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Digital Cover Story, July 2016
Writen by GONZALO OYA / DIRK DIGGLER
Photography by CYBELE MALINOWSKI

Flume had an innocent face, like he would not hurt a fly, when his name burst into the scene like a breath of fresh air in 2012. Flume (a.k.a. Harley Edward Streten) was a twenty year old from Sydney, with an overwhelming and unique sonic personality, capable of making his debut album with Future Classic double platinum in his native Australia. Suddenly, public and critics alike praised and embraced this producer as one of the major talents of international electronica.

 

Some years later, we have had the chance to speak to him when visiting the spanish capital. He is in Madrid to perform at Mad Cool Fest as part of his new world tour. He’ll be busy all summer touring between Canada, New Zealand, Australia and US. We meet with him backstage to talk about his latest release, Skin (Future Classic). When we first see him, his appearance catches our attention; his eyes transmit the same feeling of those of that kid who started his career four years ago, even though success and excess have changed him a lot, like he confesses. I think that sudden success earlier in my career made my ego grow a little bit. It was a very turbulent time, my first taste of success and all that… Now I feel that I have figured it out, after being up and down so many times. I treat it more like a job rather than a constant party. The biggest difference is that I feel like an adult now…”

But the truth is, between his debut and Skin, a long time has passed. It is something unusual in this day and age for an artist to take that much time to come back, specially after a first record like his. But when you are 20 years old and you have massive success overnight, it may be inevitable to trip over certain stones. “When I recorded my first album I wasn’t quite as busy. I was working part time and music was just a fun thing I did on the side. When I recorded the second one, I was constantly playing at festivals all over the world, trying to get an audience and building the brand Flume; that takes up a lot of time and energy, you party as well, then you are hungover, you go from hotel to hotel, from airport to airport… At the end, you don’t do music. It’s all really fun but not very productive.” In his case, all of that tought him a lesson to start a fruitful change of direction. “It got to a point I realized I hadn’t written anything new in almost two years; I had been having fun but I hadn’t new music to show for it and all that kind of freaked me out. I had to take some time and started writing, I felt some pressure because the first one had some success; my fans had expectations and I put expectations on myself as well.  Now, everything has to be a certain benchmark, while before I did whatever… It took a little while because of all those things but I’m glad I took my time; I could’ve put something out earlier but I don’t think the outcome would’ve been the same.”

“THE STATE OF SOUNDCLOUD RIGHT NOW IS UNFORTUNATE. MAJOR LABELS ARE CRACKING DOWN AND I THINK THAT GOES AGAINST ITS NATURE. IT’S A GREAT PLACE FOR MUSIC, I OWE IT A LOT”

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At this point in our conversation, it becomes easy to start talking about Skin, his latest project. It is an album that will surely surprise his longtime fans, but also has the potential to take his work to a more neutral audience, not even related to electronica. We tell him about the strong presence of vocals on the album and also about the pop sensibilities the record has, and it seems we have hit the target this time around. “You’re right, it’s definitely more pop (…) I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could write actual songs, not just beats. It’s been really cool to try that and now that I have experimented with it a bit I feel like I’m more excited about tracks again. This project is crossing over and now my music is played in mainstream radio stations, specially in America. It’s a totally new area for me.”

 

Even though he talks about radio, Flume seems to think the internet and live performances are the best ways to make an artist like him grow. “For me, I think the internet is the best place to promote my music. Streaming services have a lot of influence these days but radio is still relevant; you need to play the game a little bit but I try not to think about it too much. I just make what I make and whatever happens, happens; I feel very fortunate that this record’s been received as well as it has been received. I put my heart and soul into this thing after years of stressing about it; I finally have the chance to be playing it live and having a positive reaction is really cool.”

 

“I prefer female vocals for my melodies. To me, they sit better in my productions because their frequencies are higher”

FLUME

Besides those pop elements, it also catches our attention to see a certain rapper on the tracklist, somebody you would not expect to be invited to join this party. “I think my music translates well to rappers. I’ve done a lot of things with a hip-hop influence, so it was natural for me to start working with MCs. I have always done a lot of instrumental stuff so I figured it would be fun to get some rappers involved. Also, I’ve had access to a lot of people that I didn’t have access before; I’ve worked with people I’m a big fan of.”

 

So, if you expected Young Thug to be rapping over his beats you may be surprised to listen to a veteran like Raekwon in “You Know”. “It was a surprise to me as well. I wanted to make something that sounded cinematic and hip-hop at the same time. I did things with Allan Kingdom and I thought of doing more things with MCs. My manager was on the hunt and Raekwon popped up; and I was like… I’d love to collaborate with him, I’m not gonna turn that down! He absolutely killed it so I couldn’t be happier with the final result.” But if we speak about collabos, there is no doubt that “Tiny Cities” featuring Beck (the last track on the album) has caught everybody’s attention. Flume told us how Beck’s appearance on the record came about. “We linked up in LA and exchanged some ideas. I went over to his house and brought my laptop over; I played him some demos and he just sang into the mic. I recorded everything he did and chopped it up later. That’s how the song started.”

 

Who knows, maybe choosing MCs like Raekwon or Vic Mensa and make them coexist with someone like Beck is another way to be different from the rest. From his first EP (Lockjaw), it seems sounding unique and being different are his main obsessions. His eyes light up in satisfaction when we tell him he has done it again with Skin. “I reference other songs but I try to isolate myself a little bit because I don’t wanna be influenced by particular sounds. To me, the most important thing in music is having your own sonic identity. It was kind of difficult because after the first album came out some people got a lot of influence from my sound (smiles), or copied me, really. When anything is succesful, people jump on the bandwagon so it was a little difficult: I couldn’t do the same thing again because I’d sound like everyone else then. I experimented a little more and I’m glad that you think that this project has his own thing because for me it’s very important to have a sonic fingerprint. And I think people appreciate that too; even if your music is not the most amazing music, if it sounds different than anything else out there, it picks people’s ears.”

“THERE IS A LOT OF EDM OUT THERE AND I’M NOT A FAN OF ALL OF IT. IN AMERICA THEY CALL ME EDM, SO… IT SEEMS LIKE IT IS THIS BIG UMBRELLA WITH EVERYTHING UNDER IT. I’M CURIOUS TO SEE WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN TO IT, BUT TO ME IT’S JUST ELECTRONIC MUSIC”

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He does not care at all about his music being labeled in any way, specially when some media try to put him in the EDM ‘box’. But it is kind of curious that, if you ask him, he says his music has nothing to do with dance music. “It doesn’t bother me. I have never considered Flume as dance music, because to me dance music is based on 4 to the floor kick drums, like house, techno, and I don’t think my music is like that. But people dance to it and it’s great; if they wouldn’t my shows wouldn’t be so much fun.”

 

Remixes are also among his specialties. After reinterpreting works by Arcade Fire, Lorde or Sam Smith, we can’t help but ask him about his favorite remix up until now. The australian producer does not hesitate for a second to pick it. “The remix for a song called ‘HyperParadise’ by australian duo Hermitude. It is my favorite because it has this intense energy, and I feel like it’s hard to make a song that has that much energy and melody at the same time. I think I managed to capture both: the melodic and the powerful sides, while keeping it interesting.”  

 

We finish our conversation talking about the future, and the only thing that seems clear to him is that it won’t take that long to hear from him again. “I have no idea how the new stuff is going to sound like. I only know I’m going to keep writing, I don’t want what happened last time to happen again. I plan to have music out there soon and we’ll see what happens. I just want to do some more collaborations with other producers because I’ve done a lot of vocal collaborations up until now. With this album I wanted to cross over and I feel I’ve done it retaining what Flume is all about; there are some pop moments but also darker moments. I think an artist can and must do it all: pop songs, experimental or ambience music…”

 

‘SKIN’ (Future Classic) is now available in stores and digital platforms. Pick up your copy at iTunes / Amazon / Spotify / Tidal / Deezer