“Hi, I’m Harley. I make music as Flume.” It’s getting late at a Miami hotel restaurant and the last two tables have struck up a conversation. On one, the group includes Flume, roughly 9,000 miles from his home in Sydney, Australia, and L.A. native Shlohmo. The other table is buzzing with DJs and managers coming off Ultra Music Festival’s first weekend, among them Boys Noize and Skrillex.
It’s clear from the faces of both Skrillex and his manager Tim Smith that they’re pleased to meet Harley Streten, the 21-year-old who makes music as Flume. Diplo strolls by and says his hellos. In person, Skrillex – or Sonny Moore, the name that post-hardcore fans can still cling to – is every bit as jumpy and excitable as you’d expect. He darts between stories of the Spring Breakers set, how he rolls in L.A. and that time he set his hair alight blowing out birthday cake candles. By contrast, Flume has the demeanour of someone who likes to sit back and take it all in.
As the waiters hover, silently willing everyone to leave, talk turns to who’s playing where this week. Over the next seven nights, Miami is a 24/7 marathon of parties, from the South Beach hotels and bottle-service clubs to the grittier venues downtown. For Flume, it’s two shows: HARD Miami at Grand Central on Wednesday, then a double-bill with Shlohmo at Bardot the next night. Predictably, Skrillex is booked tight, with plans to bounce all around town. Numbers are exchanged, plans to “hang” are made.
The next day, Harley Streten is poolside at the hotel, enjoying some rare downtime. (The last week has been a blur of gigs, beers and BBQ ribs at South By Southwest in Texas, with eight sets in five days.) Now it’s time to chill under a pristine sky. Just a short stroll away from the Infinity Pool, you can sign up for ‘nutritional counselling’, visit the Mud Lounge or take a hydrotherapy spa.
Harley has chosen instead to talk to Boys Noize. The two met for the first time just weeks before on a flight from Brisbane. As the tastemaker leading Boys Noize Records, Alex Ridha’s ear is always tuned to bright young producers. “It’s really what I love to do; finding new talent,” he tells me. “Basically, I’m always looking on Soundcloud, digging every day.” For Harley, this is a meeting with a hero, the Boys Noize remix of Feist’s My Moon My Man being one of his all-time favourites.
With its motorboat access to Ultra’s backstage area, the hotel is overrun by DJs, and they know the name Flume. “What I’m finding surprising is the reception is coming from the dance music world, rather than hip hop,” Harley says. “I don’t have a huge amount of big-name rappers hitting me up, but I’ve got these big-name EDM dudes. I feel like there’s a trace of what I do that these people are hearing and liking.”
After the restaurant last night, Harley went back to his room and worked till sunrise fine-tuning a new track. Boys Noize drifts away to keep Skream entertained at the bar, and Harley asks if I want to hear his handiwork. “It’s house,” he smiles. Up in his suite, there’s a laptop open to Ableton Live. I put on the headphones and, as my eyes track across the screen, a thick, rounded bassline builds in my ears. The tunes, to use Flume’s own word, “thumps”. After the four-four fades to silence, I can only add the obvious: “This would sound great in a club.”
From first making beats on a music production program dug out of a cereal box, Harley Streten has shown unmistakeable finesse. Since releasing his debut album, the international attention has been building. It’s led to a strange, heightened lifestyle for a 21-year-old from Sydney’s Northern Beaches. In January of this year, he flew from a scorching Australian summer to Warsaw, Poland for a gig, arriving in a city frozen well below zero. This U.S. tour is just as dreamlike: there’s new cities, new admirers, new inspiration. To his credit, Harley remains open. The acceleration of Flume hasn’t gone to his head. He’s inquiring, keen to hear opinions. He’s been helped too by the smart, sane decisions his Future Classic team makes.
“I’m in a bit of a middle ground at the moment,” he tells me of his musical head-space. “Dance music is my thing right now, and for the past three years it hasn’t been. When the whole Bloody Beetroots and Crookers time died was when I found Flying Lotus and all that kind of weird shit. But before that it was always dance music in all shapes and forms, the whole fidget thing, then before that French electro, then before that just good house music and even trance.” Last night, as he tinkered with the minutiae of kicks and melody inside Ableton, house music was calling.
Downtime doesn’t last long. The next time I see Flume, he’s onstage at Grand Central in downtown Miami, warming up the HARD Miami party. On the dancefloor, it’s snapback caps, sunglasses at night and arms up. It’s early in a long night, but the room is already buzzing. After [aa.artist:A-Trak]’s headline set, RL Grime and Nadastrom are tasked with the hazy stretch through till 5am, all low-slung bass and sweaty drops.
The next night, I catch a cab away from the hustle of South Beach into Miami’s Design District, where the streets are quiet. Around an inconspicuous corner, a crowd is milling at the entrance to Bardot. Inside, it’s packed tight. It’s an intimate space with the feel of a living room, and in amongst the dancing bodies is a desk set up with an APC40, launchpad, laptop and midi keyboard. Flume sidles up, the dancefloor closing in around him, and gets to work. From Sleepless to Kendrick Lamar’s blunted drawl over Holdin’ On to the bottom-heavy remix of Get Free, the whole place is vibing.
It’s one of those special shows where everyone – including the star at the centre of it all – is locked in a groove. At the end of the set, Harley is beaming and the crowd calls for one more. After a quick chat with his tour manager Chad, he gets on the mic and announces that for Miami his last tune is going to be something new. Leaning into the laptop, he cues up the jacking house bassline he spent an all-nighter on. What sounded good in headphones is even better tremoring out of speaker stacks. Hands go up in the air and the vibe is back for the final minutes. After the laptop is closed, Harley passes me in the throng of well-wishers. We agree that his latest creation does indeed thump.
The crew in the car from Bardot is buoyant from a great gig. Pizza Guy by Future Classic recruit Touch Sensitive is on the stereo as we drive. (“That show was still for me the fun-est so far,” Harley tells me a few weeks further into his U.S. tour. “I was just really feeling it that night.”) In just a few hours, there’s a flight to Chicago for the next stop of the tour, but for now it’s on to the DFA party at the Red Bull Guest House to greet the sunrise.
When I next see Flume stepping up to play to a packed room, it’s in Los Angeles, a town where his sound feels right at home. It’s a sold-out Tuesday night at the Echoplex, a no-frills live venue in Echo Park. In the four days since Miami, the Flume roadshow has already visited Chicago and Philadelphia.
Looking every bit the insouciant Parisian, Para One has warmed up the Echoplex with rattling hip hop and electro. Brodinski looks on from the wings. In the cluster of backstage onlookers, Harley is an unassuming presence. Right on show-time, Skrillex materialises through the stage door. He’s the antithesis of the bristly superstar, warmly greeting everyone and looking right at home. In a way, he is: an L.A. native tells me he’s lost count of Skrillex spottings at party spots around town. Tonight, he’s here to see how Flume works a crowd. Diplo, too, let inthemix know he’s a fan. “His productions sound way better than my productions when I started out – he could probably be bigger than Diplo,” the Mad Decent boss laughed. “The fact that he’s become so popular with such a unique sound is cool. But I think Australians have always had an open mind.”
On the Echoplex stage, Harley looks coolly in control. The tightly-packed crowd hangs on every beat. The skittering rhythm of his Hyperparadise remix courses right to the back of the dancefloor, and there are cheers on cue for Left Alone and Sleepless. By now, he’s built a set that ebbs and flows, from silky vocals to shuddering bass. As much as there is a shade of Flying Lotus and Shlohmo in his sound, it’s that sleek pop instinct that warms the room.
The next day, Skrillex invites Harley over to his L.A. loft for a “studio hang”. Before things blew up for Sonny Moore’s one-man project, he was in debt and living on credit cards. “It’s been nine years to get to where I am now,” he says. As he tells it, the first million he got in the bank went straight back into his tour production. After close to two years living in motels, he bought this loft and built a home studio.
That night, Harley’s booked to close the Red Bull Sound Select showcase at The Echo, a smaller space above the Echoplex. While the bass from Gliss shakes the floor of the green room, Harley tells me about his surreal day: “It’s kind of weird scrolling my phone, and the name Skrillex pops up. A girl put her number in my phone and she saw Skrillex last – like, what the fuck?” He marvels at the speakers Sonny has installed in his studio, which are, for now, out of his own price range. Plus, he shares a house with his Mum. She no longer feels guilty about charging Harley board, but might not appreciate the added decibels.
After L.A., the tour rolled on to more stops, among them New York, Toronto, Montreal and Seattle, a blur of late nights, early flights, interchangeable hotel rooms and smitten girls. A few weeks later, I’m standing side of stage at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion as 5,500 Flume fans file in. His “expensive optical illusion”, the Infinity Prism live rig, waits in the darkness of the stage. From the barrier right back to the stands, it’s a sea of bright-eyed kids. The bar queues are conspicuously quiet.
For a teenager growing up in Sydney, gigs at the Hordern are a rite-of-passage. Harley Streten – a guy who played his first gig in November 2011 – has this week sold out the room twice over. When he skips up onto the stage at 9:15pm, the screams are deafening. He opens with his remix of Yolanda Be Cool and Gurrumul’s A Baru In New York. Hands go up, girls climb onto shoulders and Harley looks up with smile that says, let’s get this party started.
Tonight is a comprehensive Flume showcase, the mirrored visuals giving the stage mesmeric depth. In the encore, Chet Faker strolls out to sing Left Alone live, followed by a new song they made “at a holiday house on the beach”. Then those deep, swelling claps announce the Hyperparadise closer, as the whole room jumps in time with Flume.
After the gig, Harley circulates the green room, looking low-key for a Hordern headliner. I ask him how it feels to go from Bardot in Miami, where the people are dancing a metre away from him, to a cavernous space like this. “That’s what’s great,” he says matter-of-factly. “The 300-person shows, then coming home to the Hordern.”
As I leave, a group of underage girls are screaming deliriously at Chet Faker through the fence. There are under-18s everywhere outside, still high on Flume. One guy yells, “Fuck yeah, Flume!” like a battle-cry. Some of them, you’d wager, will soon head into their bedrooms to emulate Australia’s electronic boy wonder. It’s inspiring to see such en masse connection to Flume’s music – from those “big-name EDM dudes” to the L.A. hipsters at the Echo to suburban kids still in school. To put it in the practical language of Harley Streten: “I guess I’m delivering, kinda, crossover beats.”
Flume is currently on the ‘Infinity Prism’ tour of Australia. There is a new Perth show at Challenge Stadium on sale now.