Harley Streten is only 24-years-old, but under the moniker Flume, he headlines the world's most iconic music festivals all year round. "My life is a calendar," Streten tells me. Given his day (and night) job, you would expect Streten to come into an interview with an ego the size of the stadiums that he performs in. Instead, the guy who strolls into the room is super laid-back and chill. When he sits down at the table across from me, he quietly nibbles on almonds and strawberries as he thinks over his responses to my questions. He likes to take his time—after all, he is an Aussie.
Contrary to what you might have been led to believe, Streten is a huge nerd. He professes this revelation within the first few minutes of our meeting, going on about how he and his friends usually catch up over beer and video games whenever he's back in his hometown of Sydney. This might explain why his younger sister isn't particularly phased by his high-profile profession. "She hates when people find out," he says. "Like, 'Oh my god, Flume’s sister!' She doesn’t tell anyone." He laughs, then raises his eyebrows. "But she definitely gets the perks, though."
Today, the producer released his long-awaited sophomore album Skin. As the follow-up to his 2012 self-titled debut, it serves as a testimony to his growth as a musical artist. Between the production, instrumentation, and vocals, there is so much going on with the noise on these 16 tracks. This isn't the same Flume we're used to hearing—Streten is in a different state of mind now than he was four years ago, he even grew out a mustache. (At the time, he said he might shave it off when the album drops, though, so double-check his Instagram page to confirm.) This is what the future sounds like, and we never want to go back.
We sat down with Flume a few days before his world headlining tour kicked off to learn more about what makes him tick. While you read the conversation in the corresponding pages, stream the entire album via Spotify or download it on iTunes.
What was it like growing up in Australia?
I grew up in Sydney on the beaches, a really nice place to grow up. We’d go surfing all the time, and I still do this when I can. That’s probably the thing I miss most about touring. I basically lived there my entire life. There wasn’t a fantastic music scene. I always sourced my music online. When Napster was around, I was on it quite young. I was just filling my brain with music, a lot of bad music as well. I was always into music, and then I discovered music production and then things started. It was kind of just a hobby. So I was doing that for a while, and it eventually became a career.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
I feel quite lucky because I kind of always knew what I wanted to do from a really young age. I was always into music. I played saxophone in a school band and it was okay. I didn’t really like it that much, but I liked the ability to be able to create and jam and improvise. A lot of that was doing grades and very technical stuff, not so creative. So I think when I discovered music production, and that I could do it all—I could have all these big ideas and put them out into the world—it was very liberating for me. It was exciting, and it was a way for me to express my creativity.
Did you teach yourself how to do everything production wise?
Yeah. I had a good understanding of music before I got into it. I knew how to read manuscripts, I understood how music worked, and scales and all of that. So that was a big advantage, but everything I did myself. I just went online and did tutorials. When I was about 14, this guy, who I guess you can say is like my mentor, he discovered me on MySpace and was 10 years older. He had his own studio and he was like, "Yeah, come around. I’ll show you some things and I'll show you how to do music. We’ll do some music together."
I went over to his place and he taught me about this program called Ableton Live, which I didn’t know about really. I was on the FL Studio. That was cool and it was really good, but Ableton was just a lot better. He kind of pushed me to try and get onto that, and he taught me the ropes. So that was amazing—having someone to teach you rather than just going online and doing tutorials is a lot better.
I'm glad he didn’t turn out to be creepy or abduct you or something.
Yeah, right? When I tell that story, it doesn’t seem weird to me when I think about it, but I’m like, "It could have gone…" It’s kind of weird. Like this way older dude saying, "Come to my dark studio." [Laughs] But yeah, when I first got into high school, I was like "I know what I want to do. I want to play music, and DJ, and produce music."
Photographed by Ricky Michiels
Well, I think I was just finding my feet a couple of years ago. I think with this record I really pushed it a lot. I pushed it in a more pop direction. I’ve also pushed it in a more experimental direction with some of the songs on the record. Like one of the songs on there is like an ambient song with no drums. Another song, "Wall Fuck" is really abrasive. Then there’s the first track on the record, [that's] like a fucking festival banger. And then there’s like these pop ballads. It’s just a much more broader spectrum, in that sense, rather than the first one which had a very definitive sound, but it was kept to the same beat. This one is hard to listen to at times. It’s not the kind of record that you put on at a dinner party.
The visuals are also really gorgeous for this album. How did you decide on that artwork?
I made them... No, I didn't. [Laughs]
I worked with Jonathan Zawada
, he's an amazing artist. He’s my favorite. I was so happy he was up for working on the project. He’s done all the flowers, and he’s worked with me on all the live visuals as well, so it’s basically like the show is a huge journey into what I exhibit. I couldn’t have dreamed of anything better.
At first I was like, "Hmm, he must really like plants..."
Well, my mom’s a horticulturist so I’ve always been really into that. When she was studying to be horticulturist, I was really young and she’d always have scientific botanical drawings around, and I’d just always loved the way they looked. When we were doing the album, we were like, "What are we gonna use?" And I was like, "Oh, I’d love to somehow incorporate plants and organic because the music to me is really organic, but it’s also really abrasive and electronic." I wanted to combine synthetic and organic. I feel like with a foxtail flower, it’s got the pods that are chrome... It's that balance.
Photographed by Ricky Michiels
How did you go about choosing which artists to collaborate with for this album?
It’s all different. With like Little Dragon, I was just a massive fan, always wanted to work with Yukimi [Nagano], and got the opportunity on this record. With Aluna[George], I really liked their first record a lot. I thought she had this crazy ability for pop. She’s insanely catchy and her vocals are quite alien. It fits nicely on the kind of music I’m doing. With Vince Staples, again, I was just a fan of his record.
I feel like a lot of DJs and producers have their own signature dance moves. Do you have one yet?
The Tiesto. I'm just trying to steal all the trance DJs' moves.
Do you have a uniform that you wear yet?
I’m actually starting to have a uniform. I’m starting to care about what I wear more. I used to not so much, and now I'm like, "Alright I want to dress nice." When you’re on tour, as a guy, it’s hard. You're like, "I’m going to be practical about it. I’m just going to wear black and bring one suitcase." Now I’ve got two suitcases and I’m like, "Alright, I’m going to wear nice clothes." There’s this brand called Stone Island, which I’m really into, and they do lots of really nice suedes and stuff. I never had a stylist, but now I've actually got one so whenever I have a shoot, he knows what I like. We talk a lot. I get heaps of Kenzo, Acne, Opening Ceremony... All the good ones. [Laughs]
You perform at festivals all the time, and I know you’re getting ready to do your big world tour. How do you prep yourself for those bigger productions?
Well, I mentally prep myself by seeing as many friends and family as possible. And then I let them give me lots of shit and ruin my ego because when I go out on tour, my ego grows. [Laughs]
I feel like all of your songs are bangers, so how do you know when they're done?
Pretty much none of my songs are actually done. Most of them aren’t done in my mind. I just have to remember to let them go. It’s just something you learn over the years, you've just got to let go at a certain point. On a lot of songs, there are a lot of little things that I’m still like, "Cool, dope. You know all the finals printed out, but you know, it would’ve been cool if I just tweaked that snare drum on that track." But you can’t let that stuff get to you.
Photographed by Ricky Michiels
When you’re not in the studio, on stage or traveling, what do you do in your downtime?
When I’m at home, I hang out with friends. I go surfing. I try to get music done, you know? I don’t really do downtime. It’s either touring or working on music. I mean, working on music is fun, but it’s not always fun. Sometimes it’s stressful. I just try and see as much of friends and family as possible because it’s not possible for most of the year.
I also play a lot of video games. I’m actually a massive nerd. I have two bedrooms in my apartment. One I sleep in—I live by myself—but the other one I was going to set up as a studio, but I set it up at as this Internet cafe instead. So there are four PCs and we just go over, have beers, eat bad food, and play video games. That's it.
In another interview, you mentioned that you like Sex and the City... Can you tell me how you got into it?
Probably when my sister was just watching it, she was really into it. When I was back at home with my mom, I’d always walk past the TV and be like, "Oh, yeah" and sit down. I'd always just kind of get trapped and watch it. It’s really addicting.
Which one do you think you are? Are you a Carrie? A Samantha? A Charlotte? A Miranda? A Combination?
Oh god! What baffles me is that bald dude…
The one that's married to Charlotte?
Yeah. He’s really pungent... [Laughs] He’s my hero.
Photographed by Ricky Michiels