Frozen People, a festival of electronic music and northern art and style, takes over Oulu’s iconic Nallikari in early March. Braving the elements, the unique winter festival will be staged on sea ice. Taking place on 4th March, the festival features a headline act from Tarto, a 2024 European Capital of Culture. In the future, the call for the festival’s artistic programme will be extended internationally and feature even more international top names of electronic music.
The festival is inspired by the Burning Man Festival held in the Nevada Desert in the US.
“Like the Burning Man, Frozen People will be held at a surprising location braving the elements. The event brings together free-thinking artists and trendy revellers to celebrate art, creativity and self-expression,” says Heikki Myllylahti.
The event organisers have their eye on the European Capital of Culture year 2026
The Frozen People is now organised for the second time: organised at a challenging location, it takes long-term planning, experimenting and learning to make it work. The event will be further perfected in 2024 and 2025, leading up to March 2026, when the festival will be one of the key events in the Oulu 2026 programme. In 2026, Oulu’s Nallikari and the frozen seafront will be transformed into a gigantic stage for art and music.
“We have seen how Finns have embraced the various light festivals and how they have changed our view of culture and art in the middle of the dark winter. The role of Oulu Urban Culture and the Frozen People festival is to do the same and create a new Arctic art and culture identity for Oulu,” says Myllylahti.
This year’s festival programme is a versatile feast of electronic music. During the day, audiences can enjoy more light-hearted house rhythms, and at dusk the mood will turn more magical with some live performance, until the darkness descends and the more intense techno beat takes over. The festival will feature both new and familiar names from Oulu together with guest acts from Helsinki, Turku, and Estonia.
In addition to music, the festival site features several art works. The frozen Nallikari landscape will serve as a backdrop for inviting installations and performance art, soft spaces, encounters and interactive light art.
The event is produced by an extensive collaborative network. The food and drink will be provided the Oulu2026 Arctic Food Lab, the LUMO light festival produces Niko Tiainen’s light installation and the Estonian Merimelli act is generously sponsored by the Tartu2024 European Capital of Culture organisation. The event is also sponsored by Nallikari Holiday Village, Oulun Energia, and Hongisto Oy.
The admission-free festival is part of the Oulu2026 cultural programme and cultural climate change. The festival is organised by Oulu Urban Culture ry.
This week’s Cultural Personality is the Chief Conductor of Oulu Symphony Orchestra, Rumon Gamba, who says that his name is a rather unusual name for an Englishman.
–rare Cornish first name, Italian second name.
A lifetime of playing and studying music has lead him to where he is now, from a young cello student via University Music Degree and Postgrad Diploma in Orchestral conducting to conducting countless orchestras all around the world for the past 25 years.
What projects are you working on now?
I travel a great deal guest conducting orchestras, usually for a week at a time but my biggest project at the moment is working as Chief Conductor here in Oulu. Overseeing the artistic aspects of the orchestra, musicians, planning and trying to build an interesting programme for the public so they feel drawn to our concerts and become part of what we are trying to do.
What does Culture Climate Change mean to you?
In my profession we are always talking about ‘breaking down barriers’, making what we do relevant and inspiring for absolutely everyone. Let’s blur those lines of separation, let’s not allow anything to become compartmentalised.
What do you think about Oulu and North Finland?
I love the energy of Oulu, such a wonderful mix of people both in age and cultures. People seem very open-minded and are willing to sample different things. I like how the city seems to feel comfortable in its own skin without too many glances towards the South…
How does Oulu look like to you in 2026?
It looks like a mountain of possibilities – hopefully an expanded/heightened version of what it is now, but even more connected. No separate islands, everything relating to each other and feeding from each other.
If you think of Oulu and its region as a visitor, what would you like to experience while here?
I think I would like to experience something quite different from where I come from. The nature, emptiness of the countryside, vast expanses of water, regional food and folk culture.
What is your favourite thing to do on your free-time here in Oulu?
Walking/running in areas of natural beauty where there is no one else around and….silence!
What does culture and music mean to you?
Music and culture in general is what I am built from, it’s deep in my DNA and is affecting how I go about my life, how I am as a person, what I gravitate towards, how I feel, what I am drawn to, the decisions I take and which direction to go in. I wish everyone could feel this connection so deeply.
What are your plans and hopes for the future in professionally?
I’m always looking how to deepen my relationship with music and musicians, to communicate with the utmost expression to as many people as possible, without words, just music.
Video: Erika Benke and Varikko official trailer by Lentoi Films Oy, Picture: Janne-Pekka Manninen
Members of the audience arriving at Oulu City Depot are handed a yellow vest as the door: a visual clue, if you need one, that you’re part of the show.
“It makes you feel like a worker on the site. You’re drawn in to help. I like the immediate feeling of being connected,” says Markus as he enters a run-down foyer where yellow-vested members of the audience have already started to gather.
A unique location
Varikko is a site-specific show. It’s been designed to be performed in the Oulu City Depot – a disused industrial site in Toppila. The venue is big and slightly oppressive: like an old engine room with an odd feeling that some of the mechanics is missing.It’s rough but it’s not falling apart: the walls are not crumbling away and the windows are not broken. But there are stains and cracks in the walls, and there’s an air of slow decay.
Picking up a story, piece by piece
So how is art going to be created in a place like this? Here’s Varikko’s artistic director, Oulu-based dancer and choreographer Pirjo Yli-Maunula.
“The show begins in the two big halls downstairs. The first 40 minutes are here. Then the audience goes to the second floor where there are 17 smaller rooms, including former offices, a changing room and a bathroom. They explore them for about 50 minutes. Then they come back downstairs for the finale that lasts about 15 minutes.”
Varikko is Pirjo’s fifth immersive show – a multi-sensory experience featuring dance, acrobatics, circus arts, theatre and music.
The director’s road to immersive art
Between 2004 and 2011, Pirjo Yli-Maunula started adding multi sensory techniques and audience participation to her work – two key elements in immersive shows.
She had no idea she was part of a global trend in performative arts that was growing in popularity. She hadn’t even heard the term “immersive”.
“Then in 2013, I got to experience a show of the British Company Punchdrunk, and that was a life changing experience. That brought the realisation that immersing audiences into shows was a big wave,” she explains.
”In 2014, I made ‘Varjakka’ that I consider my first immersive show in the scale that I am currently doing. By then I’d learnt the term immersive.”
How immersive is Varikko?
Members of the audience definitely play an organic part. They walk into the show and make their own choices. They are free to go wherever they want in the building. They can choose to interact with the actors or to ignore them.
To some of the audience, it’s overwhelming at times. There’s a lot going on, with several scenes unfolding at the same time.
Imagine standing in what used to be the staff toilets in the depot, now decorated as a tropical island with palm trees and flooded in pink light, watching a dancer hugging an inflatable crocodile and serving glasses of champagne as part of her routine, only to be distracted by the sound of gushing water as the shower room is being flooded next door. You just about get your head around plotting an escape route when a cheerful manager hands you a clipboard and instructs you to fill in a holiday application form. But you haven’t got time to write down a word before somebody else ushers you into an office where a man’s patiently building a huge pyramid of chairs, carefully balancing them on top of each other – until one tips over and they all fall down with an almighty crash.
A show created by collaboration
Pirjo Yli-Maunula may be part of a global trend but she does things with a twist: she uses her own unique way of creating shows that’s very different from how theatre and dance shows are traditionally directed around the world.
“My way of working is not to tell a story in the traditional way, from beginning to end. There are fragments of different stories happening at the same time in different locations and members of the audience are collecting these fragments to build their own stories. So for each audience member the story is different and this is something very exciting.”
“We are creating the show together with the team. The ten performers in Varikko, including artists from Finland, the Netherlands, Australia and Norway, each have to create their own content,” Pirjo explains.
“For example, a dancer is doing her own choreography and a circus artist his own act. They have to be theatre makers rather than just interpreters. I’m building the show from the fragments that they’re creating.”
“Like a character in a video game”
Pirjo’s vision to co-create the show has resonated extremely well with the artists who seem to be thriving under this arrangement.
“Pirjo gives us a lot of freedom to bring ideas to the show. It’s very interesting but also a bit scary,” admits one of the performers, circus artist Henna Kaikula.
Actor Merja Pietilä agrees. “In this show you have a lot of freedom but you also a lot of responsibility. Everybody works towards the same thing but we come from different perspectives.”
Co-creating the show and performing in it has given a burst of energy to Australian-born acrobat Jared von Earle who believes an immersive piece has much more of an impact on the audience than traditional theatre.
“In Varikko we are so close to the audience. Normally when you’re on a stage, you’re five or ten metres away. Here, we are one meter away or even closer. The audience can see all the little movements of our hands, our expressions, and we can get them to follow us and help us with things. It’s like being the main character in a video game, taking people on a journey. I really enjoy how people connect with us, the story and the building.”
Photo: Janne-Pekka Manninen
What makes an Oulu audience special
Varikko is circus and dance artist Kim-Jomi Fisher’s first immersive performance. He’s from the the Netherlands and he’s noticed how different audiences are in Oulu.
“They are not as impatient as Dutch audiences. I think people here have a very different connection with nature. Therefore they experience things differently: they have more time and they’re more available to watch details and process them.”
At the end of the show, members of the audience slowly filter back to the foyer to return their yellow vests. Many stop to exchange a few words with the artists.
“I could easily spend hours exploring each room”, says one of them, Sanna-Mari.
‘That’s right”, adds Leena. “There were some rooms I didn’t even go in because there was so much going on and I didn’t know which way to turn. I need to come back again.”
For actor Merja Pietilä, it was a dream come true to perform in Varikko.
“I’ve seen all of Pirjo’s previous immersive shows as an audience member and they always had a ‘wow’ effect. I kept thinking ‘it’s amazing that we have these performances in Oulu, something so special – and now I’m in it.’
Immersive art for Oulu2026
The cultural programme of Oulu2026 – European Capital of Culture 2026 – will include a big immersive performance entitled Faravid’s Land, by Pirjo Yli-Maunula.
“It will be a collaboration between Flow Productions and Oulu Theatre. We’ll be co-directing it with Alma Lehmuskallio.
“We’ll be re-imagining the history of northern Finland in it. We’re trying to create something completely new that will enrich people’s lives.”
Oulu will be European Capital of Culture in 2026 along with 32 other municipalities from Northern Finland. The role of European Capital of Culture is important for the entire nation and Finnish culture, as the eyes of Europe will turn to the North. Oulu2026 will offer diverse, inspiring and unique contents already before the culmination of events in 2026.
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Visual artist Eloise Gillow has been selected through a global application portfolio process from among 530 applicants as the artist to create the Oulu2026 mural. The mural will be unveiled in Rajakylä in September.
“We hope that culture and art will become an even more prominent part of our cityscape. A unique mural is an intriguing way of bringing art closer to the public,” says Heli Metsäpelto, Head of Community for Oulu2026, the European Capital of Culture.
Realised as a joint project by Upeart and Oulu Cultural Foundation, the mural is part of the cultural programme of Oulu2026, the European Capital of Culture. The mural will be created on the end wall of a 9-storey block of flats at Ruiskukkatie 3.
The creator for the mural in Rajakylä was sought through a global application portfolio process for professional artists, which by the closing date had attracted a total of 530 applications from 64 different countries. The organisers were delighted by the high number as well as the artistic standard of the applications. After deliberation, the jury selected the UK-based artist Eloise Gillow as the creator of the Rajakylä mural. The jury emphasised Gillow’s insightful social commentary and ability to build a connection between art and communities.
The works of Eloise Gillow, who studied classical realist painting, are on display in galleries and public spaces. Gillow’s realistic imagery focuses on people and moments of everyday life, while also commenting on larger socially important issues. In the past few years, Gillow has created several murals in France, Spain, Italy and Ireland.
Gillow arrived in Oulu in early August, when the planning for the work in Rajakylä began. The artist is meeting local residents, and the fruits of these meetings as well as stories about Rajakylä collected earlier from Oulu residents will inform Gillow’s creative process.
“The European Capital Culture project is all about European collaboration, and this mural is a prime example of this: a British artist arrives in Oulu to work and create art together with local residents,” says Metsäpelto.
Gillow was delighted that her application stood out and was selected among so many applicants as the creator of the Oulu2026 mural. She finds the approach to the Rajakylä mural fascinating.
“This is a communal project with a very interesting concept, and an incredible opportunity for me as an artist. I am particularly grateful for having the advantage of learning about the location and its people while designing the work on site. I hope that at the end of this visit I will have created something that the residents enjoy and find meaningful,” says Gillow.
The members of the selection jury for the Oulu206 mural: Inka Hyvönen, Oulu Cultural Foundation; Katariina Kemppainen, Oulu Art Museum; Anni Kinnunen, visual artist; and Jorgos Fanaris, Upeart.