Known for his atmospheric music and ear for tones and textures, Sydney’s FLUME has undoubtedly made a massive impression on the electronic world. The 21-year-old producer trumped One Direction for a #1 spot in Australia with his self-titled (out now via Mom + Pop) even though it’s almost inconceivable that his beat-maker beginnings were found at the bottom of a cereal box with a basic production disc. It’s just this former bedroom artist has used his influences (J Dilla, Flying Lotus) and more than ten years of musical training to find a trademark sound that serves up club bangers that can find a way to lull you into a distant and ambient sleep (see his edit of Rustie’s “Slasherr”).
While in the midst of his North American tour, we hung out with Harley Streten on his tour bus where we discussed the origins of his sound and his transformation into a sought-after producer. We also listened to a few of his hip hop beats-in-the-making and they definitely deserve a guest verse or two from Yeezy (or Captain Murphy at least).
A lot of people have difficulty in putting you in one confined genre. Is being labeled “genreless” a freedom or is it a bit overwhelming?
I actually try to consciously make it so that people can’t pigeon-hole my music. Like, I write all sorts of stuff – whether it’s what I showed you that’s straight hip hop, or “Sleepless” or “Holdin’ On” which is a completely different track. I try not to get pigeon-holed because personally, I get bored writing within one genre. That’s why with the record has differences. I couldn’t write a 12-track album of the same style – I’d get two songs done and be like, fuck, I have no idea what’s left.
Do you ever worry that it won’t be coherent or won’t mesh?
The thing is, no matter what genre, you can usually tell it’s Flume. It’s definitely something I think about, because I don’t want it to be a mixed bag of shit. I like the idea that you never really know what you’re going to get but it’s going to be good and it’s going to sound like Flume. I try to have that by using similar sounds and vocal bending because that’s kind of a signature of mine. Maybe less chipmunk-y stuff (laughs), but definitely vocal bending.
Your music is ambient, with a sense of intimacy that is particularly evoked with the female artists you sample. As you don’t use your own, what attracts you to use the vocals you use?
There’s not much that attracts me to them really, it’s more like that’s all that I’ve got (laughs). A lot of them are just shitty vocal samples found online – I just download huge quantities from sample sites, and usually most of them are really shit house so that’s why I chop them up. If they were good, I’d just let them play. The whole pitch-bending thing came from me getting vocals from artists and thinking, “Yeah it’s really good, but if you hit these notes it’d be better”. I’m not a very good singer, so I’d show artists what I wanted with my voice – which would be bended so it’d sound almost alien – but have the intention they’re going to come back with something similar and done properly.
I’ve read that you play saxophone. Do you have any plans to incorporate that?
Yeah. I’m getting sick of MIDI controllers and shit on stage. I want to play something and the saxophone is my instrument. I played it for like ten years, so I actually know how to play it and it seems like a waste to not use it. I definitely have some ideas for it for the new record. It’s still early days, but I want to use the saxophone on quite a lot of the tracks, whether it’s used as the main focus or in the background. I’m gonna’ bring the sax back (laughs). Also, I don’t have a terrible voice but I don’t have a good voice, so I found this minor auto-tune kind of thing – it’s what James Blake uses – and I’m thinking about trying that out.
“As soon as your music starts getting some recognition people are like,
“All right now. You can come out of your bedroom and we’ll put you in front of hundreds and thousands of people every night”… It’s funny because the reason
I got to this position is because I spent so much time in a dark room by myself at my fucking parents house and now they want me to perform.”
Do you feel pressure to produce similar material for your sophomore album?
There’s pressure to produce radio hit songs, like making another “Holdin’ On” or “HyperParadise”. Everyone wants bangers (laughs). When I get asked to remix a track, people will ask for something like “HyperParadise” or a Disclosure remix, and it’s just like, “Yeah, I guess” (laughs). I guess it’s the “going hard” ones that get played at clubs and have more potential. I mean, EDM is what’s big right now, right? But in terms of keeping the same style and stuff, there’s not that much pressure.
What’s your process like in planning a live set?
Well for the Infinity Prism, I was involved in it, but we hired these dudes Tobey and Pete, and they came up with a bunch of concepts. We kind of went in and told them what we wanted to do – like some sort of iconic thing – and the Prism came about and it we thought it could work as it has visuals for each track. The thing is, the visuals are kind of made up of the prism, the big screen and the lights. Instead of them all being separate, what’s happened is I’ve essentially got the power to use them together. So when I hit one of the tom drums, the whole screen flashes, the lights flash, and the prism flashes all at the same time. If I press a key on the launch pad, you’ll see it come up on the screen. Visually, it does a lot of stuff. It’s all incorporated, so instead of three separate things, it’s all connected.
Do your sets change with each venue?
Umm… a little bit, but it’s rather funny because I’ve got only a little bit of music (laughs). When you’re filling like an hour and fifteen minutes, and you’ve only got like an hour and a half of music, you can’t really change the set that much (laughs). I do change up it up by doing different versions of different tracks. Maybe by the time the second album’s out I’ll have more flexibility, but for now I’m kind of just playing what I’ve got.
What’s it been like going from producing in your bedroom to playing large venues?
Now, it’s fine. But I definitely got dropped in the deep end on that one. As soon as your music starts getting some recognition people are like, “All right now. You can come out of your bedroom and we’ll put you in front of hundreds and thousands of people every night”. Meanwhile, I’m just taken back. It’s funny because the reason I got to this position is because I spent so much time in a dark room by myself at my fucking parents house and now they want me to perform. Where do you get training for that? (Laughs) How do I conduct myself for interviews? Like it was pretty full on at first, but I didn’t want to shy away from it all so I forced myself to get comfortable and it’s paid off.
For a lot of artists, especially bands, the creative or collaborative process is more exhausting than touring itself. Being that you work alone, is it the opposite for you?
Well, I reckon one’s physically draining and the other is mentally draining. Being on a bus is much more human as opposed to catching planes everyday. It’s fine if you eat healthy and don’t drink, but I struggle to maintain a super healthy diet and not drink when you’re in a venue every night with people partying and wanting you to join them.
With the Internet making music extremely accessible, trends and remixes are constantly being released. How important is it to stay updated on what other artists are doing?
It’s important, with Facebook and Soundcloud and stuff. What I do is get my label, Future Classic, to get each person at the office – there’s like six people – to put their five or ten favourite tracks from the last month or two on a USB so I can pick it up every once in a while. I get music through there or through my friends.
I imagine that’s a lot easier than spending the time searching for new music.
Yeah, that’s the thing – I used to have a lot more time to fuck around online, but now it’s like any time I have on the computer is used to focus on making music. Or emails (laughs). I started getting so many emails that I couldn’t focus on music so I was just like, screw this, and stopped replying to everyone. Now I have a bad reputation and nobody emails me, but I do get way more shit done (laughs).
How would you characterize your musical taste?
Well, it’s pretty eclectic. Dance music is essentially my roots – everyone’s kind of got their genre they listen to the most, and I’d say that’s mine. Around 2009 – where everything sort of got bland – I started to look for something new, and that’s when I found the L.A. beats thing, and then for the last however many years, that’s been my thing. Like I listen to Flying Lotus, TOKiMONSTA, even like experimental electronic music like Hudson Mohawke and Rustie. I’m not really listening to heaps at the moment, I’m kind of in a dead zone. I get asked a lot about what I listen to, so let me know if you know anything good because I could use it (laughs).
I listened to new stuff this summer like Yeezus and there were some cool tracks. I loved the HudMo produced stuff, but there was other stuff I would’ve changed. I want to write for him one day (laughs). But other than that, I’m kind of getting a bit bored. When TNGHT came out with that EP, or when Rustie came out with Glass Swords, or when Flying Lotus came out with Cosmogramma, or when Burial came out with his own dubstep stuff… like I’m looking for something like that. Something new. Something fresh. Like a new genre that’s hard to find.