Why Flume is the future

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As a 20-year-old guy who still lives with his parents in Sydney’s beachside suburb Manly, Harley Streten might not seem like a superstar on the make. But dig into the music he makes as Flume and you’ll find there’s real substance behind the considerable hype. Flume, one could very well wager, has the potential to be one of the biggest things Australian dance music has ever seen.

When I meet Harley at a Sydney pub, he’s in the final days before the release of his debut self-titled album on Future Classic. He’s sitting with a half-full schooner and his arm rigid – it’s a few days after a bouncer at Oxford Art Factory smacked his head into a pole (hard, too) to stop him crowd-surfing during the Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs gig he was supporting. So how’s his arm now? “Yeah it’s alright, I just took it out of the sling yesterday and now I’m on the painkillers,” he explains. “I hit it with the side of my face, the only reason my eardrums didn’t burst is because I had hearing protection in. I had a concussion the next day. But nothing’s broken, so it’s alright. Did you see it happen?”

I did. But there’s plenty that comes in the Flume story before he got to crowd-surfing level. Harley began producing at 13 – in what’s become something of a famous story – with a basic production disc that came in a cereal box. “I was really isolated then,” he said of the formative bedroom years. “I didn’t know anyone in the industry. I didn’t know anyone who did the same thing as me. I was in year seven at school and no one listened to the same stuff as me. But as the years passed I met more people and branched out a bit.” And it all started with a certain musical gateway drug: trance. “I’ve had three big musical loves in my life. The first was 90s trance. Second was French electro. My third big musical love is Flying Lotus, TOKiMONSTA, TNGHT – all that weird, big, musically wrong music.”

That blend of the three comes through in the Sleepless EP, which is what Streten used to get signed to Sydney label Future Classic. In less than 12 months, the EP’s title track helped transform Streten from a virtual unknown into a hugely popular producer with over 39,000 Facebook fans to his name – at least 500 more than when I looked at his profile yesterday.

As ‘discovery’ stories go, his is fairly simple: they were having an originals competition, and Harley sent in his stuff. “My friend told me about it and I didn’t think I’d win it at all because they were a label doing deep house and stuff,” he explained. “I didn’t know if it was good or not because it was very different I didn’t know whether people would like that.” But they did – it was enough to get him signed to the label. “The comp stipulated that a max of three tracks be submitted and I remember sifting through all the submissions in Soundcloud and starring this Flume guy,” Future Classic’s Nathan McLay, now Flume’s manager, told me of the three tracks – Sleepless, Over You and Paper Thin – that would go on to make up the breakthrough EP. “James, another of the Future Classic team, was doing the same independently and we both exchanged comments that we were digging it. We met up with Harley and just started from there. The more we heard the more excited we became.”

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