Flume, real name Harley Streten, is the prodigious producer from Sydney who can’t put a beat wrong.
Success has come quickly for the 21-year-old. He began producing as a hobby when he was thirteen years old after finding a music production disc in a box of cereal (Nutrigrain if you were wondering).
After being signed in 2011 and gaining quick fame in his home country, Harley signed to Transgressive records in the UK in 2012. He released his debut self-titled album to widespread critical acclaim. Rolling Stone even proclaimed, “Harley Streten has produced an LP that’s scarily close to perfect.”
He creates music that pushes the boundaries of sound and genre while still maintaining mainstream appeal and it’s easy to forget that Harley is still a young guy. Perhaps it’s this mixture of maturity and youth that helps create his unique perspective. Affable, honest and literally quite hungry (we had to decipher some of his answers through mouthfuls of salad as he spent most of the interview eating his lunch) we think you’ll agree he’s one of the industry’s most forward-thinking young talents.
SO WERE YOU ALWAYS INTERESTED IN MUSIC?
I discovered trance music when I was eight years old. I was really good friends with my nextdoor neighbour and his older brother who had all these Ministry of Sound trance records. It just caught my ear. I would bring blank CDs for him to burn music onto. Then I found Kazaa, remember that? I would just download cheesy happy hardcore stuff and from then on I was always into electronic music – all shapes and forms, just music in general – but that was the first time I was like, “yes.”
WHEN WAS IT THAT YOU SERIOUSLY STARTED MAKING MUSIC?
Honestly it’s always been a hobby. About four years ago I was doing it almost every single day. I left school and had a gap year. In that year I basically played computer games, smoked a lot of weed, didn’t do a whole lot. Then I got a job, just a part time one, it was kind of depressing. So then I was like, “fuck this!” I quit computer games, quit weed and just focused on the music. After about six months of really putting all my energy and time into it every day, already having a bank of skills from it being a hobby, I realised that I needed to do it. Then things started happening. I got signed to Future Classic and they put out the EP and remixes and then the album came out.
SO THERE WASN’T A PLAN B?
No I always knew this was what I wanted to do. I was always super confidant that it would happen, I just didn’t know when or how quickly and it’s definitely happened a lot faster than I ever thought.
WHERE DID ‘FLUME’ COME FROM?
Well I named it after the Bon Iver track but it wasn’t just that. I mean I like the song but what it was really about was that it worked on other levels, like say from a typography perspective. I also like the way it sounds. I figured if I was ever going to get successful that word would be printed on a whole bunch of stuff – posters, t-shirts – so I wanted something that looked and sounded nice and yeah, Flume worked for me.
ONE OF THE THINGS PEOPLE SAY ABOUT YOU IS THE FACT THAT YOU’RE MUSIC IS GENRE-LESS. WAS THAT INTENTIONAL OR DO YOU THINK IT’S JUST A SIGN OF THE TIMES?
I do try hard not to get pigeonholed. My favourite music is forward thinking. Guys like Flying Lotus. When I heard his music and his beats weren’t right on time I was like, “holy shit my drums don’t have to be on time!” I like Hudson Mohawke as well. Don’t get me wrong, I love bands, some of my favourite records have been made by bands, but I love the whole concept of something completely new. Where you go, “what is this music?” So I always try to do something that’s a bit different. Sometimes it’s a bit daunting. I’ll get a new remix for someone and wonder what I’m going to do with it. I can’t just copy what I did for the last one. I feel like it has to be completely weird. I like putting weird names in the SoundCloud. You know when they ask for the genre of the track? I just put in stupid shit like ‘orchestral crunkwave’ – that was what I put for the Disclosure one – or like ‘ghetto disco’, ‘hyperstep’…people seem to like it.
I READ THAT YOU DON’T MIND PEOPLE DOWNLOADING YOUR MUSIC ILLEGALLY? IS THAT STILL TRUE?
If I did I would be the biggest hypocrite. I mean I can see why the old school guys get pissed off about it because they were brought up like that. I was brought up in a world of Napster, Kazaa and BearShare – I had them all. I still do occasionally download illegally, it’s just the way I’ve been brought up. If I really like an artist or an album I’ll buy it – I’ll buy the vinyl, I’ll go see them when they’re in town – that’s all I can really ask of anyone really.
DO YOU THINK THAT THE CURRENT INDUSTRY MODEL STILL NEEDS TO CATCH UP TO TECHNOLOGY?
Things like Spotify are a step in the right direction but again the artists get screwed. For a million plays I get peanuts on Spotify. So it’s the right idea but I think it’s important not to try to fight the system and just roll with it because you’re never going to win. So just take it as it comes and figure out other ways of making money. While music sales have gone down video games developers like EA have made a lot more money over the years so they have bigger budgets. I don’t think music is as profitable as it was, definitely not, but you have to look at the positives. It’s easier to get recognised and get your name out there. There are pros and cons but I’m more than happy for people to illegally download. I’d prefer they get to listen to it, rather than not buying it because they don’t have the cash.
AND I GUESS THAT’S WHERE THE LIVE SHOWS COME IN. IS IT HARDER AS AN ELECTRONIC MUSICIAN TO CONNECT WITH THE AUDIENCE?
Totally, yeah it’s a thing that I’m constantly facing especially because I write a song and then it gets successful and then people want me to perform it. And I’m like, “how the fuck do I play my own song?” It’s got all sorts of different things going on, it’s not simple. It’s not like a band where you write a song and in the process of writing it you learn how to play it. It’s definitely a challenge that has come up a lot. Now that we have some budget we’re bringing over people like Chet Faker and George Mapplethorpe to sing. We’ve also got this thing that we call an infinity prism which is essentially just an expensive optical illusion that trips kids out. You look into it and it goes on forever. It reacts to the music. We’ve made original videos for every single one of the tracks. So yeah that’s kind of how we’ve gone about getting some kind of connection but it is difficult.
AND AS YOU SAY A MASSIVE LEAP FROM YOUR BEDROOM TO PERFORMING IN FRONT OF PEOPLE…
Well again the reason why I’m successful is because I’ve spent hours in my dark room writing music by myself. Once it’s successful you have to go out in front of tens of thousands of people and learn how to play the music and speak to press and the reason I got here is because of the exact opposite. So it takes a bit of getting used to. At first it was a bit overwhelming, not fun. I don’t really like the attention. It’s funny because the people who do get famous are usually the ones who don’t want the attention. Not saying that I’m famous but it’s funny like that.
WHEN YOU’RE TOURING, WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT AUSTRALIA?
The lifestyle when you’re on tour is fucked. Every day you’re constantly in transit from venue to venue. It’s a dirty lifestyle. You never have any sleep and you don’t do any exercise because of the odd hours. It’s really unhealthy. It’s super fun but it wears you down after like a month of touring I can’t wait to go home. Some people like it but my brain just gets a bit overworked meeting new people every day. You just need alone time but you can’t have that on the road. I surf a lot when I’m at home, I live really near to the beach. I miss that and my studio and my dogs. I’ve got two Jack Russels.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT RECENTLY THERE HAS BEEN AN INFLUX OF INDUSTRY-LAUDED AUSTRALIAN MUSICIANS? LIKE CHET FAKER…
Jaguar Mar, Tame Impala…Cut Copy were doing good things, Presets were doing good things. Yeah I don’t know. Coincidence? There hasn’t been a huge underground scene in Australia or anything particular that I can think of. I think the reason why Chet faker is doing so well and why I’m doing so well is because we help each other a lot. It’s a ‘win win’ partnership. I don’t know, it’s just a really good time for Australian music I guess.
IN TERMS OF YOUR FUTURE SOUND, YOU’VE SAID THAT YOU’RE VERY CONSCIOUS OF KEEPING IT UNCONTAMINATED. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THAT?
Well as you can imagine there’s a lot of pressure to write another ‘Paradise’, another ‘Sleepless’. My label and manager are really good about it but there’s pressure to write similar stuff. I’m essentially trying to pretend that I’m in the exact same headspace as when I wrote the first album. If it’s successful that’s great and if it’s not, that’s fine too. To be honest I’m really enjoying this stuff but at the end of the day, I honestly don’t need shitloads of money. If I’m trying to make money I’m in the wrong industry. So I’m just going to do my thing and see what happens.
I KNOW THAT MAKING MUSIC IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING BUT IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO BE KNOWN FOR?
I want to be the dude that all the big acts come to if they want a hook for a track or if they’re stuck on something and they ask me to help them out. I’ve done a little bit of that and I find writing for other people really fun. The Flume thing is great, it’s fun now because I’m 21 and am enjoying being in the spotlight, but I would be quite content being at the back writing for other people. All of those people really enjoy performing whereas it’s just not my cup of tea. I also want to do movie scores. I’d like to score a film in the next few years. Also maybe a TV ad or something. I like the idea of creating music alongside the visual as opposed to having free roam. It’s nice, having those restrictions. So yeah a movie…
WHAT KIND OF MOVIE?
I don’t know, anything that would be good but ultimately something like Kill Bill – that would be so cool.
SO TARANTINO, CALL FLUME.
Please do it!
AND FINALLY, WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?
That corn right there.
[the next part of his lunch has just arrived]
For more information on Flume check out his website