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From The Bedroom To The Stadium: Electro Producer Flume Talks Making Beats

The 21-year-old wunderkind talks "Barbie Girl", technology, and dream collaborations for the future.

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Aussie electro beat maker Flume (aka Harley Streten) has been garnering quite a bit of attention with his undeniably contagious tracks. At just 21 years old, Flume has been called an electronica/indie genius, taking on music venues around the world.

But don’t let his age faze you. His self-titled debut album was described by Rolling Stone as "scarily close to perfect" and went platinum in less than five weeks after its release. Did we mention his album also sold more copies than One Direction or Justin Bieber in Australia? That’s brush-the-dirt-off-your-shoulder worthy.

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His unconventional approach to mixing involves taking elements from mismatched genres, from hip hop to straight up pop—Streten is open to it all. We managed to pin him down to answer some of our questions about his beat-making process, influences, dream collaborations, and to see what all the hype was about. Starting with moving his studio out of his childhood bedroom, the hungry producer isn’t slowing down.

The Creators Project: Let’s start from the beginning. When did it all begin?
Flume: Probably when my next-door-neighbor’s older brother would play a whole bunch of trance music. I’d go over there when I was nine or so and I’d hear all this music that he was playing, which I guess I hadn’t been exposed to. I’d hear this crazy trance music and I totally got into it. I started bringing CDs over for him to burn new music onto every week.

Do you remember the first record you ever bought?
Well, the first record I ever bought was Aqua featuring some of the singles [like] "Barbie Girl", "Doctor Jones"… a few other ones there (laughs). That was the first I ever bought with my own money. I’ve listened to Moby for a long, long time—since I was very young to quite older. Also, one of the first records I was ever given was Deep Forest, which is a pretty wild kind of record. It’s world music, so a lot of African scene and stuff like that.

Word on the street is that you got your first taste for mixing from a toy you found in a cereal box at the age of 11. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Yes, the cereal box thing is true. It was like a little gimmicky music program that the cereal had in it—Nutri-Grain to be exact. It was one of those free giveaways. I was pretty young at the time and I thought it sounded pretty cool, so I got my dad to get the cereal for me. I took it home and installed it. And I thought it was really cool—the whole concept of how there was the drums on one track, the synth on another, and the bass on another. And if you joined them all together, it would make a full song. I’d never thought of music being laid like that. When I saw how it worked, I became really interested and started poking around.

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Growing up, you played the saxophone. When did you make the transition into electronic music?
I played the saxophone throughout school, but I had always been into electronic music. I guess the reason I didn’t continue playing it is because I can’t really play the music that I’m into on it, you know? But I’m thinking about trying to incorporate more in the future with the new music. I’d like to add that kind of live element on stage if I could. I think it’d be pretty cool.

Do you think your music has evolved since you began producing?
Totally. When I first started writing music, I was writing heaps of 140 beats per minute, like euro trance. Really cheesy. And then, it developed into writing a huge range of genres, be it pop music, crazy orchestral pieces with no drums, really experimental stuff, R&B, indie, disco—literally everything. The thing is I like all kinds of music. I think that gave me the flexibility as a producer to understand how all these genres work. And therefore, I could take the best elements of each genre and put [it] into one.

Flume - "Insane"

Tell us a bit more about your music-making process. Can you talk a bit about what goes into making a Flume track?
I never write unless I’m feeling inspired. I never try and force it, unless I have a really strict deadline, which I sometimes do when doing remixes. Apart from that, I really try not to force the music. I usually sit down at the start with either a chord progression or drumbeat, depending on where my head is at the time. If it’s a chord progression, that means the track is probably going to be really focused around the melody of the track. "Insane" was one of the songs that I started with the melody. And usually when I start with the melody that means that the drumbeat is going to be relatively simple, and the focus will really be around the melody. Sometimes I’ll start with the beat, and that will in turn be a beat-driven track. But it’s really a fast process for me. Some people sit for a long time writing, but I usually try to spread it all out really quickly. The important thing is to get my ideas out of my head and into the real world as fast as possible. The best ones usually happen the fastest.

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Your re-mixes of Hermitude and Ta-Ku have been hugely successful. Is there something that you look for in a track when you re-create it?
Yes, I would never touch a track if I really like it. If I really, really like it I don’t want to touch it. If I really like it, but I can hear where it could go or maybe something that I could add that would add value to the song, that’s when I’ll jump on it. But if the song’s already amazing and perfect, I wouldn’t want to touch it. I only really remix things that I think I can take to a new level or take somewhere different—whether that means taking it into a completely different kind of vibe or just adding something that I feel it needs or could have. That’s what I look for. I look for a great track that I think might be missing something and that maybe I could bring a little bit more to it. I would never ever remix the Beatles for example.

Flume - "Sleepless feat. Jezzabell Doran"

What do you think distinguishes your sound?
I’ve always just had a thing for music. And as I said, it was from that trance music that I was first exposed to, which I still take a lot of inspiration from. A lot of the chord progression that I use in my music is really euphoric, like trance music, and a lot of the beats are quite hip hoppy, which I take from left-field hip hop like Flying Lotus and Shlomo. For some reason, I was always fascinated by how music was made. I found it amazingly fun having that freedom to create. For me, that’s the best part about music—that freedom to create from scratch. Making something new and interesting that’s never been heard before. Every time you make a song, you’re the only person that’s ever heard that. I thought that was pretty cool.

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I don’t know why my sound is unique. I guess it’s because every producer is brought up with their own technique. They’ve got all their own techniques for doing small things, but overall it’ll make it sound like that producer’s unique sound. And because I experiment a lot, I think I’ve got a lot of my own techniques. I couldn’t really tell you if they’re unique or not because I’m not sure what they are just yet. It’s just the way I work. I think the reason that it has crossed over in being quite successful is mainly due to the fact that it’s got a lot of catchy melodies and things—all within a really interesting musical context. The sounds are not standard. A lot of the structures are kind of weird, there are always catchy melodies in there, and I think that’s what draws people in.

Did you expect fame to come this quickly?
No, not at all. I still don’t see it as fame. I’m not famous. I still live at home with my parents in fact. I still make music in my bedroom, although I am looking for a studio. But no, I didn’t see it coming like this. I was always confident in my ability as a producer and I knew I would be able to do it for a living one day, but I definitely didn’t see it coming together so quickly.


Flume - "Holdin On"

What’s next for Flume after the debut album?
I’ve been on tour quite a lot lately. I’ve been touring around Australia. I’ve also got a project called What So Not and that keeps me busy when I have time off from Flume. But lots of touring for the most part. I guess what’s next is writing more material. I’m always writing new material, but it’s always quite hard when you’re on the road. Right now, I’m gearing up for my album tour around Australia. We’ve got a huge, new illusion light show planned. We’ll be bringing that to the US and Europe when we come out. It’s actually really cool.

Awesome, we’ll look out for that. You cite artists like J-Dilla, Moby, and Flying Lotus as some of your biggest musical influences right now. What is it about their sound that appeals to you?
I think its forward thinking-ness. And of course, uniqueness. I love the whole idea: ‘imperfection is perfection.’ That’s a bit of a rule I live by when writing music.

What are you listening to at the moment?
I’ve been listening to quite a lot of house music. Oh, and I just got the new James Blake record. So, I’ll be working my way through that. Also, I’ve been meaning to get that new Jai Paul one.

Any dream collaborations for the future?
I’d like to write a track with James Blake. That would be killer. Writing a track with him would be awesome. I love his style, his voice. Also, I’d love to collaborate with Oliver [Sims] from The xx. I’ve always been a big fan of his work and his voice. That would be cool too.

@dslreyes