Flume – aka DJ and producer Harley Streten – is buzzing when NME calls just weeks after he took Coachella Festival by storm. “We had a great turnout!” he says of the career-spanning hour-long Saturday night set, which saw Streten incorporate augmented reality into the performance and bring out a roster of all-star guest artists, including Beck, Tove Lo, Vince Staples, Caroline Polachek and even Damon Albarn.
The landmark show teased the many collaborators (the aforementioned Albarn and Polachek, alongside the likes of Perth-via-Los Angeles producer-singer Kučka, Spanish electronic music provocateur Virgen Maria, French future-pop artist Oklou, and more) that feature on his upcoming album, ‘Palaces’. A collection of contrasting ideas initially created in LA, then polished off back home in Australia, Streten describes it as a combination of the sonics that featured on his 2016-released second album ‘Skin’ and his 2019 mixtape ‘Hi This Is Flume’.
Having felt creatively stuck while living in fast-paced LA, relocating to a coastal town in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic provided a much-needed reset. “I love it [in LA] but, after a while, I kind of lose my mind a bit,” Streten says. “I just need the space and the peace and quiet,” he adds, saying that living in big cities can be “really depressing”.
Reconnecting with nature – including living close to macadamia farms, with a new neighbour in the form of a python that nested outside his front door – also made Streten realise that he relishes the simple things in life, like waking up to the sound of birds, surfing every morning, and walking around his vegetable patch barefoot. “I don’t need all the fancy bars and restaurants, I’ve done that for 10 years,” he adds. “I know the people down at the shops, and there’s a great sense of community here.” This simpler existence was “really helpful to create,” he says. “Coming here and doing fuck all made it possible to unblock whatever was going on”. The resulting album is Streten’s most experimental and genre-defying project to date.
Ahead of the release of ‘Palaces’, Flume joins us for the latest edition of NME’s In Conversation series, discussing the many collaborations on his new record, the influence of his friend SOPHIE, and why he’s finally looking forward to touring again. Here’s what we learned.
Working with hero Damon Albarn was a nerve-wracking experience
‘Palaces’ is Streten’s most collaborative Flume release, with a host of guest artists featured on the project; but it’s the album’s title track, which closes the record, that saw Streten collaborate with one of his music heroes, Damon Albarn.
“We were both playing the LA festival Life Is Beautiful and linked up afterwards and went to some weird studio in the middle of nowhere in the desert,” Streten says, recalling that he played him a bunch of music. “I was nervous because I’m a huge fan,” he adds, having showed Albarn lots of ideas: “but he didn’t like anything.”
In fact, it was only the second to last track that piqued Albarn’s interest. “He was like ‘alright, there’s something in this, this is cool’.” To have his idol’s approval was a huge relief: “after he came round to one of the songs, I did think ‘thank fuck for that’!” And having Albarn join him onstage at Coachella to play piano during the debut live performance of their collaboration, ‘Palaces’, was a “really special moment”.
SOPHIE showed him how to make many of the sounds featured on the new record
Having previously worked together on his 2019 mixtape ‘Hi This is Flume’, the late pop innovator SOPHIE showed Streten how to make many of the sounds that would go on to feature on his new record, ‘Palaces’. “SOPHIE would rock up with this tiny little box, the monomachine by Elektron, and just start making the most insane sounds. Time and again, I’d be like ‘how?!’ and she’d reply saying ‘oh, it’s simple!’ and pull up a synth on my computer and recreate the sound on software”.
Streten also believes SOPHIE is the artist responsible for the explosion of hyperpop. “It’s sad that she’s no longer with us. I feel like SOPHIE was one of the founding artists,” he says. “She kind of started the whole thing, and her influence is definitely on my record – for a lot of the songs.”
He’s finally excited by the idea of touring
In the past Streten has undertaken exhausting tour schedules – being on the road for nine months of the year. “I’m not one to get up on a stage – I’m not really a performer,” he says honestly, adding that: “I would end up having a few drinks before every show; but then I was doing six shows a week.”
“Before I knew it, I was an alcoholic – just while on tour – to see me through it,” he says. Coming to this realisation made him want to stop playing shows, and Streten decided to seek help and speak to somebody. Going on antidepressants: “worked really well and helped me manage it and figure out how to cope with it all,” he says.
Now, though, Streten is no longer on medication and excited to start touring again; but on a month-on month-off basis. “Just being aware how easy it is to let yourself fall into these patterns…I’ve come a long way since five years ago and am genuinely looking forward to touring again,” he says.
He no longer thinks of EDM as a “dirty word”
In an interview with NME in 2016, Streten said “I don’t even really know what EDM is” when trying to understand why he would be grouped with that sound at the time. Looking back on that statement six years later, Streten thinks that the genre was seen as “a bit of a dirty word”.
He also felt “it was stupid because you can dance to hip-hop and hip-hop is made electronically, so is all hip-hop EDM?,” he says. With his issue being around the ambiguity of the term, he adds “is Aphex Twin EDM, because it’s electronic dance music? If you’re just going to group anything that’s electronic as EDM, then all electronic is EDM, so I guess that was my gripe.” But now, Streten says he “embraces it”.
He looks back on the viral Burning Man moment as being “liberating”
In 2019, Streten went viral when a video of him performing a sex act onstage at Burning Man Festival started circulating on social media; but, looking back, he sees it as a “liberating” moment. “I was DJing on a giant mushroom six storeys tall, to tens of thousands of people, having the best time.”
Although he did have an ‘oh shit’ moment when it started to blow up on Twitter, Streten looks back on it as being quite freeing. “Ultimately, I think I had a really squeaky clean image and it was kind of liberating to not have that anymore,” he says, adding that it made him feel more relaxed. “I definitely did have an awkward family Christmas dinner that year, though!”
‘Palaces’ is out now on Future Classic/Transgressive Records.