Harley Streten blames Jersey Shore for the rise of EDM culture. “It seems like a trend,” says the 21-year-old Australian producer, who records and performs primarily as Flume. Halfway through his eight-show run of his first South by Southwest– which he describes as “CMJ on steroids”– Streten was able to squeeze in 20 minutes with me on the patio of the Hilton Garden Inn in Austin, Texas. “Bros, like festival bros, are just dudes on steroids with their shirts off. They don’t go there for the music, they just go there to get fucked up. Then there’s the orange chicks.” We silently listen to music filtering in off the street for a beat or two before he asks, suddenly unsure, “Would you classify me as EDM?”
Good question. He straddles the increasingly blurry line between EDM and other, less maligned electronic music. Streten refuses to entertain the fake-tanned masses at Australia’s Electric Daisy equivalents, Stereosonic and Future Music; yet he has no problem collaborating with Baauer acolyte Emoh Instead for his other project, What So Not, which recently released a remix of Major Lazer’s “Get Free” as an official 12″ via Mad Decent. “Diplo emailed us and was like, ‘This is fucking sick,'” Streten says, still breathless from the compliment. He seems more excited about that than edging One Direction out of the number one spot on Australia’s iTunes downloads, which he did with “Sleepless,” a twinkly nugget of pitch-shifted melody.
When I ask him if it’s hard keeping two alter-egos separate in his mind after 10 months of touring with only a two-week break at home, no time to think about writing music, getting slammed into a pole by a bouncer at CMJ, and subsisting on Doritos Locos Tacos from the Hype Hotel (“Not great on the stomach, but it was tasty”), he sort of admits that it is. But he’s young and relentlessly positive and blessed with a natural tan, and he insists having to choose is a good thing. “I couldn’t do one without the other because I get bored of making real nice, melodic tunes sometimes and I just want to make bangers, basically. Heavy shit,” he says.
Streten has been seeking out that musical yin/yang since he discovered a music-making computer program, like one of those free AOL discs, in a Nutrigrain cereal box when he was 13-years-old. During high school he experimented with R&B, pop, rock, hardcore, minimal house, techno, trance, Eurotrance, and “cheesy trance.” Since then, using techniques borrowed from predecessors like Flying Lotus and J Dilla, Streten has cultivated a sense of what goes unnaturally well together. “For example, trance music. I love the chords, but I hate the medium that it’s put through, the speed and the kick drums. Whereas the French electro, I don’t like the synths so much, but I really like the kicks and the snares, the harshness of that,” he explains.
After spending a post-graduate gap year smoking weed and playing video games, he “knuckled down” and entered his Sleepless EP into an original song competition hosted by New South Wales-based independent label Future Classic. He won, scoring a record deal and a management team in the process. It was then that government-funded Triple J radio, which has a reputation of making or breaking Australian artists, fortuitously started spinning some of Flume’s early Soundcloud tracks. The station’s small but universal audience is what really jump-started Streten’s career. “I’m not sure it would have panned out without Triple J and the fact that it’s not so big,” he says. “Whereas in America, there’s 50 million different stations.”
Streten admits that it would probably be easier if he were based in the United States or Europe, but he’s not quite ready to leave Manly, the beach-side suburb of Sydney where he grew up. “I quite like it at home,” he says. There, he can get a good night’s sleep, wake up early, surf, brew a big pot of coffee, and sit down to write music all day, with occasional breaks for more surfing. “I’m not very good at being my own boss in terms of routine,” he admits.
What he’d really like to do, he says, is find a random beach house by himself or with a friend where he can write music from sunrise to sunset. Maybe at some point buy a house so he can rent it out during the majority of the year when he’s not at home. “Would be a bit silly to buy my own place, though,” he adds. Streten may have locked down Australia by the time he was of legal drinking age, but in a lot of ways he’s like any other early 20-something: living in his parents’ basement and trying to figure out what’s next.
Flume performs tonight at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Doors at 8:00 p.m. $15, 18+.