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Flume, a generation's gateway to electronic music is back in Aotearoa

by Thomas Giblin (he/him), photos by Crystal Chen @ccrystal.chen

culture & lifestyle writer

Deep in the bowels of Spark Arena, through an endless labyrinth of grey corridors, sits Harley Streten, aka Flume. I'm led through this maze, twisting and turning until I arrive at a dressing room. "He's nearly done", I'm told as I stand and wait.

Flume’s self-titled debut album was the soundtrack of the mid-2010s for a generation of electronic music fans. His remix of Lorde's ‘Tennis Court’, now finally available on Spotify, played at every house party, setting the scene as teens got drunk off cruisers. A decade later, everything has changed.

Harley has settled down, creating an idyllic home, an oasis far from the stage he'll be performing on in several hours. 12,000 fans await, willing him to perform the classics. We're sat in a desolate room— two chairs across from each other and a photo of a beach. It's a far cry from the main stage of Coachella, and as I introduce myself, it's clear that Flume is no longer the artist he once was.

He's matured, with his evolution as an artist clear when you trace his music. Things Don't Always Go To Plan, Harley’s latest album, is comprised of unreleased material from 2012 with ‘Why 1.3’ to 2021 with ‘One Step Closer.’ This release is a personal statement, an act of catharsis, offering him "something therapeutic". He says, “I make a lot of stuff, and it doesn’t all come out. It’s kind of sad, because some things fall through the cracks, that I really like”. In giving these tracks a life and a place in the world, Flume is appeasing those ghosts haunting him from the cutting room floor.

He begins to chew on a toothpick, reflecting on how he's been on and off antidepressants since his career began. The spectres of the past have been with Harley since he started touring at 20. On a 2020 podcast, he revealed how his severe anxiety and self-medication led him to come close to quitting music. Harley is “not really a performer” and is “quite introverted,” meaning press interviews like this one can be triggering. In a clip from one of his first shows, by his side are several beers. Now there's a sense of zen.

Lockdowns and travel restrictions meant he was able to be in just one place for a year, after spending his

20s touring non-stop. He says, “I never really feel like I had a chance to live a normal life. Covid was the first time I could live life as a 20-year old.”

On that decade-long journey, it was Splendour in the Grass that stands out among the rest. Onstage was Harley in his board shorts, and as the tent slowly filled up with thousands of people, he realised that people are excited about this. He says, “By the end of it the thing was full, and the response was insane. I had never seen anything like it.” Even with a Grammy and double-platinum accreditation in Australia, Harley still seems shocked that people listen to his music.

All artists must evolve, each stage of their career reflecting a new obsession, so what excites Flume? Right now, it's the saxophone, which represents a "new challenge", he says. Harley is still trying to find his voice, so he's trying "all sorts of different things." This comment leads us down a rabbit hole towards AI. With these new technologies, he can hear something, download it and disassemble it. Harley can't wait for AI to work on the music he's producing. He says it'll be like having "a bandmate," as he can create ten AI Flume’s to make ten AI songs. “I would love to have an orchestra of just AI Harley’s writing, and then I can just piece it all together.”

Back to the saxophone, which I'm hoping he'll bring out and perform Bag Raiders ‘Shooting Stars’ with. He grew up playing the instrument, and now that he's rediscovered it, he's going to "incorporate it into a bunch of songs.” Harley also puts "a fucking autotune on the saxophone," so when he performs it live as he did for the first time at The Dome in Sydney, there's a safety net.

With only a minute remaining of my allotted 15, I ask Harley what he's currently listening to. He pulls out his phone and provides me with a list; "the new Caroline Polachek track, Dinamarca, Buunshin, 'Time' by Pachanga Boys, 'Love' by Mica Levi, 'Dawn Chorus' by Thom Yorke, 'You're Not Alone' by Olive, 'Cafe Del Mar' by Energy 52, 'Idioteque' by Radiohead from Kid A, shape noise and Silkback."

"It's a real mixed bag."

The Show

Harley last played in New Zealand at the notorious Listen In, a concert described as "drug-fuelled insanity." His performance at the Spark Arena was different, as he's doing his own thing, reclaiming agency over his life.

Outside the venue, there was an odd tension between the old-school "day-one" Flume fans and the new- age ones. Those Flume fans in their late 20s who've grown up with his music were content to sway in the stands, happy to appreciate how far he'd come. The younger fans, many of whom only knew one or two songs, were keen to mosh and vape with hundreds of other sweaty late teens. From afar, the watermelon and strawberry smoke plumes remind you of smoke signals raising the alarm.

He shared classics, tracks "from the vault", new favourites and yet-to-be-released tunes. ‘Holdin On’, ‘Drop The Game’, and ‘You & Me’ delighted the 12,000-strong crowd, who were begging for the hits, but he made sure to make them wait. Harley had the Tāmaki Makaurau crowd in the palm of his hand—his figure framed by Roman arches, hands to each side resting on separate decks, his body illuminated by ethereal shades of purple. A shadow appears, and Flume at this moment, seems to be the second coming of Christ.

He danced between eras, but ‘Tennis Court’ sent the crowd to a different stratosphere. It's what we all wanted to hear, and Flume didn't disappoint, sending the arena into ecstasy. As the smoke cleared, there was no sea of mobile phones for a brief moment. Instead, a tsunami of limbs had taken its place. But as the concert came to a close, the crowd demanded more.

"You guys have been fucking amazing tonight. I've had the best time," Flume exclaims. No sign of the

saxophone so far - but was this it, I ask myself? It wasn't, but as he closed out the concert with ‘Helix’, it was hard to be disappointed. Lights pulsated, and in a flash, it was all over, on Harley’s terms, not ours.


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