Nine Songs: Flume
Retreating back to Australia as the pandemic hit, Flume - aka Harley Streten - had a lot of time to think.
He spent most of lockdown in the countryside surrounded by nothing but macadamia farms. Stepping back into the real world to put the finishing touches on his new record, we catch up over Zoom and his morning coffee from his base in LA.
“I didn't have commitments and my life got really simple or the first time in 10 years,” Streten explains, “I've been on this bullet train going faster and faster, this gave me the space to sit back, and that's when the whole record really came together.”
Piecing together ideas from drafts that had been sitting on his hard drive while also conjuring up new things, it was a time where Streten could actually finish things, “and it was because I was in my palace,” he adds. “I felt like I was in a palace, like my sanctuary is this place in Australia, and that’s why the record is called Palaces.”
When we speak his latest single "Sirens" with Caroline Polachek is on the cusp of dropping, and his collaboration "Say Nothing" with fellow Australian artist MAY-A is the only track the world had heard. “There’s so much different stuff on there, from heavy bass sounds to more pop stuff and the Caroline track is epic and ethereal,” he reveals.
He also hadn’t played his much-talked-about Coachella set either, where he brought out guests like Toro Y Moi and Damon Albarn who guests on the album’s impressive title track. Describing Albarn “as one of his idols,” he says “[Blur and Gorillaz] have been so influential for me, and getting in the studio with him was a big moment for me.”
“I proceeded to play him a bunch of ideas, and he just didn't really seem to be into anything,” Streten reveals “I was like, ‘Shout out if you’re into any of these ideas.’ I kept playing ideas, and he just wasn't responding. I was on the second last one, it was just a sketch thing I had and he perked up and said ‘This is the one, let’s work on this.’”
Over three years since his last project the Hi This Is Flume mixtape, Streten emphasises that “good art takes time” explaining that despite it being “what the algorithm wants – I don't make enough good music to release something I'm really, truly happy with every year.”
Sharing the music of his previous collaborators as part of Nine Songs selections, as well as some of his long-standing favourite songs and those which have inspired the Flume project in unimaginable ways, Streten explains “I haven't thought about some of these songs in quite a long time, so doing this and being forced to pick just nine songs has brought me back and reminded me of some amazing stuff.”
Flume: "This is such a huge track. The Fat Of The Land was a really influential record for me. I think the Prodigy have influenced a lot of people and this was a big one for me.
"I'd just never heard music quiet like it. The way that it incorporated these really great melodies into this, I don't even know what you call it, like a breakbeat world. Maybe Fatboy Slim would fall into that world too?
"I remember I saw the film clip with all the drugs and stuff, that's when I was like 'whoa.' It felt quite R-rated and I hadn't seen anything quite like that. This is the song that got me on this whole Prodigy tip and I went through their discography."
BEST FIT: Is this something you'd drop in a Flume DJ set?
"Hell yeah! It's a certified banger."
"This isn't even two minutes long, it came out in the mid '80s, but the lyric is 'true love will find you in the end' and I think that's been influential to me, less so musically, but just in terms of life. I've always been going through different relationships and I think that particular lyric is such a beautiful one, that's just stuck with me and given me a real nice sense of comfort.
"Honestly, I came to the party quite late. I didn't really know about him until a few years ago, but it's been one of those songs that just really stuck with me.
"I tried to think of music that hasn't just influenced me from a music making point, because most of the tracks I put up are ones that influenced the music [I make] and this one is like a philosophy, it's a way of thinking that has actually opened up the way I think about life on a deeper level.
"He's not a particularly amazing singer, the vocal is kind of out of key and the recording's kind of shitty and lo-fi, but this is a song that's definitely influenced my life.
"I stumbled across this one somehow. I was on a blog, I think, and I hadn't heard about Flying Lotus before. I had never heard anything like that kind of insanity of the beat and the how the rhythm over compressed and smashed and how it just fucking hit hard. It felt well musically written, but it hit like something that would be played in a club.
"I got into J Dilla and stumbled across some of this stuff at that time too. I was getting into that and then hearing this track blew me away. It's just how,things didn't need to be in time. There's a lot of loose ends and having stuff not on the grid. I think that was one of those moments where I was like, 'Wow, music doesn't have to be on the grid.'
"When when you're doing music on a computer, it's easy to be on the grid, because there's always a fucking grid in front of you. When you don't and you're just playing music, with friends, or jamming, you're not on a grid, because you don't think about it, because it's not in front of you. And it's human. And that's what brings your soul and life into music.
"That reminded me electronic music doesn't have to feel so rigid. And sometimes it can feel quite cold, but it doesn't have to. At the time, I was making mostly club stuff and [after hearing this track] decided I wanted to start a side project. This Flume thing. So I started this side project, that was not so grid-like and here we are."
Would you say Flying Lotus is the reason Flume exists?
"Yeah. I was listening to "BTSTU" by Jai Paul and Toro Y Moi's "Talamak" and it was around this time, when I discovered these artists, that I realised this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to do a project that had all of these elements, things that aren't for the club, things that you can just listen to on your phones or whatever."
"Again, this was one of the pivotal songs that made me want to make a project that sounded like this. It was one of the songs and ideas that aesthetically I hadn't heard anything that sounded like it. Hearing how he used sidechain compression in it. Just with the kicks and the snares, I mean it's so commonplace now, but at the time, Daft Punk did it but there wasn't much music that was heavily sidechain with that ducking effect.
You worked with Chaz (Toro Y Moi) on your single "The Difference", how was that experience for you? Working with someone who pushed you into this other side of music.
"It was really cool. We just instantly hit it off. You never know, with different artists, what they are like and if you're going to get on well together. I've always wanted to work with him and he was in LA and I was here and he just came over to my house.
"We just hung out for a second and we got along great. And then he out pullled this little bag, and was like 'Do you want to do some magic mushrooms?' What do you reckon?' I was like 'Fuck yeah, that sounds fun, let's let's give it a crack.'
"So we did a little dose of mushrooms, went down to the studio and jammed, had the best time and came up with the track that we have together. It was really effortless, and it doesn't usually happen that quickly. One day and we had the bulk of the song done. It was a really, really cool process."
"I remember this so clearly. I was driving around quite late at night with a friend doing God knows what and this came on the radio. It was on FBi Radio, which is this independent radio station in Sydney. I think that was probably like 2011 or something or whenever it came out, and instantly I was like, 'What the...? What? What is this?'
"It just sounds so unique and distinct. There's the arpeggiated bass thing, the beat was hip hop with just a simple kick and snare but the vocal has nothing to do with hip hop stuff. It was just a really fascinating collection of sounds and aesthetics. And then the way the song ends with the horn section, I had never heard anything like that, I was really inspired.
"Again, that one of the songs that I was like, 'That's what I want this project to sound like.' It's grown and changed since then, but for the first record that was definitely one of the main influences. It's such a unique sound, and it really doesn't happen that often, when something comes along and changes music that much."
"This is super influential. This was inspiration for the mixtape [Hi This Is Flume] that I did. I don't know if you're aware but I did this whole 45 minute-long mix which started with &&&&& with a whole bunch of ideas, and that's how I got the idea for that mixtape, pulling that stuff together.
"She's just got such a fascinating mind and the sound design is like nothing I'd ever had before. I think it was how out of tune you can go out with the synth sounds, it's so warped, but it sounded so good through so many effects.
"It was really pushing how detuned things can be and how loose the beat feels. It feels like it was done on instinct. There are a lot of other ones as well on that body of work where the experimental sound design stuff got me excited."
"My booking agent was in town and we hung out in LA at this party called Rhonda. I had no idea who SOPHIE was or anything to do with SOPHIE. That song came on and I heard the start of it and this insane sound design and it sounds like bubbles in lemonade. 'I was like 'What the fuck is this? What is that sound? Who made this?' And then SOPHIE proceeded to play a whole bunch of her work and I was blown away.
"I got a chance to meet SOPHIE after the show and she was wearing this dog collar, had insane hair and the music was just out of this world. We got chatting and became friends and over the years we worked together and toured together.
"The way SOPHIE works, she'd just have this little box. It's a mono machine. SOPHIE's grip on synthesis and understanding of how it worked was how the sounds are so unique. Every sound is crafted from this synthesiser. And it was just incredible, to just sit down and SOPHIE would play the most insane sounds and it was all done on this box.
"Sometimes I'd be like 'How did you do that?' And SOPHIE would then just recreate it on a synth on my computer. It was mind blowing and I learnt a lot. But it's been rough. It's really sad, on so many levels, not only just the personal level, but for music and culture as well. It fucking sucks, man. It really fucking sucks.
"I think SOPHIE is one of the greatest minds in music that has come out in recent years and has been so influential. Not only for me, but for a huge number of musicians. She has really changed the culture of music. It's everywhere."
"I heard this because of that movie Under The Skin with Scarlett Johansson. I was blown away by the film, but also the score. I haven't really heard a whole lot of film scores that throw the rulebook out the window, it felt really fresh and unique.
"I feel like a lot of film schools are quite conservative. This one wasn't. I was blown away by how detuned it was and by the use of classical instruments, strings, violins and cello sections, but the processing that went on to make it sound fresh and new. The combination of that movie, plus that soundtrack is incredibly inspiring to me.
"I went down a Mica Levi rabbit hole after that and started to get more into soundtracks in general. Basically, it made me want to do a score for a film. I think it's about finding the right film and everything, I've always thought it would be a really fun experience.
"My dad used to make TV ads, and sometimes they wouldn't like the music, they would usually just use library music, or they couldn't find something that would work. I dunno, it'd be like a fucking a carwash ad or a hair lice shampoo ad and sometimes he'd just send me that and be like, 'Hey, do you want to try and make some music for this?'
"I was 14 at the time, so I would make an idea and often it would work. He'd just tell the company that it was library music and I'd get given the library music fee, which was a few hundred dollars. At the time it was a lot. So since then, I've always liked doing music with those restrictions, when you have a visual to work with. And Mica Levi did an amazing job."
"This is a real recent one, comparatively to a lot of these songs. I first heard this at home. I was watching TV and there was an ad for his record, maybe it was on Netflix or something, but it was the movie thing that he made and I watched that, and when that song came one I cried. I found it so beautiful that I just started crying.
"It had been a long time since I'd heard a piece of music that had drawn so much emotion out of me. It was shocking, I felt so much and I absolutely adored it and fell in love with this piece of music. That doesn't really happen to me, ever. But it really struck a chord and I can't explain it. It's a very simple piece, but really powerful. It just had this magical power."