It’s been a couple of years since Aussie electro beatmaker Harley Streten aka Flume burst onto the scene. One could go as far as to say that Flume is probably the best thing to have happened to electronic music. At the beginning of the 2010s, who would have imagined an artist from an upcoming label (Future Classic) to become an world-famous electronic music act? In the meanders of the EDM bubble, it was difficult to envisage an original sounding artist defying established standards. But, make no mistake, when the music is good, success generally follows. And Flume’s music is a good real-life representation of this causal relationship. An unconventional approach to mixing, an unprecedented blending of musical genres. Well-researched and unique samples convincingly transformed his electronic music in this organic, soulful and humanized sound we were longing for. Let’s have a closer look at how Flume got to where he is (listen to his latest mixtape “Hi This Is Flume”), and how he plans to continue defying genres and sound!
Early influences: Cereal box software, saxophone & artistic upbringing
Upbringing & Early Exposure
Flume grew up somewhere in Sidney’s northern suburbs. While he was surrounded by coastlines and surfers, Flume was also surrounded by all types of music. This early exposure gave him the versatility to approach music through a variety of lenses. In a few interviews, Streten cites influences as diverse as Moby, Deep forest, Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” or even “Doctor Jones”. What he also recalls are some African samples. Influences he renders homage to in some of his debut album tracks ( i.e: “A Baru in New York” or “More Than You Thought”)
Flume’s upbringing also coalesced with the rise of 1990s trance music (which he gives credit to until this very day) or Daft Punk’s Homework. When you add to that the story that was relayed by numerous media about a gimmicky cereal music program (Nutri-Grain to be exact), which corresponded to Flume’s first steps in producing electronic music, and his mastering of saxophone throughout school you realize that his success was correlated with a logical sequence of events.
Everything wasn’t easy
As with any musical career or lifetime project, Flume’s path to recognition wasn’t as straightforward as you would think. Some of the artist’s earlier project date from 2009-2011, under the alias “HEDS” and were far from Flume’s contemporary sound. Paired with that was an early adulthood struggle to decide what he wanted to do with his life. After having worked at a variety of part-time jobs – amongst which being bartender at Hard Rock café-, but never abandoning the music creation process, Streten realized he had to make a consequential choice. Seeing himself offered the path of academic studies by his parents, Flume made the decision to pursue his dreams instead.
Before heading to work, he would check his Soundcloud every morning to see how many people had listened to his songs. Things got real for him when the play count reached 10,000 and even received a fan letter from Poland. What follows is a series of fortunate events and encounters. Intelligently using Soundcloud (which he willingly attributes his success too) and Reddit forums, Streten met the right people in a couple of months. A remix contest (for which he arrived third) organized by his future label, future classic, made him eventually meet his management team. The stars were aligned.
When Flume signed on Future Classic he released a couple of singles. “Paper Thin” was one of his earliest tracks, already containing an addictive recipe.
Willingness to experiment
Coupled with that was his relentless desire to discover new sounds. When starting out Flume wasn’t writing the music he is writing now. He used to create cheesy, 140 beats per minute euro-trance tracks. From these experiences, he moved on to produce a variety of genres. Everything from “pop music, crazy orchestral pieces with no drums, really experimental stuff, R&B, indie, disco” was analyzed and broken down by him. His love of numerous genres combined with his desire to comprehend the ins and outs of each one of them gave him a deep understanding of how musical genres work. As listeners, up to this day, we can definitely hear the translation of some of his initial efforts to develop a diverse sound.
A Defining Self-Titled Debut
“Scarily close to perfect”
Flume’s first statement came at the end of 2012. A record we all remember as being revolutionary for the electronic music scene. Rolling Stone magazine went as far as describing Flume’s self-titled debut album as “scarily close to perfect”. The album itself went platinum less than five weeks after its release. Nonetheless, what you probably ignore as a reader about this album is the back and forth which ultimately resulted in these Flume Songs. Traveling to all sorts of places to get inspiration – Flume’s “Sintra” track is named after a city in Portugal from where Streten composed the original chords -, the learning curve to reach professionalism was also steepened by a supportive and competent team. In the end, the album was a success and was even expanded into a deluxe edition which comprised revisited versions of the original tracks with a variety of hip-hop and rap artists being featured such as Intro that featured Stalley.
Flume’s debut was diverse in sound, peculiar in samples, but mostly organic in its musicality. Even though energetic synths made their appearances on tracks such as “Sintra”, “Holdin’ On” or “More Than You Thought”, these were always paired with a vocal chop or some quirky sample that humanized the track, giving it a more soulful character. Arrangement-wise Flume’s eponymous album was stellar too, with most tracks building upon and developing an initially genius idea – be it an introductory synth, vocal or percussion sample- incorporating forward-looking song structure, intricately binding each sonic element to create a world of its own.
The Flume Sound: Bridging Hip-Hop & Electronic Music
“Flume” also established Streten’s unique sound signature, Flumestep. A chill sound often symbolized by mellow, yet powerfully emotional melodies such as the hazy vocals in “Warm Thoughts” or the pitch-modulated synths in “Ezra”, obliterating any preconceived notions of what electronic music is supposed to be. Because as Streten stated in an interview, his sound was initially meant for the daydreaming bus traveler, even though it ultimately ended up being played for the most hyped up festival crowds.
Nonetheless, what boggles us even today is how Streten manages to deliver hooking melodies with every track he produces. To find an explanation to the artist’s seemingly unlimited creativity, one has to understand Flume’s very peculiar view on creation, “never writing unless feeling inspired” and starting each creative project with a solid foundation, either a chord progression or a drumbeat. Another important part of the process is to get his ideas out quickly, confessing that the quickest projects often happen to be the best.
Notwithstanding, even though Flume’s sound is undeniably unique, one can’t refute the hip-hop influences in his beats. In fact, Streten doesn’t shy away from the fact that he has been inspired by the likes of Flying Lotus and Shlohmo, who he credits for having very particular techniques, unique sounds and “forward thinking-ness”. However, even if influences play a role in Flume’s creative process, he has mostly been experimenting, listening to great artists but also incorporating his own techniques, willingly using sounds (distorted crackles, horse neighs or water burbles) that have rarely -if ever- been used before. To explain why he found the success he did Streten refers to the “weird song structures, where you can always find catchy melodies”.
Post 2012 | Finding A New Niche
After making his mark on the electronic music world, Streten would organize a tour with concerts all around the world and attend the biggest music festivals while working on side projects. Nonetheless, this period didn’t correspond to a draught of new content for his listeners. In fact, quite the opposite happened when he kept his fans tuned with a remix of Disclosure’s epic “You and Me”, his revisited version of Rustie’s “Slasherr” or his re-work of Seekae’s “Test and Recognize”. For remixes, Flume would never touch a track which he felt like he couldn’t improve. This probably also explains why most of his remixes shined through.
2013 was also the year when Streten sat down in the studio with another Australian high-profile artist, Chet Faker, to wrap up the “Lockjaw EP”, a short EP which sublimed the soulful musical strengths of both artists. This collaboration produced “Drop the Game” which remains up to this day, one of Flume’s most recognized songs.
However, it is 2014 that constituted a milestone year for Flume. His remix of Lorde’s “Tennis Courts” hinted at the popularization of the so-called “Flume drop”, which a considerable amount of producers (The Chainsmokers, DJ Snake and Zedd) in the following years took inspiration from. If Flume remained overall associated with the future bass wave, he always strived at keeping his tracks unique and more original than what was already out there. In that regard, the remix of Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down”, that of the Collarbones’ Turning, and Flume’s solo 2015 “Some Minds” project featuring vocalist Andrew Wyatt, all emphasized this desire to remain different. His (peaceful) split with What So Not’s Emoh Instead further symbolized his will to work on personal projects more intensely. With no other EP’s or albums released between 2012 and 2016, it was clear that a new album was on the way.
Skin, recognition and international fame
In January 2016 the wait was over for Flume fans. In a short preview of less than 5 minutes, Streten showed what he was up to; well-thought-out music production. “Never Be Like You”, the first single of Flume’s sophomore album Skin proved to be a global success, conquering not only Australian charts but also madly played on international radios. In Skin Flume took his sound further, collaborating with singer Kučka and Californian rapper Vince Staples on “Smoke & Retribution”; an experimental hip-hop track which would satisfy long-time listeners, but also with the likes of pop act Tove Lo on the intense “Say it”, Little Dragon on the harmonious “Take a Chance” or with established rock act, Beck, on the album’s melancholic finale “Tiny Cities”.
Flume’s successful “You & Me” remix was subject to numerous copying attempts.
Essentially, with this new LP, Flume retained some of his original hallmarks (addictive melodies, whirling beats) while venturing on new grounds in terms of sound design, delivering an overall grittier sound. Once again, the album was well received, nominated for a Grammy (which it would eventually win) in the category of Best Dance/ Electronic album and set itself apart from Streten’s initial discography. Without a doubt, Skin was slightly more pop-oriented, which probably justified its success in the charts. Nonetheless, songs like, “Helix”, “3”, “Free” or “Wall Fuck”, proved that Streten hadn’t forgotten about his underground fans from the early days. To a great extent, experimentalism is also what made this album possible, and according to Flume, the biggest question when addressing the question of a new EP was to set himself apart from his envious colleagues. While people ripping off his sound affected him, he was wondering: “Fuck, what I do now?”.
An overwhelming tone-setting opening track.
Another challenge that was encountered by Flume when writing his sophomore album was the expectation that was put on him. Fear of not delivering what the audience longed for made the Aussie producer experience periods of writer’s block, knowing that he had to “make music at a certain level”. When faced with these moments of discouragement, Streten would jump on a plane, and go to some remote location in order to revive creative juices. “Free” was a product of these escapades, for which Streten went to Tasmania on his own.
A highly emotional track that symbolizes really well the struggles Flume went through in his creative process.
What The Future Holds For Flume
When reflecting on his career up to now, Flume astonishingly states: “for me, I’m not really a performer”. In the end, preferring being in the background whilst producing stellar tracks is only logical and probably every producer’s dream. However, the fact that Flume’s music is so good makes it complicated for him to go by unnoticed. Even though the artists’ retreat after the release of his Grammy-winning album made us wonder what was next for him, two lush EP’s both released in 2017 (successively named Skin Companion I & II), a noble flumesque collaboration with Greenpeace and features in some advertisements quickly followed up.
At the end of 2017, through his youtube channel several (8 to be precise) “Road to” cinematic teaser videos were revealed. All of these took place somewhere in urban Asia and each one was named after a South-East Asian hub. Through them Flume exposed possible excerpts of his future EP’s or Albums. In any case, these brief snippets gave us the impression that Streten is working on unprecedented soundscapes and sound design, which are all very different in the emotions they convey.
Since then Streten has released another well thought mixtape, “Hi This Is Flume” which has even been nominated for a grammy award. This mixtape includes collaborations with JPEGMAFIA, Slowthai, SOPHIE & Kučka.
Skin Companion EP1
Skin Companion EP2
The short snippets uploaded through Flume’s youtube account last year makes us excited about what’s to come.
Without a doubt, Flume’s career up to now shows us several things. Drive, persistence, and passion, especially when combined, always end up producing success. From his early introduction to electronic music to his drive to achieve what he always wanted, to his later capitalization on former success, you can tell that Flume is no “one trick pony”. Many artists would dream to be in his position, but many of those would also not be willing to make the same sacrifices.
What’s striking in Flume’s example is this new generation of music producers, who go from jamming in their bedrooms to performing in front of gigantic crowds. A common happening in our times? Streten’s story and that of other successful producers will surely pave the way (if it already hasn’t) for a new wave of music producers who will want to take music production and electronic music even further or surely in a different direction than the Australian prodigy’s hazy beats. In a recent interview, Harley Streten declared that “there’s never been a better time for music”. We agree, especially if Flume continues to transcend our conception of electronic music, just like he did on his latest “Hi This Is Flume” Mixtape.
The Gear Flume Uses
Flume’s collection of gear is always growing as the producer enjoys making new additions to his existing setup. Nonetheless, here is a website compiling the music production tools which the artist has either shared on social media or that we know for a fact are used by him. This can be useful if you’re a music producer, or a hobbyist but also interesting to see what kind of gear was used by him to create his stellar music. However, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the person and not the tool.
Flume gear essentials
1. Dave Smith Instruments Mopho x4 Synthesizer Keyboard
2. Roland Juno-106
3. Teenage Engineering OP-1
1. Lennar Digital Sylenth 1
2. Sugarbytes Turnado Action Multi FX VST
3. Sonic Charge Synplant
1. Focal Spirit Professional Studio Headphones
2. Sennheiser HD 600 Headphones
3. Sennheiser HD 650 Headphones
1. Barefoot Sound MicroMain27 Gen2
2. Event Opal Studio Monitor
3. KRK VXT6 & VXT8 Active Studio Monitors