Flume’s second album ‘Skin’ was experimental by necessity. “For lack of a better way of describing it,” says the 25-year-old electronica fanatic, “a lot of people just ripped off my sound. I was like, ‘Fuck, what I do now?’”
The Aussie musician – real name Harley Streten – doesn’t name names, but he doesn’t really have to. After the release of his self-titled debut, Flume’s home country was suddenly awash with bedroom producers inspired by him: “A lot of kids got excited, saw some kid who wrote this record in his bedroom at his parents’ house – and that was the story, because that was what happened – and they were like ‘Fuck yeah, I’m gonna get a copy of Ableton’.”
There are higher profile comparisons to be made too. Earlier this year EDM bro Diplo accused his peer Zedd of using a ‘fake Flume drop’ in Zedd’s commercial M&Ms single ‘Candyman’ – but Streten remained gracefully diplomatic by saying nothing. He still won’t comment on it, but he does distance himself from the EDM cash juggernaut.
“I’ve never really seen myself as an EDM act,” he explains, “but in the States, I get asked: ‘Where do you see yourself in the EDM scene?’ I don’t know what to say. I don’t really even know what it is – like, ‘electronic dance music’? Am I a dance act? None of my shit’s at that BPM or anywhere around it. None of it’s got a 4/4 house beat. I never think of it as house or dance music.”
Maybe not, but his music has undeniable appeal for crowds at dance festivals. Tonight (November 17) Streten will play to 10,000 fans at London’s Alexandra Palace, followed by 5,000 more at Manchester’s clubbing mecca, The Warehouse Project. The live experience he wants to bring fans is something nuanced and almost theatrical – “tasteful,” he says tellingly – something totally unlike the kind of thing you’d get from The Chainsmokers and their ilk. It’s worth noting here that Flume is named after a Bon Iver song.
“Look at [Miami EDM fest] Ultra Music Festival,” he says, “and look at the main stage. It looks fucking terrible. It’s not done nice. Everything’s just on the whole time.” Who are his live heroes then? The “super-slick” Chemical Brothers – because when he saw them for the first time, he was enraptured. “They would bring you down so low for so long and then they’d take you up. It wasn’t like a typical EDM show where it’s 10/10 the whole time, bangers, bangers, bangers, bangers. It was like theatre.”
Flume’s music exhibits similar ambitions. Ahead of recording ‘Skin’ he set a randomiser going on his computer, left it recording for twenty minutes and later cut out melodies he liked. “I definitely want to explore the pop experimental thing a bit more,” he says, labeling his recent tour mate, London hyper-pop producer Sophie, as a key inspiration. “I’m a huge fanboy,” he says. “He’s doing shit that I’ve never heard, and that’s what I want. Adele‘s going to do beautiful piano ballads and they’re going to be nice with genius songwriting but that’s fifty percent of it for me – I want the other shit. And Sophie’s so great at that. His productions are just so clean and clinical but in the craziest way.”
“I just randomise for hours and hours until I find the gnarliest sounds”
‘Skin’ saw him downloading “heaps” of sample packs for the most obscure sounds he could find. He singles out a Russian set of Foley recordings, which featured ten recordings of rocks being thrown down a metal pipe. “It’s this really crazy sound,” he enthuses, “and that’s scattered throughout ‘Skin’. You don’t know it, but it’s there – it just adds to the flavour of it all.”
Sonic Charge Synplant is a software synthesizer with a genetic approach to sound creation. //soniccharge.com
The mad-scientist vibe of his approach comes fully to life when he starts talking about one of his recent synth acquisitions, Synplant (shown above in glorious detail). “It’s like a digital plant – you plant a seed to create a sound and then grow the ‘branches’ out and it just randomises things.” So can you ‘prune’ it then? “Pretty much – you can pick a branch you like the sound of and plant that new seed, and you go into the DNA helix to change the parameters. I never know what the fuck is going to happen, I just randomise for hours and hours until I find the gnarliest sounds. And I’ve got a bunch of synths that are weird like that.”
This level of experimentation is taking him down routes few can follow – unlike his first album, after which Flume tutorials sprung up all over YouTube: “I could do a song and then go online and there would be like tons of videos doing what I did.” He can sympathise with that curiosity, though. “I have no idea how Kaytranada gets his drums so fat. I always ask him, like: ‘Hey K, how do you get your drums so fat?’ And he never tells me.”
Flume – Say It feat.
It’s easy to get Flume the musician talking, but what about Streten the man? What does he do in his downtime? “I don’t have downtime.” What about when he’s finished touring? “I do music. Seriously, I don’t have downtime.” Does he still surf? “A little bit, if I get the chance I definitely go surfing in the morning.” And that’s therapeutic? “Yeah it’s my favourite. If I’m not doing music or touring, I’m probably at home going surfing and playing video games with my friends.”
So – some downtime, then. Streten has a spare room specifically for Counterstrike marathons with his mates: “I was going to turn into a studio but my friend convinced me to turn it into an internet café. There’s four computers, two on either wall. It’s pretty funny, when we were kids we used to play it, we’ve played it for years and they all come round and we’ll all have beers and play Counterstrike on the same team. It’s fun.”
He still hangs out with friends like this whenever he’s at home but his life is increasingly nomadic: he’s considering setting up a second studio in LA so he’s “able to ping-pong from Sydney to LA a bunch”. This would see him entering the adopted hometown of Calvin Harris and the rest of the EDM multimillionaires – but does he want to be like them, with their car collections and mansions? “Having heaps of money? Fuck yeah, that’d be awesome.”
He goes on: “I feel like I’ve got to the point where I’m like: ‘I’ve got enough’. For me the goal with this project is to first of all to make money off doing it – make money off doing what you love. That was my main thing. Now that that’s happened, my next goal has been to not have to worry about money anymore and I’ve kind of like hit that, so anything now is a bonus. I wouldn’t say it’s a driving factor. I don’t think I’d ever live on the Hills or whatever, I just want a nice little place.”
The move to LA would make sense – LA is quite simply better for Streten’s work, with far more vocalists he could work with there. (It’s the same place he spent three months finishing the majority of ‘Skin’ with the help of vocalists like Beck, and Tove Lo). But who does he see himself working with next? Damon Albarn, he says. What would they make together? “I have no fucking idea, but I just like everything he’s involved in. I’m a massive Gorillaz fan. They’re just unique. They have an interesting take on melody, interesting instrumentation. I like the way [Albarn] embraces technology, yet he has that classic singer/songwriter ability as well. I just think he’s a super-talented dude.”
What about a megastar like Rihanna – would he be up for that? “Totally. Fuck yeah. I’m up for working with huge artists and even if I’m not a huge fan of all their music, I’m still up for working with them, so long as it’s on my terms. What we’re gonna do is gonna be fucking awesome and if it’s not, then it’s not coming out.”
That’s seems to be the key to Flume as a project: innovation on Streten’s own terms. “The number one inspiration for me right now,” he says, “is technology and the possibilities of what it can do. Every day there’s a new company that puts out a new product or plugin that does something crazy or makes something sound insane. I don’t want any record to sound the same. I want to constantly try new stuff.”
Flume’s ‘Skin Compaion EP’ is out November 25. ‘Skin’ is out now.