of Italo disco record company Discomagic despite not speaking the Italian language. Spending all his money on Italo disco maxi singles and a ticket to the concert of legendary Italo artist Den Harrow, Rapatti eventually had to ask help from the Finnish embassy in Italy to make his way back home. Since he began producing electronic music as Mono Junk, Rapatti’s trips outside Finland have been more as an artist and on a professional level. With his extensive discography of quality releases since the early 1990s, he has been an appreciated figure among his generation, but also younger Finnish electronic music lovers with his uncompromising musical attitude. Morphology was formed over a decade ago, and the duo has a lengthy discography on international labels and a worldwide reputation.

Yet a few rising local names worth seeing: Irma & Helmz (RA Front Yard) have been really active in the Helsinki DJ circuit lately, and the same goes with DJ-producer emkay (RA Front Yard), whose upcoming Re-Bound EP on Scottish label Craigie Knowes is already on pre-sale on international record shops. One rising local DJ definitely worth checking out is OLB (Red Garden), who played her first gig at the beginning of this year, but has already been a regular in many Helsinki outdoor and UG parties and local clubs. There is a broad spectrum of generations, nationalities, and subcultures present in this year’s DJ lineup, but music and dancing connect people from different backgrounds, as always in club culture.

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Mikko Mattlar is a DJ, journalist, record collector and researcher of Finnish music history.

Check out Flow Festival's program here!