Flume finally finds happiness: ‘I didn’t want to tour any more. I hated my job’

At 21, music producer Harley Streten shot to global fame as Flume. Within a few years, he was alone, depressed and drinking too much. Then the pandemic happened – and ‘it was one of the best years of my life’

In a trio of overgrown garden beds, tomatoes and chillies climb towards the sky. There are bite-size capsicums, both green and orange, plus bushy shrubs of parsley and rosemary. Somewhere in here, I am told, is pumpkin and sweet potato.

“I had a bunch of kale, too, but it died when I was at Coachella,” Harley Streten says.

We are at the northern rivers property where Streten – better known as music producer Flume – now spends most of his time, growing veggies and taking things slow. Further down the back yard he has citrus and avocado trees, plus a vast open field where he plays catch with his dog, Percy the groodle. In the morning, Streten surfs. At night, he mostly stays in and tinkers with his modular synthesiser or scrolls through online estate sales, looking for vintage furniture. He is a world away from the festival mainstage he played just a week earlier, debuting tracks from his forthcoming third album, Palaces. But this is the domestic dream Streten has been nursing for many years now.

“I think when you travel so much, for so long, you just crave settling down so bad,” he says.

Streten at home.
‘I felt like there was something missing in life’ … Streten at home. Photograph: Natalie Grono/The Guardian

Before he bought this sprawling, secluded property in early 2020, Streten had been on the go for almost a decade straight. He was just 21 when he swept the Aria Awards with his 2013 self-titled debut, arriving on the red carpet in a stiff suit that made him look more like a kid at his year 12 formal than a multi-platinum musician. His second album, Skin, won him a Grammy in 2017, going to No 1 on the Australian charts and No 8 in the US. He was widely hailed as a preternatural talent who pioneered a lush, layered electronic sound that has been often imitated, but never bettered. But it didn’t make him happy.

“I felt like there was something missing in life,” the now 30-year-old tells Guardian Australia over lunch at a pub near his house, Percy curled at his feet. “But after being here for a year, I started to have friends and a community, and I realised, oh, that’s what that void was. I didn’t really get to live my 20s, and I never thought about it like that before. I just didn’t know what I’d missed out on until I did have this time.”

Flume performs on the Coachella stage in April 2022.
‘I’ve never really been a performer but I had to do it’ … Streten performing at Coachella in April 2022. Photograph: Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Coachella

After a four-year stint in Los Angeles, Streten returned to Australia at the start of the pandemic to be closer to his family. Burnt out on cities and keen to remove himself from the temptations of alcohol and drugs, he decided to start again in northern NSW instead of returning to his home town of Sydney. He was newly single, after spending much of his adult life in relationships. The global shutdown of the music industry meant that for the first time, he had no deadlines to meet, no tours to jet off on. He just went to the beach, hung out with his dog and learned to be on his own. “It was, honestly, one of the best years of my life,” Streten says.

The bounties of his career have been a double-edged sword. Streten is keen to stress that he is grateful for the opportunities he’s had, but the catapult to fame at such a young age was isolating. Streten – who is thoughtful but reserved and, by his own description, has struggled with social anxiety since he was teenager – always appeared out of place within the bro-ish, back-slapping dance music scene. His tour schedule meant he was never in one place long enough to build genuine friendships; as he became more and more famous, he began to feel wary of the people who clamoured to get close to him.

“I’ve always got this super paranoid ‘why are you hanging out with me?’ thing in my head, trying to figure out if it’s status related,” he says. This neurosis extended to his working life: “I don’t have bandmates. For months on end, all my interactions would be with people that I’m paying to be there. I’d say something funny and start to be like, ‘Oh, are you laughing because you found that funny? Or because you’re literally on my payroll?’”

And while Streten has always loved making music, he never enjoyed what comes afterwards. “I’m quite introverted. I’ve never really been a performer but I had to do it. This whole life was all about being in front of everyone and public speaking and all these things that really don’t come naturally to me.”

Inevitably, he soothed his anxiety with alcohol. “Before the show I’d have a few drinks, during the show, after [the show] – because I was constantly anxious. I would end up drinking at every show, five days a week, on a three-month tour. I’d just feel terrible.”

Streten at home.
‘I was depressed because I was alone constantly in hotel rooms’ … Streten at home. Photograph: Natalie Grono/The Guardian

It didn’t help that the dance music scene he came up in was defined by late nights and popping bottles, a world where the pursuit of excess was celebrated. In the past, Streten has compared himself to the Swedish producer Avicii, who took his life in 2018, aged 28, after a long struggle with addiction.

“He died because he was medicating himself just like I was: with alcohol, drugs, whatever. He wasn’t happy,” Streten said in an interview with then girlfriend Paige Elkington on the My Friend Podcast in early 2020.


“I was definitely pushing it [with partying] for a long time,” he tells me. “But then you get older and realise it just makes you sad.”

In 2016, things came to a head: “I was depressed because I was alone constantly in hotel rooms. I didn’t want to tour any more. I went to a psychologist and was like, I hate my job.”

She suggested antidepressants. Deciding to take them was “the best decision I ever made”, Streten says.

“Within three days, I instantly [felt better]. I was at a party in Venice Beach and I was like, Oh my god, I don’t feel like leaving straight away. I don’t feel super anxious. This is working.”

Artist Jonathan Zawada, one of Streten’s longtime collaborators and a close friend, says Streten is “just so much happier” now than when they first met in 2014. He remembers Streten as the boy who was so nervous while filming an Arias acceptance speech that he asked everyone to leave the studio while he practised what to say.

“He’s had big success at such a young age and that meant that there were always a lot of people helping him. He didn’t have to make a lot of decisions for himself,” says Zawada, who lives 15 minutes away from Streten and sees him at least once a week. “In the last couple of years, he’s started figuring out who he is and what he actually wants [from life]. He’s become much more self-reliant and confident … He’s really been working on maturing and becoming well-rounded – as we often joke, a ‘three-dimensional human being’.”

Streten at home with Percy.
‘I feel sorry for people who are so famous’ … Streten at home with Percy. Photograph: Natalie Grono/The Guardian

With the new Flume album out on Friday, Streten is about to head off on a month-long bus tour of the US, which he plans to do “basically completely” without alcohol. Now off the antidepressants, he feels he’s in a very different place than during the last album cycle. His music, too, has slightly shifted: Palaces contains fewer pop-leaning radio hits and more glitchy, hard-edged production. It may not be courting the Top 40 as much as Skin or his debut, but Streten isn’t trying to get any bigger than he already is.

“I feel sorry for people who are so famous. It would be terrible,” he says. “I remember one time I was with Ella – Lorde – and we were walking around Sydney, and she had sunglasses on, but everyone could recognise her because of her hair. I was thinking, ‘I’m so glad I just look like a normal person.’”

Caroline Polachek and Flume perform at Coachella in April 2022.
Caroline Polachek and Flume perform at Coachella in April 2022. Photograph: Casey Flanigan/image SPACE/REX/Shutterstock

Streten did however recruit some big collaborations for Palaces, including Blur’s Damon Albarn and Chairlift frontwoman turned solo-artist Caroline Polachek. He and Polachek became friends in LA; now that Australian borders have reopened, Streten regularly travels back there for work, and to play Magic the Gathering with Polachek, and music producers such as AG Cook and Bloodpop. (“I love Magic Cards,” he says.) Sometimes blow-ins drop by for a night – like the musician Grimes, who recently congratulated Streten on the highly publicised video of him jokingly performing a sex act on his then girlfriend on stage at Burning Man festival in 2019. (“I didn’t think much of your career before then,” she reportedly told him. “It’s like you were too squeaky clean.”) He has found genuine connection in that group of people, who understand the unique perks and pressures of life in the spotlight.

At home in the northern rivers, Streten has a small but solid group of friends – mostly couples, like Zawada and his wife, because “that’s your 30s”, he shrugs. Together, they do regular stuff like hang out at his place, or go to the local pub where the staff all know him and Percy. “I’ve had the opportunity to live a more normal existence and I feel really good about it all,” Streten says.

For now, Flume is content – though there is one small thing missing from his life: “I’m still looking for my Magic Card crew in Byron.”

  • Palaces is out on 20 May (Future Classic). Flume’s world tour begins in the US on 23 May, and will head to the UK, Europe, then Australia in November and December


Katie Cunningham

The GuardianTramp

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