Flume: “We’re Past the Golden Era of Online Music”
The breakout producer from Sydney on what the future holds for budding music producers even as he discusses his stunning sophomore effort ‘Skin,’ and the cost of being famous
In July 2014, Noisey published a longread titled ‘Has SoundCloud Turned Its Back on Its Users in Favor of Major Labels?’ that took a look at the Berlin-based online audio distribution platform’s trouble with copyright infringement. SoundCloud’s success was built on the efforts of an involved and extremely talented community. Bootleg remixes, mashups and DJ mixes from all across the world were uploaded, shared and appreciated (or destroyed) with abundance, giving rise to some of modern-day electronic music’s biggest stars. Labels such as Soulection, Future Classic, OWSLA and many others have thrived because of the sheer amount of talent available on the platform. “That was a special time,” says Flume, one of SoundCloud’s most prominent success stories. “It was the golden era of online music. We’ve lost that.”
Harley Streten aka Flume is sprawled across a black leather couch in his green room. His rise since the release of his seminal self-titled debut album in 2013 is well-documented. Today, he’s one of the most sought-after producers in the world. His sophomore album, titled Skin, has further accelerated his ascendancy in the industry-people are flocking to festivals and arenas around the world to catch him live. However, behind the scenes, he’s a 25-year old kid trying to make sense of the world, reflecting on the madness that’s engulfed him in the past three years. Streten, for me, is the embodiment of the Internet age. As easy as it would be for him to eschew the online music community that helped him breakthrough, he’s refreshingly honest and forthright in his views regarding the music industry as it exists today.
“For a brief period of time, we enjoyed this incredibly exciting and organic community online,” he says. “There were no major labels telling you what to do. Facebook wasn’t throttling your online reach–if you had 10,000 fans that liked your page, your music would reach 10,000 fans. The people were deciding what music was good by participating and writing for blogs. The major labels and the Spotifys of the world didn’t curate playlists-we did. Artists like me, Kaytranada [Canada], Cashmere Cat [Norway], Ta-Ku [Australia] and many others wouldn’t be here enjoying the success that we do if it weren’t for that community.”
Part of Streten’s success came from the woozy, off-kilter remixes he composed for the likes of Dutch house DJ/producer Fedde Le Grande, English producer duo Disclosure and New Zealand dream pop sensation Lorde-remixes that helped him gain traction with fans across the board. “I don’t think kids can do that nowadays,” he says. “They’ve got so many people breathing down their necks. Ideally, I would have loved if it would have stayed like that. These days, there isn’t a platform that can provide the kind of exposure and support that SoundCloud provided. We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”
On Skin, Streten found himself trying to adjust to the role of a traditional songwriter and producer and reach people that lay beyond his established audience. “I love pop music,” he says. “I wanted to see if I could strike that balance between writing a more traditional pop-ish song like “Never Be Like You (feat. Kai)” and a completely left-field one like “Wall Fuck” or “Free” and make them come together on an album. It was a challenge I set myself and it seems like it’s working and connecting on a much larger scale than I’d ever hoped for.”
Skin is a celebratory statement that offers the listener an insight into Streten’s taste and inspiration. By collaborating with artists such as Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Lo, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples and Chicago-based Grammy nominated rapper Vic Mensa, Streten invites the listener into his varied range of contemporary influences. Jonathan Zawada, the Los Angeles-based artist behind Skin’s visual identity, is another peer that is representative of Streten’s vision. “I love his work,” he says. “There are a lot of parallels between his work and mine-he combines all these organic and digital elements with extreme precision-and that’s something that I think comes across in the music that I make as well.”
That precise mix that Streten holds key to his art translates across to his live show as well. As Streten makes his way to stage, the Falconer Salen, one of Copenhagen’s bigger concert halls, is bathed in lush layers of atmospheric pads that wouldn’t be out of place in a church. The wall-of-noise is broken by a sudden darkness that’s soundtracked by thunderstorms and the opening bass-laden pad of Skin opener “Helix.”
Flume’s set shines when he drops the downright wonky tracks from Skin. “Wall Fuck” and “Free,” when supported by Zawada’s visuals, are forces of nature that leave the Falconer reeling. On the whole, Flume’s set serves as a good reminder of where he came from and what he aspires to be. SoundCloud classics such as his remix of Ta-Ku’s “Higher” feature alongside songs from his eponymous debut album, such as “Insane (feat. Moon Holiday).” For the encore, Streten played his viral remix of Disclosure’s “You & Me ft. Eliza Dolittle” and “Tiny Cities,” his collaboration with Grammy-winning music maverick Beck. In a fitting gesture to underline the theatrical production he’d just orchestrated, Streten bowed his head, basking in the appreciation of his dedicated disciples, and exited stage.
This kind of fame can change an artist. But Streten’s rootedness is striking—evident from the appreciation he shows for his fan base, and for the millions of producers that are trying to break through like he did. “One of the things I miss is listening to new music,” he says. “I’m grateful for all the success that’s come my way but, sometimes I just want to be able to have the time and explore what kids are producing and uploading online and read who my favorite blogs are supporting right now.” At the end of the day, he’s more of a fan than an artist.
Listen to Flume’s “Never Be Like You” featuring Kai below: