Even if he hadn’t announced it multiple times, Flume’s ear-to-ear grin during his Sydney show made it clear he was delighted to be back performing in his hometown. Or maybe he was just really excited about the surprise he had planned for the encore.
Discounting his performances at the electronic festival Listen Out in 2019, it’s been six years since producer Harley Streten’s last national solo tour, which included two shows at Sydney’s 21,000-capacity Qudos Bank Arena. But in the years since Flume’s platinum-selling, award-winning sophomore album Skin and its subsequent tour – with lead single Never Be Like You also topping Triple J’s 2016 Hottest 100 – the producer has quietly turned against stadium success.
While still releasing a set of festival singalong glitch-pop and hip-hop collaborations, mostly as standalone singles, both Flume’s 2019 mixtape Hi This is Flume and 2022 album Palaces push back with some of his most experimental, anti-commercial radio production yet. These cold, spacious metallic works have more in common with Arca or the late Sophie than the EDM and future-bass DJs more commonly associated with Flume.
Before Streten took to the stage, there was uncertainty in the air. The venue – Homebush’s 10,000-capacity Dome and the attached Exhibition Halls – took time to fill up. The ravers no doubt questioned if they had cracked their glowsticks too early during Toro y Moi and Channel Tres – two Californians whose respective psych-funk and laid-back house sets are high quality, but not necessarily high BPM.
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Any lethargy dissipated instantly when Streten arrived between two panels mid-stage, donning a motorcycle suit and twisting knobs to rev an engine into overdrive. Allaying fears that the Palaces tour wouldn’t deliver old faithfuls, Flume kicked off with early career hit Holdin On and a D&B remix of Drop the Game, before bringing back Toro for their collab The Difference.
Continually hopping between eras kept a sense of momentum and unpredictability. Streten mixed in deep cuts alongside fan-favourite remixes, including his dubstep take on Disclosure’s You and Me and a glitched-out version of Lorde’s Tennis Court. Frequent collaborator Kučka and Say Nothing singer May-a repeatedly ran out for their tracks and to fill in for other female vocalists – the notable exception being Palaces track Sirens, which saw US singer Caroline Polachek, who pulled out of a tour-wide support slot to focus on her second solo album, projected on to the back screen.
Relative newcomer May-a was particularly enthusiastic, jumping and twirling across the stage; the screens showed Flume continually beaming too. The cameraperson’s willingness to zoom on to audience members showed the crowd was on his level, if not beyond it.
And why wouldn’t they be? Across 90 minutes, Flume fit in more than 25 tracks – some truncated, though never awkwardly – from across his career. This is a carefully considered best-of set, which Streten’s frequent dancing makes clear (his knob-pressing and button-tapping reserved for more in-the-moment embellishments than live mixing), as do the many visual and lighting cues.
Longtime collaborator Jonathan Zawada’s visuals could never be called subtle; on the back screen, technicolour ibises spewed forth lava, eyes floated through neon landscapes, demons watched over the crowd. But he and Flume both know when to overwhelm and when to pare back. Just as often as we zoom through nonsensical graphs about pharmaceutical companies selling fake Viagra, the stage will be all shadows, smoke and silhouettes and then sometimes nothing at all. While Streten flirted with performance art in his 2019 live shows, breaking flower pots and playing with wheel grinds while his music played without his input, this set is more straightforward. A series of white palace arches are pushed around behind Streten to make a new set for Zawada’s visuals, gesturing towards Flume’s ever-shifting sonic palate.
When it came to an encore, it was unclear what was left from Flume’s catalogue that could fill the spot. Something old? Something new? Turns out, both: that morning, Flume and Toro had covered Australian dance duo Bag Raiders’s 2008 hit Shooting Stars for Triple J’s Like a Version series.
Just as they did at the Triple J studios, Toro took vocals, Streten took saxophone – the first time he’s ever played the instrument during a show – and the late bodybuilder Zyzz’s brother Chestbrah took centre stage, muzzing out. The crowd lost it in a way they hadn’t even for his biggest hit, screaming, swearing and sweating with a last dash of energy. Flume knows what we want: what a flex.
Flume is performing in Melbourne on 24 November, Adelaide on 30 November and Hobart on 2 December