Every time I’ve been to Popscene in the last few years, and I mean every time, I see the same guy. Deep 30s, clean cut, and so meticulously well-dressed that it’s conspicuous. Particularly conspicuous when he’s gravitating around a pair of black lingerie wearing girls dancing like they can’t drink. But I guess that mix is fairly typical of Thursdays at the Rickshaw Stop, for the weekly event that always brings in a new crowd by being an 18+ dance party, while maintaining a certain following with the promise of seeing an emerging music act that “could be the next big thing.”
Or, as the case was with Australian electronic producer Flume on Thursday night, the next Porter Robinson. As in “OMG, can you believe he’s only 20?” and the additional hype that goes with it. The crowd was sold out and eager to hear him DJ, many in the audience probably choosing the show over more established popular EDM acts playing that night like Major Lazer at the Independent or the Skrillex/Diplo (he’s everywhere) event going on for the video game convention.
“Is everyone excited to see Flume?” Dexter Tortoriello of opener Houses asked, in the cliched end of set mic break, before making the astute observation, “If we were in Australia right now, we’d be seeing him in a stadium, but instead we’re at Rickshaw Stop.” Flume – real name Harley Streten – had a sudden rise that included knocking One Direction off the top chart spot with his self-titled debut.
Sorry to say, despite Tortoriello’s excitement, Houses performance was strangely out of place. I caught what was at the time just a duo of Tortoriello and musical-romantic partner Megan Messina at Public Works in November and, while it had been pretty awkward in a shoegazing sort of way, they showed promise and an underlying energy waiting to get out, particularly with tracks like “Reds.”
Thursday they had the addition of a drummer and a guitarist, and Messina had a lot more to do and seemed less contained by nervousness, but strangely played new, more sonorous, thoughtful, and ultimately indistinct music. It was particularly noticeable as they made a consciously slow start coming off of a pop hip-hop track DJ Aaron Axelson played, causing someone to yell out “Drums!” at the end of their first song. “It feels cold up here,” a guy in a hoodie told his friends, which usually isn’t the case at the event.
Flume came on to the sounds of chopped vocals and faux-Afropop “More Than You Thought” from his album, and I made the conscious choice to not try to get back up front to try and get a picture. The real reason is I wimped out. The aesthetic reason is there are no satisfying photos of anyone in front of Macbooks. But the jealous reason is he’s young* and handsome, as the girls in front of me who have been in love with him for soooooooo long will point out, and doesn’t really need it.
On record, Flume is entirely listenable, a palatable mix of dub grooves, steady hip-hop beats, and jazzy, spacy tweaks that occasionally recall Flying Lotus, perfectly paired with pop vocals from a range of singers. His live show aims to be just as pleasing mixing in recognizable hits like Mos Def’s “Mathmatics” and Biggie’s “Juicy.” A little easy and a little bit too much cultural appropriation for my tastes, but it worked on the crowd.
At one point – the climax of the set really – Flume followed a version of Major Lazer’s “Get Free” (complete with a trance build and dubstep breakdown) with two of his best songs, “Insane” and “On Top.” Featuring lovely, pitch shifted vocals by Moon Holiday and the line “the only risk is that you go insane,” “Insane” is the kind of euphoric track you can get lost in, and the best hints at the depths Flume could delve into in the future.
But the electro hip-hop of “On Top” is the current album’s best statement of where the 20 year old is now. “All that I want in my life is the chance to do my thing,” the chorus says, and it’s entirely aspirational, before the triumphant verses kick in. “The nights forever young, it’s us that gets old,” is basically saying YOLO, but comes off a little closer to “Carpe Diem.” Or whatever is Latin for “night.”
*As his suburban origin story goes, he learned to make music from software he found in a cereal box at an age when people like me were trying to figure out masturbation.