"We sort of became the anti-LED guys".

How Flosstradamus built the biggest show in dance music

By Katie Cunningham, 7/3/2016

Photos by SAM WHITESIDE

It’s a Friday afternoon in Sydney and one of the biggest acts in dance music is playing to a crowd of about seven people.

Curt Cameruci is mixing through a string of tracks at warp speed, occasionally flashing a smile big enough to reveal the gold grills on his teeth. Josh Young, his tracksuit-clad partner in trap, jumps onto the decks with a microphone in hand, intermittently yelling into it and waving his hands in the air. Then, while standing on stage at one of Australia’s most revered venues, he pulls a phone out of his pocket and zones out, staring into the screen for a matter of minutes.

It’s sound check at the Enmore Theatre in late January, only a few hours before Flosstradamus will play one of their biggest Australian shows to date. While the two artists get their ear-splitting volume levels right, a crew of seemingly identical tattooed men test lights and unload boxes. Two photographers lurk around, snapping photos of the duo in off-duty mode. The stage designer is trying to source more camouflage netting to drape around the DJ booth, on the hunt for some that is both “snow” coloured (not to be mistaken for the similar shade of arctic) and flame retardant.  “We try not to blow up the places we have shows,” he explains.

Backstage, promoters BBE have just sold the last available ticket for tonight’s show. Selling out the 2,500-capacity Enmore is always cause for celebration, but this time it’s extra sweet: two years ago on this day at this same venue, Flosstradamus supported Major Lazer at a show that didn’t sell out. It’s a serendipity that’s escaped no one here, and a welcome confirmation that the Flosstradamus star keeps on rising.

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But if you’d painted this scene to Josh and Curt five years ago, they probably wouldn’t have believed you.

The truth is Flosstradamus’ career failed before it soared. A little over ten years ago, Josh and Curt were DJing individually in their hometown of Chicago, playing at house parties and bars. Then a mutual friend put them in touch and they linked up, scoring a Wednesday night residency at the bar Curt’s then-girlfriend worked at. Quickly the party outgrew the venue and bookings started to snowball. For a while things were good: Flosstradamus were at a comfortable mid level, they “toured pretty much non-stop” for five years, even making their first Australian tour in 2008 with the short-lived V Festival.

Then the offers dried up. “We fell off. We hit rock bottom in the sense of a DJ career,” Curt says candidly. “We were like, oh shit. Are we going to have to start building houses now? What’s our job?”

As the earliest rumblings of the North American EDM explosion began, Flosstradamus found themselves more or less out of work. “In 2011 things just slowed down to the point where we both had time to figure out what we wanted to do. We had a lot of free time on our hands because we weren’t getting booked anymore.” Josh says. So he took a different approach to music: “I started working on production for the first time and taking it seriously. Literally every single day I would make a coffee, smoke a blunt, and just make beats all day.”

It worked.

In 2016, Flosstradamus is an empire. They have half a million Facebook fans, more than a few of whom have tattooed themselves in a pledge of allegiance. They have a high-paying residency in Vegas. Their line of apparel (don’t call it merch) is so successful it’s become an entire revenue stream and their marijuana-drenched branding is so consistent that on April 20 – 4/20, as Americans stylise dates – they’ll stage their own mini-festival at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre. A few weeks ago, Twitter just about imploded when the young actor who plays Carl on The Walking Dead outed himself as a HDYBOY.

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The Flosstradamus rebirth didn’t happen overnight, but the big turning point came with their remix of Major Lazer’s Original Don in early 2012, a track introduced the pair’s signature stoner-trap sound and has now been played over seven million times on Soundcloud.

Ironically, Flosstradamus’ success has never hinged on their music alone. While other dance artists live and die on the strength of the tracks they have out that week, Floss have managed to sidestep the pressure to continually churn out new singles. Their music charts decently – Drop Top, for instance, went to #1 on the Beatport hip-hop charts in 2014 – but Flosstradamus have never focussed on being hitmakers.

Josh and Curt stay on top in other ways. With their admittedly “rare as fuck” second chance at a music career came a crystal-clear vision: they needed a logo, they needed an image and they needed to produce, but they wanted Flosstradamus to be bigger than just tunes. “We don’t have those huge number one Lean On type singles, but we’re able to sell out shows in the same venues the people who have those tracks play,” Josh says. “It’s because of our live set.”

He’s not wrong. The Flosstradamus live show is in a league of its own – while other DJs stand stiffly behind the decks, Josh and Curt focus on delivering a set that looks as good as it sounds. While Curt mixes, Josh plays hype man, jumping around the decks, commanding the crowd on the mic and waving the same Flosstradamus flag that once almost got him arrested in Sydney’s Circular Quay (the Floss flag, you see, bears an unfortunate resemblance to the one carried by ISIS).

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On last year’s HDYNATION tour, they put a scrap car on stage as a prop and surrounded it with oil drums filled with artificial flames to create a scene resembling an inner-city slum. For this one, they’ve draped metre upon metre of that flame-retardant netting around the stage, creating a 3D effect that looks as though it’s exploding into the crowd. The vibe they are going for is a “post apocalyptic chemical lab”.

“We like to break down the fourth wall with our shows,” Josh explains backstage in he and Curt’s over air-conditioned dressing room, sipping from of one of the many bottles of coconut water that make up the pair’s rider. “We sort of became the anti-LED guys. Ninety-nine per cent of EDM DJs bring an LED screen and an LED booth when they go on tour and looks exactly like every festival. Some of them have the audacity of just running a screensaver.”

That’s not the Flosstradamus way. “We like a more theatrical vibe and it makes it feel more “live” for us,” Josh says. “Especially since we’re not static. We move around the stage.” The idea for the current stage design was Josh and Curt’s, but making it a physical reality means touring with a crew of four guys. It’s so expensive a set-up that the guys hardly turn a profit on their headline tours – they treat these as a pet project funded by their Vegas and festival money.

They also have special on-stage uniforms. Slung over two chairs in the dressing room are a pair of rubber overalls that conjure distinct memories of the serial killer from I Know What You Did Last Summer – only these ones are fluoro orange. Do they make being under the lights uncomfortable?

“It’s hot as hell,” Josh laughs. “Since our second incarnation of Floss we’ve joked that we’re the hottest DJs in the game because we wear hoodies on stage. But it’s fashion over function for us always. We don’t care about being comfortable up there as much as we care about people being like, whoa, they look fucking cool right now.”

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As much as Flosstradamus want to impress the people watching, they also want to challenge them. Josh hasn’t shied away from highlighting the touchy subject of police brutality in shows and on Twitter, and career-wise, their attitude is just as fierce. When people told them trap wouldn’t last, it gave them something to prove.

“The first half of our career we had a level of failure that we learned from. It made us come back this second time with no holds barred. We weren’t holding back any punches, we just went fucking balls to the wall,” Josh says.

“We got to headlining festivals by being like, ‘Fuck you. Fuck everything.’ We weren’t like, ‘Hey guys’, sucking dicks and patting everyone on the back. You know, the EDM world is all about fucking jacking everyone off. I’m taking a picture with this DJ, when they’re not really homies. We had a bunch of people like that come in and out our lives over the last few years, but our attitude to it was to battle everybody. We’re not going to take the throne graciously. We’re going to fucking snatch it, so we did.”

Perhaps the duo’s savviest move of all, though, was expanding into apparel. Josh and Curt started producing Flosstradamus clothing when they saw that fans were making their own at home, sticking the Floss warning sign logo on t-shirts and rocking up to shows in them.

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Now, the line spans Flosstradamus slides, cushions, rings, vaporisers and even cannabis meditainers as well as clothing. Remarkably, while most DJs’ merch lines rarely extend beyond t-shirts made for an assumed male audience, Flosstradamus create items like bikinis and nail polish specifically for girls. It’s a subtle inclusivity not often found in the testosterone-charged EDM scene.

But Josh and Curt are quick to credit the fans themselves with the ideas for many of the designs. They say it’s often the HDY family who’d devise new styles first, tie-dyeing white baseball jerseys or adding their own bandanas. “The fans are really fucking creative and because of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, they have such direct access to us. We look at it. We’re not divas about it. We’re on Twitter, we’re talking to them.”

“Now, the buzzword is branding,” Josh says. “Every DJ I know is like, ‘I’m working on my brand’. Before that everyone looked at us like, what the fuck are they doing?

On show night, the success of Josh and Curt’s branding is on parade. Floss fans rock up in packs, girls in their HDYGRLZ-emblazoned crop tops and oversized mesh tees, guys doubling up in 420 tees and warning sign hats.

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Inside the energy is supercharged but respectful. “What do we do if someone falls down?” Josh addresses the packed room at the beginning of the show. “We pick them back up!”

Standing still is not an option here and before long, the walls just about shake with the force of two thousand punters turning up to Hit the Quan. Venue staff hand out bottles of water to the girls in the front row, shirts start to come off both male and female chests and side of stage, Josh’s wife and Curt’s fiancé dance with just as much gusto as the kids in the crowd. The Enmore Theatre, air-conditioned to bone chilling levels just a couple of hours earlier, is now a sticky, humid, frazzled and totally electric sweat pit.

“When we go up there we always leave it all on stage,” Josh had told me before they went on. “Blood, sweat and tears.”

Can’t say he didn’t warn me.

Katie Cunningham is one of the Editors of inthemix. She is on Twitter.

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