We talk to Harley Streten, AKA Flume, about Aussie music, production style, and how to scrape by in the money-barren music industry.
The DJ and producer scene in the UK is massive now, but I don’t know too much about that sort of music scene in Australia. Has it grown recently like it has here?
It’s not so big in Aus but it’s definitely growing. When it comes to the more beatsy/electronic side of things guys like Ta-Ku, Chet Faker and Hermitude are leading the charge in Aus. Although it’s been growing really healthily in the past few years, I think electronic music will always suffer a little in Australia. We have such a great climate so people tend to spend more time outdoors rather than locked away in dark studios.
How does the clubbing scene in Aus compare to that in the UK? Do you have a wide range of different clubbing environments like we do here?
Too hard to say, I don’t know the clubbing scene in the UK well enough. But I can say if you are in Australia, Melbourne’s the place you want to be. It’s the city with the largest and most diverse nightlife in Australia.
When you make a track, what do you start with? Do you use the same formula to develop and layer every track?
I have actually developed some mental strategies and guidelines to help spark ideas and get things happening. Usually I’ll start with a chord progression or a beat. If I want something big, hip hoppy and heavy, I’ll tend to start with a beat; but for something more chill like ‘Sleepless’ I’ll tend to start with melody then work the beat in later. I like to try and write the climax of the track in a 16 or 32 loop, then once I’m happy with that, I tend to focus on writing a B section or verse. Next I’ll block out the entire structure of the song and chisel away at it until happy.
I try and save all the fiddly stuff like EQing and compression until the end – that way you can harness all the creative juices at the beginning of the track, the most important part.
This is one way I like to write music, but I really just use it as a rough outline. It’s quite a rigid approach to something so creative; a lot of the time I’ll throw all this out the window and go off in a creative tangent. These are merely mental guidelines I use so I don’t end up EQing kick drums for days and getting nothing done.
What do you get from remixing other people’s tracks that you don’t get from making your own?
Having the parts to a track rather than starting from scratch is great fun – it spurs ideas. There are a few things I’ll always look for when picking a remix. First of all, I think it’s really important to like the track. If you like the track, you’re going to be passionate about the parts and it will give you a great place to start. The second thing (and probably the most important) is that you can hear where you want the remix to go. If you like a song but feel like it hasn’t reached its full potential, that’s when you jump on it. The Onra ‘The Anthem’ & Ta-ku ‘Higher’ remixes both went exactly like this. Both tunes made me go wow when I first heard them, but I felt like I could take them further. I figure there’s no point trying to remix someone like the Beatles because you probably can’t make their music any better.
Whose tracks would you love to rework if you had the chance?
I find it quite fun working on remixes for bands. Coming from an electronic synthesizer dominated world, it can be refreshing to work with guitars, live drums and vocals. An xx remix could be pretty fun, I like the idea of working with both male and female vocals.
When you’re playing a set live are you quite methodical about the track listing and the journey of the set or do you tend to just go with your gut?
I tend to be a little more on the methodical side with Flume, I always have a range of ways I can go with the set but I usually have a good idea of what’s going to go down before stepping on stage. I like to get to the club early so I can get a feel for the place and gauge the audience. Because I’m playing live and not doing a DJ set it can get tricky if you mix the track listing up too much.
When you’re in a club what do you want to hear and dance to?
TNGHT, Julio Bashmore, Rustie, Disclosure, Baauer. I’m feeling the more experimental trappy kind of stuff coming out at the moment.
You’ve spoken out about illegal downloads before. How do you plan on making a career out of making music, seeing as selling it isn’t really an option anymore?
What I’m really excited about is working with high profile artists doing some co writing/ghost writing stuff on the side. I know Hudson Mohawke does a fair bit of this and there can be quite a bit of money involved. Also I’d like to score a soundtrack for a movie at some point, something sci-fi like Blade Runner or Tron. In fact, writing music for commercials interests me too… basically, anything where I get to be creative and write music all day. I love the challenge of writing music to suit a particular piece of imagery; it makes you approach the whole writing process in a completely different light.
There are loads of endorsement deals and sponsorships going on at the moment – they seem likely to become the main way in which musicians make money, but are controversial for several reasons. Are you for or against them? What’s your opinion on them?
I mean if Adidas wants to give me free shit, that’s great. I’m happy to rep brands if I really like their product and believe in it, but I would never sign any contracts promising I will wear their gear at a certain number of events, or hardcore product placement in clips or gigs. It would have to feel right; it would have to feel natural. I think if the right brands working with the right artists can be a real win-win situation.
Are you planning on playing live in the UK soon?
Yes, we are working on that right now. It looks like there will be a small run of dates early next year.
What are your plans for the rest of the year and 2013?
Most of 2013 will be all about perfecting the live show and racking up a heap of frequent flyer points. After the album comes out, US, UK and Europe tours are all in the pipeline so it’s a super exciting time!