NOCTIS COVER: FLUME | Game Changers Issue

Cover story originally published in print for the 2023 Noctis XXII Game Changers issue. Shop here.

The overwhelming suspense of meeting Flume, one of the biggest crown jewels of electronic music, vanishes as I sit in front of Harley Streten, a fellow coffee addict above all. The Australian native preserves a poised demeanor and friendly banter as we discuss our summer antics and his latest record ‘Palaces.’

After sharing his itinerary for the past few weeks, including festivals across Europe in Portugal, Spain, Germany, Belgium, France, Slovakia, and two headline shows at London’s KOKO, Harley pinned down two extra weeks for writing sessions. Through that, the name-dropping begins: “I’m doing the Jon Hopkins session today. I’m a huge fan of his. When we did the show together, I was like, we should make some music, and I would let him know when I’m in London, and here I am,” he laughs. “I’m a big fan of PinkPantheress, I loved her record, and so I hit her up. I worked with Dan Powell. We’ve done a bunch of work together over the years, one of my favorite producers”.

He adds: “I’m just like, here are my favourite people, and let’s see who lives in London. Alright then, I’ll hit them all up. It’s how it goes, but it’s pretty cool to be able to do it. I am working with my idols, which is nuts”. Seeing the genuine excitement in his eyes is quite striking and confirms we are all human, with idols and dreams, no matter our backgrounds.

To establish his similar icon status, let’s look at Flume’s discography and accomplishments. For over ten years, Flume has generated ethereally chaotic sounds, sampling and fragmenting vocals into exquisitely filthy electronic arrangements. His trajectory of being a one-of-a-kind wizard of a producer started when Harley, as a teen, won a competition held by Future Classic only a few years into producing his own music.

As his track ‘On Top’ goes – “I want the top, I need the top” – precisely summarising where Flume was heading. His 2012 self-titled debut solo album topped the ARIA album chart and went double platinum. Shortly after, he received ARIA Awards for Producer Of The Year, Breakthrough Artist, and Best Dance Release, visibly dominating his homeland of Australia.

The music world was hooked, and Flume became a one-to-watch for becoming a global phenomenon. The follow-up 2016 sophomore project, ‘Skin’ attests to Fume’s incredible ability to collaborate with eclectic groups of artists. ‘Skin’ includes features by AlunaGeorge, Little Dragon, Vic Mensa, Beck, and worldwide hits ‘Never Be Like You’ featuring Kai and ‘Say It’ with Tove Lo. As a cherry on top, ‘Skin’ won the 2017 Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronic Album.

In 2019, Flume returned with the mixtape ‘Hi This Is Flume,’ which earned him his third Grammy Nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album. Once again, the track list saw incredible features by slowthai, JPEGMAFIA, and the one and only SOPHIE. Flume’s vast catalog of achievements with his chart-topping discography certifies him for icon status as well as a game-changer in his field.

On his latest third studio album and first full-length record in six years titled ‘Palaces,’ Harley has not disappointed with a star-studded list of collaborators. The one that stood up for music fanatics was the closing and title track ‘Palaces’ featuring the legend Damon Alban. “Were you scared at all about working one on one with one of your role models?” I eagerly ask. “I was terrified,” Harley admits. “I was very nervous because I’d grown up listening to Blur and Gorillaz religiously.”

He elaborates on the story: “I had a bunch of ideas prepared. I wanted to get prepared before the session. I ran through idea after idea, played him stuff, and he wasn’t really into anything. Then I played him some more, and he was still not into anything.”

It was until the two last ideas, which were ‘little scratches’ as Harley described them, that Alban suddenly showed interest. “I was relieved,” he smiles as he relives this nerve-wracking experience. “Then we sat together, wrote some chords, and came up with some vocal melodies. That’s how that one came about. Then I got back to Australia and finished it”.

Appreciative of London’s surprise heatwave, he says: “It’s winter in Australia right now. It’s nice to come over and get some sun”. As we begin unraveling ‘Palaces’ and his move back home to Australia from fast-paced LA. Dabbling with a creative block, Harley found the key in his relocation to an isolated property in a coastal town in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. In the noise-pollution-free acres of land, Flume re-discovered the beauty of simplicity and surrounding unique sounds.

Nature and local wildlife became his playing ground: “I did a lot of recordings around the property, like the rain and the birds. I wanted to incorporate the place I was in, which was very tranquil and far away from LA or any major city. I did a lot of field recordings, which I then put into the music, which was nice because a lot of the music can be quite cold or electronic, so getting these field recordings gave me the space and time to think and piece all these pieces of the puzzle together”, he pinpoints the source of newly-found creative juices.

Twenty minutes away from a popular holiday destination, Byron Bay, Harley’s house neighbours with a farm, often woken up by cows and birds chirping. The local bush turkeys are usually scared off by his beloved dog, but the three-meter python became a friendly occupier of his roof.

The title ‘Palaces’ is an ode to the sanctuary he’s built as his new home and where the record really came together. Harley says: “I just take pieces from around the world and moments, and then I put it all together at some point.” At the starting point, ‘Palaces’ began as a nomadic collection of studio sessions around the world and finally came into its cohesive form in Australia, with added tones and structures from the surrounding wildlife.

Compared to previous albums and other electronic music, Flume made an effort to retain more emotion and contrast the classic transformer alien sounds with more ambient simple piano-led arrangements such as seen in ‘Jasper’s Song.’

“I don’t mind working remotely, honestly,” he says as he mentions one of the lead singles, ‘Sirens,’ featuring Caroline Polachek, which was done remotely. “I think being in the session is good, but also, when I get vocals, I often treat them like samples. I used to just use samples, and it’s fun. When they send something back, and then I mess with it and we send it back and forth, it’s fun”.

As a producer of his scale, the Flume studio session would expect to include numerous high-tech instruments, however he describes himself as follows: “I feel like I’m like a Gen Z producer in the sense that I just need a laptop.” Similarly, he mentions when he had a session at Fred Again’s house, “he was producing on a little Sonos speaker. He’s just been writing on this with his laptop in the living room.”

The name-dropping continues as we delve into the beautiful friendship between SOPHIE and himself. Harley looks back at the evening where he met the legendary SOPHIE: “I met Sophie in LA. She was playing at the Standard, and I went along. I didn’t know anything about Sophie, and I heard Sophie play ‘Lemonade’ and I was like, what is this sound? I’ve never heard a sound like this. After her show, I met her and was so blown away by all the music I was hearing. And ever since then, we’d been friends and had done music together over the years”.

He shares a SOPHIE memory that stuck out: “I took her on tour to Australia in 2016, and one time in Melbourne, we did a session, and she just rocks up in this bright pop pink puffer jacket and crazy sunnys. Then she sits at the back of the studio with a little box mono machine, which she makes all the sounds on. She has the volume at 11 on these enormous speakers, and it’s just ripping the most insane sounds. They looked crazy, sunglasses on pink puffer jacket, wild hair, making the most alien sounds, and I’m sitting there going, what the fuck?”.

He adds: “We had the best chats honestly about music and culture, where it’s going, what’s happening. Sophie was always so insightful and intelligent. It’s such a loss for the world, for me on a personal level, but also for culture in general. It’s heartbreaking”.

In the span of 10 years, Flume as an entity reached a global scale, opening doors to collaborators of legendary status such as Damon Alban, SOPHIE, and Jon Hopkins. When I’m curious what his younger self would think, he cracks a joke: “Probably think I’m really pretentious, a real pretentious wanker,” we both laugh. “I mean, this is what I wanted. When I was growing up, I was always like, I’d love to go do this for a living. And I am comfortable, so I think I’d be proud”.

Harley previously expressed how touring caused a toll on his mental health; hence he shares some tour life wisdom: “It’s about thinking about it long term and not trying to push it constantly. I’ve definitely felt burnt out over the years. Just make sure the runs aren’t so long, and you get ample time to be home. It’s not rocket science, it’s when money is on offer, and you just want to say yes, and sometimes it’s better, but that’s a privileged position because I’ve been doing this for long enough. I can do that. I don’t feel like I could do that back in the day. As an up-and-coming artist, you’ve got to go hard, to be honest”.

Acknowledging his position, Harley craves a change in taking on more than just the production of the track. Fascinated by songwriting, he recently had a similar conversation with a friend and a fellow producer Sega Bodega about wanting to do more: “I’ve been doing this thing for so many years now, I feel like I need a new challenge. I’ve just been writing songs, doing lyrics, and singing them poorly, but you can make any sound, sound good. For me, it would be like with someone else, I’d be adding lyrics, but I hadn’t just sat down and written a full song and sung it”.

After a chat with Caroline Polachek and the story behind her mega-hit ‘Bunny Is A Rider’ which is only a case of ‘the words sounded good together,’ he says, “lyrics can be very abstract; I’m excited to experiment with writing.”

Harley Streten, better known as the global producing sensation Flume, kindly invited us into his genius world, where synths, drums, and samples take the roles of main characters. In the absence of big city life, replaced by vegetable patches and Australian wildlife, Flume discovered his sanctuary with the album, ‘Palaces,’ as the sonic translation of the new tranquil lifestyle. Via his innovative tendencies, Harley Streten continues to stand by being a game-changer.

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Photographer: Freddie Stisted
Stylist: Jaime Jarvis
Set Designer: Murdo Hepburn
Gaffer: Eliot Morris
Make up: Ciara DeRoiste Using 111 Skin and Saie
Hair Stylist: Liam Russell
Photographer Assistant: Finn Waring
Spark: Breandan Mcbennett
Runner: Ryan O Sullivan
Exec Producer: Northwood International
Words: Karolina Kramplova
BTS Film: Kay Holden
Studio: Sibling Studios
Editor in Chief: Genea Bailey