Flume: 'I don't think I make dance music' – but festivalgoers likely disagree

The Australian electronic star thought he was making strange downtempo tunes – but they’re making people dance the world over

It’s an article of faith that dance music has swept America, but the fact that young Australia also now rocks to synthesizers rather than guitars has been less remarked upon. The leading light of the Australian electronic music scene is Flume, born Harley Streten. The 23-year-old’s 2012 self-titled debut album is lush, downtempo but surging electronica and became the signature sound of his homeland the following year, particularly his first anthem Holdin On.

Two years on, Streten has toured the world his trademark light-up prism (he now has two: the second one fits into two suitcases), while he’s remixed the likes of Arcade Fire, Sam Smith and Lorde. America is now his second-biggest market after Australia, and he’s considering a temporary relocation to LA as he works on his second album. “Sydney’s beautiful, the weather’s great and the air’s fresh and clean, but it doesn’t have the scene and the amount of likeminded people. At home things are very comfortable but I feel like putting myself out there a bit,” he says, munching poached eggs in the lobby of New York’s chic Standard Hotel.

On Saturday he plays the Governors Ball in the New York City, one of many festivals he’ll perform at this summer. If festivals are now the places where dance acts and rock bands battle for supremacy, is dance music winning? “Yeah,” says Streten with an chuckle at the obviousness of the answer. “There’s a lot more dance festivals than rock.” What’s the most wasted crowd he’s ever encountered? “Leeds – they were on another planet,” he says. “Oh man, they were having a good old time.”

A fan of electronic music as a teenager, Streten, from Sydney’s north shore, soon started creating his own tunes: “proper” 130bpm house music and, on the side, more ambient, downtempo material “for iPod listening on the bus or in the car or at home”. In 2011 he was signed by Aussie dance label Future Classic and soon discovered that it was his more off-kilter material that had the power to excite clubbers. “I don’t think I make dance music,” says Streten. “It’s not even 4/4. And it’s slow. When it first started happening and I saw people dancing to it I was like, what the fuck? The music I was making for people not to dance to was the one they were dancing to.”

Though he admits to an early fondness for the Killers and Bloc Party (“dance music with guitars”), Streten is clear about electronic music’s appeal, both to make and to listen to. “The thing I find frustrating about rock music is, how different can you make an acoustic drum kit sound, an electric guitar and vocals? It’s very stuck whereas with electronic music new sounds are being created. Imagine a Skrillex bassline 20 years ago – no-one would have been able to fathom what that sounded like. Great songwriting will never die – it’s in the DNA of music - but what’s new and exciting is pairing that with new sounds that technology is enabling us to make.”

Musicians usually hate describing their own sound, but Streten breaks it down forensically. His aim for album two, he says, is to make “downtempo, cinematic, really moving pieces but with the energy of EDM. It’s not as easy as you think because when you add energy you take away melody.” Streten often works with vocalists such a fellow Aussie Chet Faker; he’d like to work with Damon Albarn and Andre 3000 and Big Boi of Outkast, whose voices would be suited to his moody sonic palette.

Given that he doesn’t even consider what he does to be dance music, Streten is particularly keen not to be lumped in with the crassest end of the genre. “EDM ... I teeter on the edge of that,” he says. “It’s just the new kind of pop I guess. I feel a lot of it doesn’t have a lot of soul, but it gets the kids moving - it does the job.”

Rather than, say, David Guetta, Streten prefers the likes of Rustie and Hudson Mohawke to listen to, saying that he was in heaven at Amsterdam’s Pitch festival, when all his favourite musicians were on the bill. He also rates Laneway in Australia and Lightning in a Bottle in the California desert: “It was quite hippy but well-organised hippy - I would love to go back there as a punter and camp.”

As a festival punter, Streten used to “get pretty wasted with my friends”. As a performer, “festivals don’t have the same charm that they used to because they’re my work environment now”. He does, however, try to see other acts on the bills he plays. “I’ve been really good. The more I tour, the less I party, and the less I party the more I feel I can go and do memorable things.”


Alex Needham

The GuardianTramp

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