How Flume took America
“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 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.