Five years ago, a wide-eyed young producer from the Northern Beaches submitted three of his bedroom-produced tracks to an original artists competition orchestrated by Future Classic. Under the guiding hand of the record label’s founder Nathan McLay, Harley Streten crafted his debut self-titled album on his first laptop, polishing off the 12-track record during a low-budget trip to London. By the time he’d landed back at home, the LP was sitting pretty at the top of the Australian iTunes charts and building to an eventual number two debut on the ARIA charts.
The rest is history for Flume. This modest kid from the Beaches hasn’t just overwhelmingly captured the hearts of music lovers on our shores – he’s gone ahead and re-invented the standard for electronic music on a global scale. The ‘Flume Effect’ has sent game-changing ripples through the EDM world, reaching countless industry heavyweights and trendsetters (in a now infamous Twitter beef from earlier in the year, Diplo called out Zedd for incorporating “fake Flume drops” on his Aloe Blacc collaboration “Candyman”).
It’s hard to imagine that the 13-year-old Harley Streten experimenting with a basic production disc from a cereal box all those years ago ever thought that at 25 he’d be coming home to play two sold-out shows to over 40,000 people at the biggest indoor venue in Australia. At Qudos Bank Arena on Friday night, the love in the sprawling arena for Sydney’s very own international music ambassador was overwhelming, channeling into epic crowd singalongs, deafening waves of applause and a sea of flailing hands in the packed-out floor section. Combined with the revered experimental textures of London producer Sophie and the menacing intensity of Vince Staples, the entire night was an immense audiovisual spectacle from a trio of the most exciting forces in music right now.
Even the stage of a venue as large as Qudos Bank Arena couldn’t fully contain the volcanic energy of a Vince Staples set. Silhouetted by a towering rectangular screen, the revered Long Beach rapper leapt around his contained platform like a caged animal, tearing through a perfectly-paced string of original hits and standout features. Kicking off proceedings with ‘Summertime ‘06’ highlight “Lift Me Up”, Staples made mince meat out of signature singles like “Señorita”, “Norf Norf” and 2014 EP ‘Hell Can Wait’ highlight “Blue Suede”. Rounding out his scorcher of a set with “Summertime”, the off-kilter emcee proved exactly why critics and hip hop fans have emphatically boarded the Vince Staples hype train over the last couple of years.
Flume’s eventual introduction proved his penchant for theatrical slow builds and the power of suspense. After Vince’s set, crew members fashioned a draped black cloth over the stage, and before long an unreservedly epic extended string arrangement rolled in to herald the approaching chaos. Eventually, the spiritual intro was pierced by the steely whizzing and whirring of ‘Skin’ opener “Helix”, and the curtain dramatically collapsed in cohesion with that universe-tearing drop. Peaking out from his cubed spaceship with a grin from ear to ear, Streten melted the closing bars of “Helix” into his rework of Ta-ku’s “Higher”, sending day-one fans on a jubilant trip down memory lane. The nostalgia only became even more real as the sultry vocal hook of “On Top” burst through the soundscape, whipping the arena into a frenzy in seconds.
In saying that, no classic track or signature hit could have prepared everyone for Vince and Kučka‘s appearance. Flanked by surreal three-dimensional visuals and breathtaking flurries of technicolour beams, Flume’s compadres covered either side of the stage like the angel and demon on his shoulders. Vince’s razor-sharp bars collided with Kučka’s sugary hooks, but as we all know from the studio recording, it’s an irresistible combination that’s only more powerful live.
The stuttering opener of “Wall Fuck” led us all into a relentless assault that included the recently-revealed “Heater” and another throwback in the form of “Insane”. Peppered with trailed scenes of shattered crystals, metallic monoliths and a light-speed journey through space à2001: A Space Odyssey, the careful thought and precision behind every component of Flume’s live show became truly apparent. By the time we’d crash landed, a majestic golden crown signalled that this wild ride was only just beginning: it was time for the “Tennis Court” remix. Flume’s enormously popular Lorde rework drew the biggest response of the night yet, washing ecstatic faces in stunning gold light right up to the nosebleed sections.
Taking advantage of the moment, Flume launched into a slightly tweaked take on his number one hit “Never Be Like You”. Throwing in a killer extended intro made up of chopped-up wailing vocal samples, it took a little bit of time for everyone to catch on to what was coming – but once that unmistakable first verse from Kai kicked in, all hell broke loose. Even if it was just just a slight edit, it was genuinely refreshing to see that Streten is willing to provide a new experience live, bucking the often disheartening trend of producers playing carbon copies of their studio material at headline shows.
The relative sweetness and radio-ready wholesomeness of “Never Be Like You” was quickly washed away by a healthy serving of bangers from the pits of hell. Transforming into a trap DJ before our very eyes, Flume catapulted us all into his 2013 edit of Rustie‘s “Slasher” and RL Grime‘s anthem “Core” without allowing even a moment to recover. Even after softening the blow with his beloved take on Hermitude‘s “Hyperparadise”, thousands were left wiping the sweat away and licking their bass-inflicted wounds.
Amidst the pandemonium, Streten eventually took a moment to address his adoring hometown crowd. “You were the first at my gigs. You’re the true fans!” He declared, eliciting a deafening roar from front to back. Closing (*wink wink*) with tail-end ‘Skin’ highlight “Free”, the crowd held their collective breaths in anticipation of that soul-swallowing drop. And lo and behold, gold confetti poured out of enormous cannons on either side of the crowd, “ending” his set with a track that perfectly sums up why he’s considered such an innovative figure in the electronic music world.
With the house lights still out, a cheeky encore was all but inevitable, and Flume delivered in spades. For a special hometown treat, Vince and Kučka returned for their viral Like A Version rework of Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo” (AKA the Running Man Challenge song). But Streten definitely wasn’t done there; in what felt like a perfect circle moment, his actual swan song was ‘Skin’ closer “Tiny Cities”. The left-of-centre Beck collaboration had thousands of young fans singing along to every word, and it was in those closing moments that a lightbulb went off in my head: by joining forces with Beck, Flume has managed to introduce a classic alternative legend to an audience that probably would never have heard of him otherwise. With the talent, creative flair and originality on display in a flawless set like that, his global influence and rapid rise to the top isn’t really a surprise at all.