What is Flume? This Is Flume (Stream + Visuals + Exclusive 2014 Interview)
I’ve been here before, a while back, sitting in a sense of intense discomfort with my lips pursed… entirely and utterly blissful. When a new sound penetrates your ears or you see something entirely new for the first time, I imagine the brain fires off synapses quite similar to those that we experience as a child. “What is this,” screams every cell in our body before we can even discern whether or not we like it.
I’ve been here before, presumptuously as a child and in 2012 when Flume’s first tape dropped. That was a unique point in my life in which electronic music began to take its place at the forefront of my headphones, the shows I attended, and the discussions pertaining to music I was having. This was still an era in which people readily asserted “DuBSteP iSn’t MUsiC” and wouldn’t be caught dead at a “rave”- citing myths, based in truth, of people getting drugged or poked with disease ridden needles. Flume’s debut album reminded me that I was onto something in studying and partaking in this emerging culture so closely and adamantly
Fast forward to 2014– I’ve just driven up to Coachella Weekend 2 with a friend. One of the main talking points on the way up was the rare opportunity to witness the Lorde – Tennis Courts (Flume Remix) he had premiered the weekend prior. The Kollection was thriving as a music-blog at the time and to my great surprise I was granted press access for the weekend and locked in an interview with Harley Edward Streten- Flume himself.
I’ve been here before, presumptuously as a child, in 2012 when Flume’s first tape dropped, and when I interviewed Flume at Coachella in 2014. The funny thing about Australians is that they are, quite simply put, INCREDIBLY Australian to those who are not. At 18, I hadn’t really interacted with that many Australians other than a camp counselor here and there and the one kid at my school whose family moved over from Sydney when he was a baby. So when I approach Flume and think of what to say, it comes as no surprise that the first words out of my mouth on the record are:
“Thank you so much for coming out, I know you’re a long way from home- coming all the way from Australia to Coachella.”
Silly in retrospect but at the time Flume was only roughly 23 and likely going through the wild, existential disdain for adulthood and nostalgia for youth that I’m currently going through as a 23 year old. I remember his smile as I follow with, “Tell me a little bit about how you feel right not having traveled all the way to one of the greatest music festivals in the world.”
After a series of ice-breaker questions, the interview takes a turn and begins to feel like a genuine conversation:
Kian: If you weren’t making music right now, what do you think you’d be doing with your life?
Flume: I don’t know, probably not knowing what I wanted to do. [Laughs], probably be doing like, like making things, something in the creative world or possibly something business like. Honestly, I’d probably just be at [University] working a shitty part time job and not knowing what I want to do.
K: Now that you’ve experimented with Flume and house music, if you had to explore another genre which would you choose?
F: Well, I’ve got another project called What So Not, do you know about that?
K: Yeah, yeah!
F: I don’t know, would you say that’s another genre?
K: Yeah, well I mean I would, it’s different in the same scene.
F: What kind of genre would you call it?
K: Are you categorizing Electronic Dance Music as a genre or are you [referring to subgenres]?
F: I don’t know, I guess the answer to that question is well then what is Flume? Unlike Flume, [What So Not] is more like clubby experimental trap.
K: That probably would be the best way of describing it.
F: Would you see Flume in the EDM world? For me EDM is Swedish House Mafia, Avicii.
K: Well, I think Electronic Dance Music is similar to… “rock” almost. Like what is “rock?” You can have anything from Jack Johnson strumming on an acoustic guitar to Slash … So then what genre would you put Flume under if it’s not EDM?
F: I think it’s kind of in the middle, it’s in the grey area. That’s the thing- I can play Coachella, I can play FYF, I can play Ultra. I really don’t like don’t being categorized as EDM. It’s something we try and avoid a lot. What So Not, sure, it’s EDM, it’s left field EDM, but Flume is something we definitely don’t [want categorized]. That’s why we aren’t playing [The Sahara Tent] with all the lights over there…
When I listen to Flume, I don’t tend to associate the music with this 2014 interview. Rather, I think back to my first trip to Ibiza. Miraculously, I ended up on the island the week of one of the best 4-act bills I’ve seen to date- Disclosure, Flume, Bicep and SG Lewis- was scheduled and miraculously not sold out. As the sun begun to set and Flume launched into a sunset charged performance, I returned to a state of a certain state of comfort that I often crave but rarely attain.
I’ve been here before, presumptuously as a child, in 2012 when Flume’s first tape dropped, when I interviewed Flume at Coachella in 2014, and when I saw Flume perform at a castle which predated the party culture of the island by hundreds of years in 2015. The performance was magical and my selective memory tells me it was one of the closest I’ve ever come to crying from happiness- this feeling, this feeling, this feeling.
In 2016, Flume dropped “Skin” and I saw him both weekends at Coachella. “Skin” is powered by Flume’s production but dominated by features. I loved the album as an I-Can-And-Absolutely-Am-To-Be-Taken-Seriously-Piece but other than “Wall Fuck” which still gets me all sorts of fired up, there was a certain smoke exuding from the names Beck, Raekwon, and Vince Staples that made Flume seem accessible and distanced from the project. At his performance at The Shrine, I drunkenly stupored at the enormous visuals of people kissing and morphing into one another my brain perhaps struggling to comprehend that Flume had come this far.
Towards the end of 2018, I grew tired of the grainy pictures on Flume’s Instagram- or perhaps I grew tired of the fact that his Instagram presence was perhaps the only thing there was to write about. I revisit the interview:
Kian: Did you ever imagine that you would be at this point in career? When was the moment you could truly say “I made it”?
Flume: Made it is a made up thing… because you know “Yeah, I’ve fucking made it” but then you realize you’re still a small fry and you know that kind of keeps happening. I guess for me making it was more about making a living off doing what I love and doing it comfortably, not just getting by… I’ve always been making weird shit, I just never saw a career out of it. That was never my main thing.
What has changed since 2014 is that Flume’s music is no longer appropriately described as “in the middle [or] in the grey area.” When speculating what this release would entails with friends and fellow music obsessive co-workers, “new” and “different” were the words I heard repeated time and time again. Flume has taken the middle, the grey area, the taboo space in between what is electronic and what is not and built himself a castle much like the one I saw him in back in 2015 and there he resides. “Pop”, “Hip-Hop”, “Indie”, and every subgenre of electronic ranging from Dubstep to House can be used to describe Flume’s sound at one point or another.
When I finally click play on the livestream of the new project “Hi, This Is Flume” and hear the sound byte “Hi, This Is Flume” repeatedly and aggressively sampled to shape the track of the opening track “Hi, This Is Flume”- I smile excitedly. Where his title EP was an introduction that allowed fans- and both Harley and I- to speculate what Flume was or is, this new project and the visual which accompanies it leaves little room for speculation in asserting:
“THIS Is Flume.”
The title of the track which follows sets the hard set, bordering obsessive, theme of out with the old Flume and in with the new. Ecdysis– a word that unless you specialize in Invertebrate Zoology probably warrants a Google- affirms this notion and is consistently represented in the visual directed by Jonathan Zawada.
“Centered around the intersection and blend between the artificial and the natural, Zawada’s world is hyperreal – delicate and intricately detailed, as well as bold and dynamic.”
Flume’s ecdysis, unlike a snake’s or insect’s, is a metaphorical one in which he “sheds old skin”- including the album Skin itself- to allow for growth in every sense of the word. If it wasn’t clear enough, throughout the Mixtape Visualizer, we see repeated depictions of the process and strange tranformations which result. High Beams TRACK 3 features HWLS and an English rapper from Northampton named Slow Thai. The song would have been a stand-out on the feature fueled deluxe-version of Flume.
After repeated listens I’ve concluded that perhaps it is just that, a testament to humble beginnings. Now 4 tracks in, Jewel retains the vibe that these initial introductory tracks are there to set something up, to remind us of something, to bring us back to a place or time in which Flume made life better for whatever reason. The narrative in both the isolated album and video clearly guide the experience and explain meticulously where he is going- in showing where he’s been. Each track flows seamlessly into the next, creating a draft in the room in which your sitting as new energy piles on top of each previous track. At this point, one simply cannot anticipate what will happen next.
This continues until Is It Cold In The Water TRACK 7, featuring Sophie and Eprom, where just before the 2 minute mark- a new sound and texture blare through my headphones. After an onslaught of delicious appetizers which made me forget the main dish was still to come- it arrives with an unprecedented grandiose. No genre or subgenre or sub-subgenre can quite pinpoint what I’m listening to. At its best, this track sounds a bit like how I imagine God would sound- or water, or birth.
From this point on, both sonically and visually, we learn who and what Flume is. This process commences with a wild JPEG Mafia flow on How To Build A Relationship TRACK 8– vengeance, confidence, swagger establish this as the lead vocal-driven track. A pause in the mixtape visualizer confuses the viewer as one expects the video to dive into Wormhole TRACK 9. Instead, we are met with relative silence and Harley idling at a gas station. The pause is warranted because as the experimental re-imagination of tribal House commences, the juxtaposition is jarring in every sense of the word- until it is not.
The EP continues through Voices (Featuring Sophie and Kucka) TRACK 10 and the piercing synths of Mud TRACK 11 and in the visualizer Flume can be seen imagining snakes, carrying a lobster, and for lack of a better word- tripping, tripping extremely hard. There have been few contemporary video releases who appear to be inspired by LSD as intensely as this one in recent memory; whether this is a literal representation of substance use or perhaps additional pointing to the alteration and restructuring of his mind, I am unsure. It is said that your brain on LSD looks a lot like a baby’s as everything feels new- like you are seeing it for the first time. I’m sure Harley knew this much as he curates what feels like not a bad trip or good trip but rather an utter loss and then new understanding of reality… of Flume.
As the album progresses and he buries himself in sand, is coated in honey, and sinks underwater- this understanding and sense of self is preserved. Highlights include Upgrade TRACK 12 and Amber TRACK 16, boasting some of the most intensive layering and sound design the producer has ever displayed. As the album and video conclude, a sense of sobriety and clarity emerge for the first time. Just as the video ends and he appears on his surf board, the madness concludes on an inexplicably normal shot. This marks the first break in narrative continuity and as he breaches the water and we note that the transformation he underwent has not changed him into anything but himself.
So what is Flume? This is.
… he is incredibly Australian as Australians are, he is fascinated by the shedding of skin and all things that do, and he gives me faith that at 23 there is still so much room for growth in every sense of the word. I have lived alongside Flume and his music, traveled with him accross the world and will continue to trail his creations closely as he is honest in the creative process and his attempts to do that what has yes to be done. “This Is Flume” is a masterpiece curated and created by a maestro whose only mission appears to be better understanding himself and his project so that others need not shape his understanding of himself and his project. In my opinion, this is Flume’s best work- bold, innovative and beautiful. Bravo, Harley, bravo.