The Final Frontier’s Fishy Festival

Between concerts – Salmonfest, 2014

For many, Alaska is synonymous with rough conditions and impenetrable nature, and when thinking about Alaska, our mind wanders to the guy from Into the Wild falling into a gushing river and Don Rosa’s Scrooge McDuck staring at the white topped Yukon Mountains during the Klondike Gold Rush. People who travel to Alaska are often thought to be crazy athletes, and/or passionate fly fishers. It comes as a surprise for many that during the summer time, the Kenai Peninsula is pretty easily accessible from Finland and it offers one-of-a-kind cultural experiences, full of that Alaskan craziness and humor that is exclusive to this great state.

One unique Alaskan happening is definitely Salmonfest, an annual festival dedicated to protecting the wild sockeye salmon. Describing the festival’s atmosphere is difficult with just adjectives – a tiny narrative from when I visited the festival works better.

Picture this, it’s a warm Saturday – well, Alaskan warm, so not too hot. On a low stage painted with huge pictures of red and green salmons, there’s an artist with shoulder length locks, steel guitar, and a melancholy yet hopeful rock sound. There are women with Janis Joplin hair hula hooping in front of the stage accompanied by dancing kids whose hair is colored with spray-on blue and purple.

Between concerts – Salmonfest, 2014

Between concerts – Salmonfest, 2014

The festival area is full of both exotic food trucks, with spreads that would make Flow festival jealous, and little booths of local people making you cheese toasts and lemonade. From the merch booths, you can find the raddest tie-dyed t-shirts, but also a lot of crafts made by the local artists. The area is full of young people in groups, families, and old couples who’re enjoying the music on folding chairs. In between American and Alaskan artists, there’re talks about the importance of protecting the wild salmon.

Salmonfest, in addition to being a fun event for everybody, is one of the most upfront adversary parties of the famous Pebble mine discussion. Most cars, coffee houses, restaurants, hotels, and shops I saw during my trips to Alaska had a red and white sticker opposing the Pebble mine. Salmonfest takes it a step further with their t-shirts, beer koozies, and tents that offer information about the mine and its ecological effects.

If you do decide to take on the Kenai Peninsula and Salmonfest, it’s easiest to fly to Anchorage, rent a car from the airport, and drive to Ninilchik. The drive takes approximately four hours, but since the roads are tiny and there’s plenty to see, and places to sleep during the drive, you might want to take your time. Salmonfest is an annual event, so if your travel plans and budget is set for this summer, it’ll be there next year as well. From Salmonfest, you can continue your road trip to gorgeous Homer, the cultural hometown of Kenai full of restaurants and galleries. Another great Kenai road trip destination after Salmonfest is the town of Seward. Seward is home to Alaska SeaLife Center, a combination of research facility and aquarium, and the port of call for many day cruise ships that can take you killer whale and glacier watching.

While traveling from Europe to the US has become pretty common vacation option, Alaska is still, in many ways, the Final Frontier for tourists. This might be due to the fact that there are no direct flights to Anchorage from many countries, and Alaska’s tourism industry is mainly focused in getting American people to the giant cruise ships that sail to Alaska. In spite of this, Kenai Peninsula is very welcoming for visitors, since the hard winters mean that businesses must meet their annual financial goals during the summer months. Alaska is a wonderful option for travelers who wish to experience local things, not spoiled by the tourist industry.

Alaska and its people remind me of Finland in many ways – they’re quiet, love nature, and go a little crazy during the summer time. Salmonfest lies in the heart of wilderness on the Kenai Peninsula, ready to surprise even the most experienced travelers.

State of Flo(w)

Festival dawns when the sun sets.

On my birthday, July 1st, I bought two-day tickets to Flow Festival 2015 as a gift for myself. I had never been to Flow before, even though I’d wanted to go for the past few years already: in 2012 mainly because of Bon Iver and in 2013 mainly because of Of Monsters And Men. Both years I ended up being lazy and didn’t get around to actually arranging it. And last year I was traveling at the time, plus the lineup didn’t look irresistible either.

This year, the main reason I really, really wanted to experience this festival was Florence + The Machine. But I’ll get to that in time. Let’s go back a bit: to the moment I arrived at the defunct power plant area of Suvilahti on Saturday. So here’s the coolest festival in Finland from the point of view of a first-timer:

Festival dawns when the sun sets.

Festival dawns when the sun sets.

Arriving at the site, my first feeling was that of being overwhelmed, as the place seemed to be positively vast. Since I hadn’t been to Suvilahti before, I really didn’t have any concept of what was where and where to go. Before I found my friends I ended up going into the first tent I saw: the Black Tent. There, the Finnish duo LCMDF was playing their set, and I stayed for a while since they seemed to have a good vibe going on. I’d never heard their music before, but I liked their energy and their upbeat, catchy choruses. However, after some time I had to leave, as I felt I needed to find my friends and eat something first.

Fast forward a bit: after locating my entourage, we went for a stroll in the festival area and checked out the food stalls. I ended up buying myself a bowl of beef pho from Lie Mi; I’d wanted to try pho for quite a time, so now was a good chance. The pho was quite disappointing, however, as it was impossibly hard to eat with the clumsy disposable cutlery they provided. In addition, it just wasn’t all that good. I haven’t yet given up hope on pho, though: I’m sure I’ll find the good stuff someday. But when it comes to the stellar culinary reputation of Flow, my first impression wasn’t that brilliant.

We also ended up buying health bomb smoothies from PUR Raakabaari; I got the berry one and it was delicious. And, well, I got myself a small package from the Ben&Jerry’s stall as well. Anyone who knows me knows I always have to have ice cream.

The first full gig I saw was Regina on the main stage. We actually ended up on the front row somehow, even though none of us are crazy fans or anything of the sort. I’d never even heard their music (I listen to a pitiful amount of Finnish artists). The show was really chill, though. I enjoyed their music, which had a certain combination of coolness and intensity about it. This was their only gig this year so it was pretty special and, I imagine, a pleasant experience for everyone present.

After Regina, we ventured out from the main stage area, only to come back when Belle and Sebastian started. The big-numbered British band played a quite cheerful set, and the most fun part was when they invited huge numbers of festival-goers from the crowd to join them on stage. It was quite the dance party, and I’m sure those people will remember it for a long time. All in all, I remember Belle and Sebastian as a band who made great contact with their audience, and seemed like fun people in general.

Electric enhancement of a puzzling psychedelic experience.

Electric enhancement of a puzzling psychedelic experience.

The last act I saw on Saturday was Róisín Murphy (I didn’t stay for Pet Shop Boys). Once again, we managed to be in the front. Murphy was definitely the most puzzling, psychedelic experience of the weekend. I enjoyed her crazy outfits and her no-compromise music. I loved her confidence; she described one of her outfits as looking like a vagina, and, without hesitation, exclaimed before one song: “This one’s already a fucking classic!” (except that when she said it with her delightful Irish accent, it sounded like “focking”).

Sunday dawned quite as sunny and warm as Saturday had been. I took my time leaving home for Suvilahti and, thus, missed my favorite Finnish artist, Mirel Wagner. Fortunately it wasn’t a huge blow as I’d already seen her live before.

I once again arrived at the site feeling hungry, so the first thing I did was buy myself some food; this time I was adamant to try Farang as it, too, was something I’d wanted to try for a long time. And Farang didn’t disappoint: it was simply put the best food I had at Flow. I chose Pok Pok Farang (crispy pork with palm sugar caramel & green mango salad) and it was super-delicious. All the flavors were on point.

After quickly devouring Pok Pok Farang, we hurried to the main stage area in order to secure good spots for Beck’s set. It wasn’t Beck we were so anxious to be in front for: we wanted to secure front row spots for Florence + The Machine. That included playing it safe and going to the area early for Beck and then sticking to our places. We weren’t displeased to have good spots for Beck either; he’s Beck, after all. So we managed to get second row for his gig, and the people in front of us were some friends who would leave after that to give us the front row places for Florence.

Beck was good. I hadn’t listened to his music for a long time, but I found myself really enjoying both his more up-tempo songs and the calmer ones. His show was simple, back to basics type: no crazy outfits or backup dancers or weird instruments or any types of stunts (the craziest thing he did was secure the stage with a crime scene tape at the end). And I think his simple style worked: it gave the crowd the joyful freedom of just jumping and singing along to the songs. Everyone had a blast.

As I mentioned, we’d already placed ourselves conveniently so that we would have front row spots for Florence + The Machine, and after Beck’s set we promptly claimed them. Unfortunately we initially had a bit of a schism with some girls who came out of nowhere, and insisted on pushing me from the side as hard as they could to either knock us out of our place or to get a more central spot. Either way, after almost exhausting myself in my silent battle against the “forces” (silent, because they at first refused to reply when I addressed them), we made a truce slightly before the gig was about to start. Thankfully were all able to enjoy the show without disruption.

Florence + The Machine

Florence + The Machine

And then to Florence + The Machine: after being a huge fan ever since their first album came out, I finally saw them live. And it was euphoric. The set list was excellent (it could have been longer, of course, but I understand they were quite strict about the time slots at Flow).  Florence + The Machine absolutely set off the whole crowd, which was the biggest of the weekend. I’d never been in the front row for a concert as big before, and when I look at pictures and videos taken from far away in the back of the crowd, I still find it hard to believe we were so lucky.

The grand voice of Florence Welch is unlike the voice of any other contemporary act, and it burst out as magnificently as ever. She danced around the stage barefoot, gracefully and clearly full of genuine joy that was wildly contagious. On more than one occasion, she hopped off stage to either high five the audience or to go and sing in the midst of the crowd. Everything she did on stage (or off) was done with distinct ease and glee. I found myself completely immersed in the happiness of it all, singing (or bellowing) along to every word, jumping, dancing, head banging. (I later joked that the crazy Latino fan inside me was definitely set off). (Please come to Brazil)

My music digging had been a bit on the background for a while, but experiencing Florence definitely reminded me of why we love music: because when we lose ourselves in it, it’s the best thing in the world.

So after facing the upsetting fact that she wouldn’t come back and play infinitely, we went for a late night snack at the Kimchi House stall: I chose Korean Fried Chicken with egg noodles, because doesn’t that sound like excellent comfort food? It was quite messy to eat, but the taste was like it should, and so, with my stomach full of Korean goodness and my mind full of Florence, I bade farewell to Flow Festival 2015.

 

This article is dedicated to the memory of my uncle Jukka Huttunen (1955-2015), who always sought to make the world a happier place.

The Private Psychedelic Reels of Sónar

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After frequenting a bunch of homegrown summer festivals à la Ruisrock, Provinssirock or Ilosaarirock, there’s a small chance you will develop a sense of over-familiarity with the locales. This sensation could be compared to downhill skiing in Finland; the slopes in Vihti or Levi may have served well over the years, but the day will come when you’ll start yearning for the snowy reaches of the Alps. Time thus felt ripe to broaden the audiovisual horizon by attending my first ever music festival abroad. Thanks to a hot tip from a fellow dance enthusiast, a bunch of friends and I managed to score tickets to a humble weekend festival called Sónar (approximately 120,000 attendees in the year 2013), hosted under the lovely mid-summer skies of Barcelona. And sure enough, I may have just discovered my new electronic Mecca.

Significant sensory observations were soon made after we entered the industrial complex venue in Fira Gran Via: the bass was positively b-b-bangin’, and the visual effects often came close to what astronaut Gordo Cooper from “The Right Stuff” might describe as a ‘heavenly light’. My keen nose also picked up that music lovers in Barcelona are really into the weed! This year’s line-up resembled something of a 2.0 upgrade of Flow Festival’s electronic selection, cranked up to eleven in terms of global popularity and four-to-the-floor street cred. Sonár will certainly scratch that dance floor itch regardless of whether you’re into the funkier synths of Hot Chip (the good), the low-frequency screeches of Skrillex (the bad) or the relentless rap-rave of Die Antwoord (so ugly you cannot help but love it). With a total of four bustling stages, one of them accompanied by an utterly necessary bumper car ride, there were more than plenty of opportunities to wear down your favorite dancing shoes and work on that hearing loss.

roisinbtsb

Róisín Murphy setting a terrific benchmark for the upcoming weekend.

The outrageous abundance of quality acts leads to the ever-present issue of transitioning between stages: do you stick around ’til the end of the eclectic rhythms (and countless costume switches) of Róisín Murphy, or do you bail out early enough to catch the opening mixes of the effeminate disco veteran Tiga? The organizers’ insistence of overlapping headliners should also be made a punishable act; people really ought to consult ME before doing something as monumentally stupid as placing Hot Chip and Die Antwoord in the exact same time slot. That said, with a bit of careful planning (i.e. not getting completely smashed before the first act of the night) the admission price is more than covered after having the waves of electro wash over you all the way ’til 6AM – provided that whatever you are hopped on does not wear off (the trendy H₂O was my go-to chemical compound of the weekend).

Speaking of drug abuse, the single most infuriating type of festivalgoer has to be the douche who incessantly queues for overpriced BEER while great music is being performed elsewhere. Or perhaps my actual beef is with the genius who decided on selling booze and bottled water from the same drink stands, ensuring that no one gets anything served in due time. So, if queuing and staring at the same sweaty back for half an hour is not your idea of a good time, grab the first empty bottle you see, overcome any personal hygiene neuroses and keep refilling the agua in the nearest toilet. While it may taste a bit funky, tap water in Barcelona is quite safe to drink, and regular hydration will probably save you from the embarrassment of passing out in the middle of a crowd surf. And if your drug of choice is not in the official menu, fear not; the testing booths inside will help you determine whether the dealer whom you added the previous night on Facebook has provided you with the pure stuff. Safety first, kids!

duranbtsb

Final ovations after an energetic performance by Duran Duran(!)

Ultimately, after digesting some catchy beats, dazzling light shows and somewhat satisfying 8€ lasagnas, only one question remained: who is this doing this synthetic type of alpha beta psychedelic funking? That’s right, the Chemical Brothers emerged during the peak of Saturday night to call out all EDM posers and lay out the chops needed to transform a bunch of drum samples and guitar grooves into the performance of a lifetime. Things were immediately kicked into high gear with the blistering neon rave display of “Hey Boy Hey Girl”, and the rest of the set was an effortless balance between sonic onslaughts such as “EML Ritual” and the more transcendental bliss outs of “Sunshine Underground” or “Escape Velocity”.

The plethora of killer tunes should come as no surprise to anyone versed in the immortal back catalogue of the Chemical Brothers, but what did catch me off guard was just how effectively the band has engineered these well-documented sounds into a vital live trip. Much of this greatness owes to the visual direction of Adam Smith (of Doctor Who fame), whose laborious combinations of animation and synchronized lasers echo the creative heydays of dance videos during the late 90s. Yet it is not just the nostalgia of the past that the band leans towards in the performance. In the midst of a raging psychedelic anthem, a sampled voice suddenly cries out: “The future – I’ll see you there!” The Chemical Brothers is most certainly looking ahead to the inventive prospects of dance music, effectively earning them a clear-cut #1 spot in this year’s Sónar roster. Skrillex, take note.

Official Sónar page