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Flume: “I'm happy to be called EDM... call me whatever you want”

The Australian artist is back with an unapologetic attitude, new tour and a forward thinking perspective

  • Devyn White
  • 29 October 2019

For someone who proclaims over the course of an extended chat with Mixmag that “streaming is king” and ”rap is king”, one could argue that Flume also falls into the king category. A leader of the EDM world, a key figure in opening new frontiers through his live shows and more recently, a magnet of controversy.

At 27-years-old, Harley Streten is continuing to ride the wave of success he’s found himself on over the last five years.

Spearheading the EDM sub-genre of future bass, most know Flume for his popular track, ‘Never Be Like You’ taken from his 2016 Grammy award winning album, ‘Skin.’ With ethereal sparkles of sound, dynamic synth chords, and a softly sweet serenade from Canadian singer Kai, ‘Never Be Like You’ is a shining example of Flume’s ability to take his audience through a journey of emotions. The production landed him in the limelight of music festivals around the world from Bonnaroo to Auckland with DJs from Martin Garrix to Disclosure playing his tracks out. His live shows permeate electrifying energies from Flume himself to the crowd enticed to join him.

Read this next: Setting the scene: how Flume burst out of Australia

‘Hi This is Flume’ reveals his most recent explorations in “computer music”, giving new life to old feelings. The mixtape visualizer for the album is an interesting peek into the Flume psyche. Produced by long-time collaborator Jonathan Zawada, it takes us on a literal trip with Streten, traveling through Western Australia and enacting seemingly mundane tasks with the spin of a psychedelic aesthetic - pouring a fizzy drink in his gas tank, driving around the desert in his technicolour car and hiking to unreal peaks.

However, if you choose to check out Flume live, you’ll have an even more immersive experience. His new and improved live sets present Flume not only producing, but spray painting, breaking shit, and overall, having a good ass time. He continues forging a path of his own, experimenting with sensual sound design and visual aesthetics to come into his full-fledged form as an entertainer. Without a doubt, Flume has earned his place as a commercial electronic music success story.

Undeterred by public opinion Flume - openly speaks about boundary-breaking experimental electronic music, psychedelic-induced visuals and that video with Mixmag.

Mixmag: It’s been three years since you released your Grammy award winning album, ‘Skin.’ How have you grown as an artist since then?

Flume: Well, I have been working away, experimenting - I think that shows in the mixtape. It’s a little different, more on the experimental side. But, as the music is always evolving and changing, I just kind of follow it. Whatever happens, happens. I feel like it’s in a really good place now. I’m just really excited to come to Europe and play for all of you.

M: Do you think your perspective on the industry has changed since you started?

F: Well, the industry has changed a lot. Streaming is king.

M: Did that have any influence on the mixtape, ‘Hi This is Flume’?

F: No, not really. I would like to do a concept record though where the whole point of the record is to just work the algorithm, like every song has to be the perfect algorithmic song. You know, these days the algorithm dictates what does well and what doesn’t. I feel like it would be fun to just completely go with that and do exactly what the algorithm wants just as a fun - to create some boundaries.

M: Right, to see how it actually does?

F: Yeah, it could be interesting. It’s always fun to create I find whenever I have boundaries, then I get more creative.

M: So, then what was your main influence for the mixtape?

F: For the mixtape was… oh god, what was the main influence? I think sound design was kind of king when it came to the mixtape. I have recently gotten really interested in the tones and textures. I was always interested in them, but I think more so really refining them, learning more and I think that reflects in the music.

M: Did that go into the mixtape visualizer? What’s the story behind that and also why that blue robe?

F: Oh, we just thought it looked great. We wanted something that looked casual enough - you know, not too done up. I was like ‘why don’t we just get like a nice silk robe?’ We tie-dyed it. We drove my car around. It was in Western Australia to a whole bunch of places that I actually wanted to visit but had never been to. It was just a really fun little trip and Jonathan did an amazing job with the visuals, so shout out to Jonathan Zawada.

M: Yeah, I noticed he does a lot of your visuals?

F: Yeah, he’s kind of the guy. We started working together first when he did the ‘Skin’ album artwork. Ever since then, we’ve kind of gotten closer and had - we’ve got a very similar - we just work really well together. We’re like let’s do more and more and then we keep going more and more. But, I’m very lucky to have found someone like him to work with, who I can trust with everything.

M: About your new live show - what kind of “real world activities” are being incorporated?

F: I’m doing all sorts of stuff. I’m angle grinding. I’m breaking stuff. I’m spray painting things. I’m jumping around. I’m just having fun. I think what happened to me was I got a bit sick of just playing the same songs, standing there, the same moments. I got sick of seeing electronic music artists just standing in one position the entire show twiddling knobs, pressing buttons. I kind of just thought, how about I just go and be entertaining and have some fun up there. I don’t try and pretend I can play every single element of every single song because these are really complicated pieces of music and if I were to completely play everything live, I’d need 30 or 40 people on stage. So, I was like let’s go the opposite direction, and I’ll make a whole bunch of unique versions of songs and I’ll do a bunch of things on stage and I think it’ll be more entertaining and it’s going to create a completely different show. I think audiences aren’t necessarily expecting it, and it’s totally different. Some people love it, some people hate it. But, I definitely know I have a lot more fun up there, and I think it will be really interesting to bring to Europe because I’ve never done that before there.

M: So, do you feel there’s more room for improv and more freedom in your setup now?

F: Yeah, way more freedom. I feel like I interact with the audience much better now. I feel like it’s much more unique. I was just playing my songs in front of a big TV screen before which was great and I feel like I really got a lot out of. But, I just get bored easily. I need to change things up and test and experiment with stuff. I think I do that in the music, and I think I’m just doing it with the show now as well. Which is just testing the boundaries a little more which is what I do through music. I think I try and always be different and push things and I think now the show is catching up with that which is exciting for me.

M: Other than their remix of ‘Let You Know,’ what made you want to bring Ross From Friends along with you on this tour?

F: Oh, I’m just a huge fan. Huge fan. I love his records. The new music he’s been putting out - the remix. I just think he’s a super talented guy. I’d actually been in contact with him a while back just when he started putting out music and I’ve just always been a massive fan so I’m really - it’s going to be really fun to be able to tour the world with him.

M: How do you stay inspired to come up with new content? I know you were talking about pushing boundaries, so what contributes to your artistry the most today that didn’t before?

F: There’s always new inputs. I think what’s happened now is I’m always battling with the mental space of being creative. It’s a tough, fickle thing to maintain. I think one thing I’ve learned recently is that it’s important to have good inputs to get good outputs which means it’s important to have experiences and to do things outside of music to create good music. I think before my mentality was more - the more hours you put in the studio, the more music you do. And now, I’m kind of like ‘no, that’s not true.’ You’ve got to spend a lot of time outside doing stuff and having experiences and then when you go into the studio, you’ll be more productive. So, that’s got to be my new headspace. It’s a much happier existence.

M: You’ve previously said that you don’t want to be defined or restrained by EDM. If your music were to have a new genre, what would you call it and what other artists would you put in it?

F: I’m happy to be called EDM. I think that was just around when the word first came out. I think it was a bit of a dirty word when it first came out, but it seems like anything electronic these days is labeled EDM. So, call me EDM, call me whatever you want.

M: EDM has changed as you kind of just noted on. So, how did the EDM era influence your career and do you think we’re still in that era now or is the industry heading in a new direction?

F: It seems like rap is king these days. EDM is out, and rap is in. At least in the states, I feel that way.

M: Is it similar in Australia?

F: It’s less rap in Australia. Bands are coming back - a lot of bands. It’s interesting to see the music landscape change. I definitely see less EDM artists on festival lineups, so it’s - at least in the states and Australia - less DJs and things. It’s really fascinating to see how the music landscape changes.

M: What excites you about the future of electronic music around the world?

F: What I love most about electronic music is - let’s back it up for just a second. So, I used to play saxophone. I grew up playing it as a kid, and I played it for like ten years. Then, I discovered you could do music on a computer. I kind of stopped playing saxophone and went straight to the computer because not only do they have the power to create all the parts of the song, but they also have the ability to create sounds that I could never create on the saxophone. Then, the deeper I went, I had more and more sounds and now, as new technology progresses, you’re literally able to make new sounds that have never existed in the history of mankind before. For me, the most exciting frontier in music in general is on a computer just because you can create literal new sounds that have never, ever existed. I think electronic music gets to enjoy that about it. So, that’s for me, the most exciting part of electronic music.

M: You have obviously achieved a lot of success. What’s your next goal as Flume?

F: My next goal is to put out music with more consistency. I just want to put music out more regularly, and I want to try and create a better balance in life where I can work and chill rather than just all on, all off. I just want to be more present, more in the limelight more regularly and putting out music and just connecting with fans.

M: To finish off the interview, I have to ask about the viral video from Burning Man. What was it like going viral for something like that and what was it like for you to address it head on with such grace?

F: It was kind of crazy. I didn’t expect it to go viral honestly. But, I woke up one morning to thousands of tweets and chaos. At first, I was kind of stressed out about it because I don’t know. I looked at a graph actually and it was the analytics of Google. The first record and it had a little spike on the graph. The second record, a little slightly higher. The mixtape, a little spike. Then, the eating ass at Burning Man and it was just like to the top of the graph. So, it’s the most Googled I’ve ever been, and it was about none of the music. But, I think it was funny. It’s definitely the most press I’ve ever gotten. It’s fine, I don't mind. I think it’s hilarious.

Read this next: Get the best of Mixmag direct to your Facebook DMs

[Photo credit: Zachary Chick]

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