Flume is the musical project of Harley Streten from Sydney, Australia. At 21, Streten has come a long way from where he started, making electronic music using a bit of production software he got from a box of cereal at age thirteen. His sparse but evocative soundscapes defy easy categorization. With distinctive stylistic flourishes that he uses as a detail rather than a main sonic theme, Streten's music has an uncommon subtlety, and his dark melodic compositions suggest a visual aesthetic born out in his live show.
See also: Saturday: Flume at Fox Theatre, 9/7/13
In 2012, Streten released his self-titled debut full-length to much critical praise. In advance of his sold-out show this Saturday night at the Fox Theatre, we spoke with Streten about his evolution as an electronic music artist, how he prefers to impose limitations in crafting music to engender his creativity and his love for the soundtrack work on the films Drive and Blade Runner.
Westword: Can you tell us a little bit about Andrew G's Music Maker?
Harley Streten: It was really a simple [interface]. You get a rock one, a pop one. I think there was an R&B one. You had a few loops, like drum loops and maybe some vocals. Three tracks, maybe. It was a good concept, and I got interested in the workings of how it all came together from the separate parts. Andrew G was a bit of a Ryan Seacrest. He did Australian Idol and did some stuff for MTV.
Where did you go after you exhausted the possibilities of that software?
I went on to Fruity Loops and eventually moved on to Ableton Live. I use that for everything now.
Do you use Logic for recording? Do you use Ableton for all of it?
Yeah, for eveything.
Where did you first perform your music live?
I did a support slot for a band here in November, 2011. It was a Sydney band called New Navy.
You had the Sleepless EP out at that point?
Yeah, so it was pretty minimal.
How did you get connected with Future Classic?
There was a competition that Future Classic ran asking to send in your best musical productions. I sent in the Sleepless EP. It had been kind of sitting on my hard drive collecting some dust for a while. They thought it was rad, and they wanted to release it, and that's when things started happening for me.
You have a very distinctive sound. Did you experiment with hardware while working with software?
A little bit. I had a Korg Radias, which is a synthesizer I have. Little bits and pieces of gear, and I was playing some Moogs. Nothing too major, but I found myself not really using it so much, and I sold off a bunch of my stuff to just work in the box.
Did you acquire and use soft synths or the sort of built-in instruments in Ableton?
I use all sorts of stuff. I use Sylenth1. I use mostly effects from Ableton, and I use Uncompressor, which is the glue. I like to keep it really simple, and I find if I have too much stuff, I will fuck around and not get much done.
You have expressed a strong interest in doing soundtrack work. Are there movies you've seen in which you've particularly liked the sound design or the incidental music?
I love the soundtrack for Drive. What is that guy's name?
It's tempting to say it's FC Kahuna, but FC Kahuna did some music for Layer Cake. It's Cliff Martinez.
Yeah, Layer Cake, I love that film. Ryan Gosling is the common actor between the two. It's music has a really cool vibe, too. I also like a bit of the Blade Runner vibe but a little less sci-fi. I feel like a combo of Drive and Blade Runner, so it's quite dark. But also some kind of cold feel, dystopia.
In a recent interview, you talked about how you've enjoyed doing the behind-the-scenes aspect of music. What is it about that that appeals to you more than playing live?
I don't mind playing my music live. It's fun. But what my real passion is is writing music. I've found that in the last year, I've written less music than I have in my entire life because I've been on tour and playing so much. I like it, but it's not really my personality. I've never been one to want to be the center of attention and be put up on stages every night. That's just not really my personality. I'm comfortable with it now, but my real passion is being creative.
I want to be creative in as many different environments as possible, whether it's doing film scores, writing for TV ads or video games -- all sorts of stuff, as long as it requires writing music. I want to challenge myself, and I feel like every day I sit down to do the same thing and the challenge is to write the best song possible. Whereas I like having restraints, boundaries and rules. I feel like it inspires creativity when you've got limitations like that.
Have you ever tested out writing music to a movie you like already?
Oh, wow, no. I've never actually thought about doing that, but it would be fun, though.
Your live shows are known for being very dynamic. Presumably there's a visual element to the live performance.
We've worked with some guys here in Australia, and we've created from-scratch visuals for every track, and each of these visuals represents the audio, so you can see things happening, and it's interactive with what I'm doing. So I can mix it up and do something different every night, and the visuals will work with that. Somehow they've managed to use Max for Live in Ableton. We use Max for Live to put specific codes on each of the clips, which then frees the different visuals. I don't know how it all works, but it works.
Do you do tours mostly out of the box or do you tour with a band?
I've been doing kind of my own thing for the past year. I've done supports for the xx, and I've done a few band-y things, but mostly I've been keeping it small.
Opening for the xx, were you familiar with their music beforehand? Did you ever get to talk to Jamie Smith about electronic music?
Yeah, we got to hang out a bit on tour, which was really fun because I'm a massive fan of his work. The whole band, really. We hung out at the bar and talked about music. I feel that with producers of electronic music, it's hard to know what they're like because they're not in the spotlight so much. So it's been cool to meet a few.
Is there something you do in performing to make it a more visceral experience for you?
I think it has to do with interacting with the crowd a lot. I find that if I interact more, the crowd gets way more into the music. We also have a full live show happening, and I have lighting crew that travels around with me. We've got this Infinity Prism thing, which is lots of fun. It's an optical illusion device that we carry around. It's a really full-on show now compared to what we did initially.