Twenty-two-year-old Sydney native Harley Edward Streten isn’t quite used to the prospect of being Flume, even though his set at Coachella this past weekend brought a crowd too large to accommodate the massive Gobi Tent he was performing in. Being largely responsible for a musical and cultural resurgence isn’t easy, as Streten made clear during our recent interview. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that his name is one we’ll be hearing for a long time, and that’s not just because of Flume’s uncanny ability to mesh song-based electronic pop with hard-edged dance beats, either. For Streten, Flume is something that’s happened to him, rather than a persona that he’s grown into, a subject he discussed with us last week.
Some pictures of you scuba diving recently appeared on Facebook? Are you an avid scuba diver? Well, I had some time off, so I was like “Fuck it, I’m gonna learn how to scuba dive.” I had met this girl — this beautiful Norwegian marine biologist dive master — when I was on tour. I was on Facebook, and I saw that she was in Thailand doing some teaching and living there, so I messaged her and said, “Hey, I see you’re in Thailand. I’ve always wanted to learn how to dive. Can you teach me?” and she was like “Yeah!” So I went over to Thailand and stayed with her for a week. I had met this girl once and we ended up hanging out the whole week.
Are you going to write her a song? I talked to A$AP Ferg last week and he apparently just released a song about someone he met in Trinidad. I should do that. That would be good. That’s a good idea. I hadn’t even thought of that. I wanted to get her something, like buy her something to say thank you, but I didn’t know what to get her. But a song might work.
How has your time in the United been? Is our accent difficult to understand at all? The accent is never much of a problem over in the US or in the UK because we’re so used to it. We get so much TV from the US and the UK. Australia is like halfway between the two, maybe. [Laughs]
Were any spots in the US particularly memorable? New York. It was crazy seeing how densely populated it was. I had never been to a place where there was so many people living on top of each other in such a small vicinity. And I actually finally understood what they mean by “uptown” or “downtown.” I had heard it a gajillion times — in Seinfeld or whatever — but I never actually knew what they were or what that meant. Like, someone would say, “We’re on the corner of 22nd and 101st,” and I didn’t know what that meant. Then I actually went down and saw that it was the fifth and the second street, or whatever. It was funny.
Have people started to call you “Flume” yet? Well, if they don’t know my name they’ll call me “Flume,” especially at the shows. But once they know my name they call me Harley. It hasn’t really been a huge issue yet, I guess.
How does Los Angeles compare to Sydney? Oh, it’s completely different. Some people might throw around a lot of comparisons, but it’s got a completely different feel, I think. Sydney has so much natural beauty; it’s just a beautiful city. It’s got an amazing harbor, the weather is awesome, the climate’s great. I think the thing that L.A. had on Sydney is an awesome music scene, especially for what I do. The beat scene, Low-End Theory — all that shit. It’s awesome for me to be there.
In Sydney did you feel like there was enough of a cultural environment to foster what you were doing musically? I think that there’s a good scene in Sydney, but for me, I got into it so early that I coudn’t even go into a lot of these things. Like, the Flume thing really started happening when I was 19 and I lived in a place called the Northern Beaches, which is just outside the city. It’s almost like its own self-contained beach side town, maybe like a half-hour drive from Sydney. I was never really immersed in the city, or in the music scene there; it was all pretty much online and me doing my own thing. … I think that scenes are really cool, and can be really great, but I think I may have been able to do my own thing more because I wasn’t trying to fit into a sound that already existed. I was just doing my own thing, and that’s how it all worked out.
Is there a specific moment that you remember thinking “I might be able to make a career out of this”? Well, I heard my music on the radio for the first time when I was 14, on the local Sydney indie station, and I remember hearing FBi Radio. I heard it in the car with my dad and I was super stoked, but that wasn’t really the game changer. I think that moment was when I signed with my label, Future Classic. They were the coolest thing, with all the coolest artists, and I couldn’t believe they wanted my music. I was like, “Are you fuckin’ serious?” That was insane. That was the moment that I realized this could become a career sooner than I thought. I always knew that I wanted to do this, but I never knew how long it was going to take. And that’s when it started to click.
Was this always the goal, to make dance music? Yeah, and from an early age. I was delivering papers when I was like 10 or 11, and I’d always day dream about being an artist as a full-time thing. And then I went on to teaching — I used to teach an Ableton Live school in Sydney. I actually really like teaching, as well. I had an idea when I was 18 or 19 to start tutoring people, like the way that people get tutored in saxophone or guitar, but for production. I really enjoyed it, but I don’t have time for that any more.
Do you feel like there’s enough in place in Australia to continue to cultivate up-and-coming talent? Yeah. In the last few years there have been a crazy number of producers and young dudes coming through, and they’re a lot of the reasons for this. But a big reason why so much music comes out of Australia is because we have a national, government funded radio station called Triple J. It’s the equivalent of BBC Radio 1, and ever since they got behind the Flume thing they started playing a lot more electronic and weird stuff. It feels like there’s a bit of a movement now. All these young producers are making awesome new music.
Are you resigned to spending more time in the States, though? Yeah, well, I’m doing this little run, and then we’re coming back to do another run later in the year. I’ll be here for another month. The thing is, it almost makes sense for me to move over here. There are just so many territories to play in. It’s so isolated in Australia. It’s such an amazing place to live, but when it comes to gigging, you can just tour the United States for an entire year. And not just with the Flume thing. Electronic music is just booming over here. I mean, how many states are there? Like 48? 52?
There are 50 states: The lower 48, and then Alaska and Hawaii. Ahh, there we go.
Are you getting homesick at all? A bit, yeah. You do miss things from home. We won’t tour again like last year, because we were crazy busy. I mean, you can’t complain because you’re traveling the world, but at the same time, I realize that I’m my own boss, and it’s important to say “no” some times. But it’s also hard; the money gets better and you get to go to these places you’ve never been. But it is important to have some time off.
Have things changed for you when you go home now? I guess maybe from four years ago, yeah. The weirdest thing about having something like this happen is you begin to get into the psychological element of, like, you are Flume now, you know? Its’ hard. You have friends who you’ve had for years and years and it’s just strange. They all care more about what I say now. It’s a really weird thing, psychologically. That’s probably the hardest thing of all, that transformation.
So is it isolation more than anything else? No, not really, but I guess it depends on who your friends are. If you have good friends, then it isn’t. But it is weird seeing people who you’ve know for ten years treat you differently, even if it’s unintentionally. It’s odd. I have “status” now.
Have you been anywhere in your travels that you’d like to return to? As Harley? Oh man. Well, Mexico. Actually, I’d love to come back to all of South and Central America as a tourist, and go ride motorbikes through or something. I’ve been to Peru and Argentina now, but I haven’t really been, you know? I’ve stayed for a few days, but I’m mostly in my hotel doing e-mails and stuff. I’d love to come back as a tourist instead of just doing work.
What are some things about the music business that are different from what you expected? Initially, when you see these musicians or DJs or whatever, you have this idea that they are not human — that they’re god-like or whatever. Like a celebrity thing. If I saw a guy with 30,000 Facebook likes, I’d think, “Woah, that guy is famous and he must be super well off.” But the more I got into it, the more I realized that it’s a lot less glamorous than it looks. And for it to be glamorous you have to be pretty high up on the food-chain for. So that, plus learning that all these artists are just normal people.
Do you watch anything on the road? Like, do you do any Netflix binging on your downtime? I just finished watching a bunch of documentary films by this guy name Louis Theroux. It’s kind of cool, and I just sort of stumbled upon it. You know how people like the Vice document taboo shit? Well, he was Vice before Vice. Like, he was doing that shit in 2003 for the BBC, so he has a whole bunch of really interesting documentary stuff. I also love Adventure Time. And I’m about to start The Sopranos.
Last question: Are you tired of answering stupid questions about Australia? Um yeah; it’s not too annoying, but it is kind of funny. I just like freaking out Americans. When you do Australia, the festivals have five different festival dates for the five different states, so people usually stay here for a couple of weeks and that ends up turning into hangout time. I took Dillon Francis down to the beach and started telling him about the sharks and sea scorpions. I just started making shit up, like “Watch out for the water rhinos.” It was really funny.
RedEye and We the Beat present Flume at Casa de la Raza (601 E. Montecito St.) on Sunday, April 20, at 8 p.m. Visit flumesb.nightout.com for tickets and info.