Flume Best Tracks photo

The Evolution Of Flume In 15 Essential Tracks

From a Sydney bedroom to the world's biggest stages, here's Flume's musical journey as we know it. Words by Jack Tregoning

By Jack Tregoning, 4/6/2019

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This October, Harley Streten will fly around the country as Listen Out’s 2019 headliner. The homegrown boy wonder last played the festival back in 2014, and a lot has happened since.

Those five year gave us Flume’s second album, Skin, two companion EPs, some welcome surprise singles and the Hi This Is Flume mixtape. Around those releases, Streten cemented his stardom overseas, playing every festival worth playing, sharing studios with rap royalty and even winning a Grammy for Skin. You know, regular stuff you do in your 20s.

Flume’s stratospheric success is now a touchstone for bedroom producers everywhere. It helps, of course, to have his preternatural talent. Nine years ago, Streten was living with his parents on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, channelling his love of Flying Lotus, Shlohmo and Jai Paul into rudimentary beatmaking. (This followed a short lived 140-BPM trance phase.)

After countless laptop hours, he had something good enough for triple j Unearthed.

Here’s the unfolding story of Flume, from teenage amateur to Australia’s biggest electronic act, in 15 key tracks.

#1. ‘Possum’ [2011]

It sounds almost too Wikipedia-perfect, but Streten really did start making beats using free software from a box of Nutri-Grain.

Before that auspicious supermarket shop with his Dad, young Harley learned about hardcore trance from his next-door neighbour’s older brother. His real light bulb moment, though, was hearing Jai Paul’s ‘BTSTU’ for the first time. “It made me realise this is the kind of music I want to make,” he wrote.

As it turned out, the cereal box dreamer was a natural perfectionist, eventually submitting ‘Possum’ to triple j Unearthed in 2011. What the track lacks in studio sheen, it makes up for in sheer exuberance — standing alone in Flume’s catalogue and setting a marker for the next eight years.

#2. ‘Sleepless’ (feat. Anthony for Cleopatra) [2011]

If ‘Possum’ set the stage, ‘Sleepless’ was Flume’s breakout performance. Streten submitted the track for a Future Classic artist competition — it didn’t win, but they signed him anyway. The partnership would change everything for both artist and label.

Streten’s early productions won him the triple j Unearthed slot at Sydney’s Field Day on January 1, 2012. His set time: 12:45pm, fresh from gates opening, on the smallest stage. (In another snapshot of changing times, Calvin Harris played at the diminutive hour of 2:40pm.)

Six years later, Flume was back at Field Day to close the main stage — and he still played ‘Sleepless’. As he put it to Pedestrian back in 2012, “This was the tune that started it all for me.”

#3. ‘Holdin On’ [Flume, 2012]

Streten’s 2012 began with a midday slot at Field Day and ended with a No. 1 debut album. While ‘Sleepless’ came first, ‘Holdin On’ is perhaps his prototypical song — the one that gave a legion of would-be Flumes some big ideas.

Fun fact: the central sample — disco singer Anthony White’s take on Otis Redding’s ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’ — came recommended from Van She’s Michael Di Francesco (later Touch Sensitive).

#4. ‘On Top’ (feat. T.Shirt) [Flume, 2012]

Considering the fully realised hits that came later, ‘On Top’ can feel like minor Flume. However, this one set the template for his future adventures in hip-hop. It’s fitting that ‘On Top’ follows the pillowy warmth of ‘Sleepless’ on Flume: two clear sides of a shape-shifting producer.

Streten wrote this beat in a streak of inspiration – “the only tune I’ve successfully written hungover,” he told Pedestrian — then passed it to T.Shirt. Now known as SHIRT, the New York rapper is one of Flume’s lesser-known collaborators, but he nailed the brief. There’s a good reason this one has never strayed far from the Flume setlist.

#5. ‘Drop The Game’ (with Chet Faker) [Lockjaw EP, 2013]

‘Drop The Game’ is the perfect snapshot of 21-year-old Flume. Riding the wave of a platinum album, Streten could’ve easily lost his head. Instead, he spent 2013 grinding.

His debut Australian headline tour, in April and May of that year, featured the ‘Infinity Prism’ light show, with Chet Faker in support.

At the first show in Sydney, Streten brought his friend back onstage to perform Flume cut ‘Left Alone’ and a brand-new one called ‘Drop The Game’, which they’d just written on a week away. The song was later released on the pair’s Lockjaw EP and hit No. 5 on the triple j Hottest 100.

Six years on, ‘Drop The Game’ reminds us how Flume processed sudden success: by giving us more.

#6. Major Lazer – ‘Get Free’ (What So Not remix) [2013]

In the years after Flume, Streten stayed open to the occasional remixing job.

One of those jobs, repolishing Disclosure’s already glossy ‘You & Me’, led to a casual 285 million plays on Spotify. Meanwhile, his inspired remix of Hermitude’s ‘HyperParadise’ introduced the Blue Mountains beatmakers to a whole new crowd.

Then there’s this take on ‘Get Free’, from the EDM-mad year of 2013. At the time, Streten was still making club tunes alongside his buddy Emoh Instead as What So Not, and remixing Major Lazer was right in their wheelhouse. (Since 2015, Emoh has continued What So Not solo.)

You could say this riot of syrupy vocals and buzzing drops belongs to its moment in time, but it has remained one of Flume’s festival staples.

#7. Marlena Shaw – ‘Woman of the Ghetto’ (Flume’s Jackin’ House Mix) [Verve Remixed: The First Ladies, 2013]

Unlike ‘Get Free’, this one never really troubled Flume’s shows, to the point that most fans wouldn’t know it exists.

In 2013, Streten was approached to update Marlena Shaw’s classic ‘Woman of the Ghetto’ for the compilation Verve Remixed: The First Ladies, sharing a remixer list with TOKiMONSTA, Toro Y Moi and Kaskade.

Instead of hitting his familiar beats, he decided instead on four-to-the-floor. The result is a whole lot of fun, and a real outlier in the Flume catalogue. It’s no surprise he has the chops to jack, but house purism was never his calling.

#8. ‘Some Minds’ (feat. Andrew Wyatt) [2015]

‘Some Minds’ neatly illustrates Flume’s in-between years. 2014 was all about breaking the US, including his Coachella debut and a sold-out run of headline shows. Every interview included a variation on the question, “How’s the second album coming?”

‘Some Minds’, featuring Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt, arrived as a stop gap between multiple Spotify-geared remixes and that elusive next LP. The track is perfectly fine, which makes it notable.

Stately, swelling and ‘mature’, with a video shot inside the Sydney Opera House, it feels like Streten straining for something new. Even with its glitchy final third, this is Flume at his most polished — which, with time, feels closer to dull.

#9. ‘Never Be Like You’ (feat. Kai) [Skin, 2016]

In 2016, Streten told triple j’s Richard Kingsmill he was “living proof” of second album syndrome.

While Skin didn’t come easily, it successfully broadened the Flume sound. Its lead single, ‘Never Be Like You’, is the purest distillation yet of Streten’s pop instincts.

With 460 million Spotify plays, it’s his biggest hit, breaking him to an even wider audience in the States. It’s also one of his most streamlined compositions to date, giving all the shine to Kai’s open-hearted performance.

Just as early Flume had its imitators, so too did pop-minded Flume. The combination of a rubbery bassline, crisp drops and a sincere vocal was readymade chart catnip.

Streten wanted Skin to swerve, describing it as an album not suited for dinner parties. If ‘Wall Fuck’ is the album’s spikiest extreme, ‘Never Be Like You’ is its warmest embrace.

#10. ‘Heater’ [Skin Companion EP 1, 2016]

On the heels of Skin, Streten released two companion EPs featuring tracks that didn’t make the album. Of these extras, it’s the guest-free cuts that stand out. (Apologies to Pusha T.) ‘Heater’, from Skin Companion EP I, is the sound of Flume having fun, without the pressure of making a chart hit or reinventing his sound.

‘Heater’ also feels built to play live — a crucial component of the Flume equation. Ahead of its official release, the track was lighting up his sets as ‘WooHoo ID’, paired with the ‘Insane’ a cappella.

#11. ‘Hyperreal’ (feat. Kučka) [2017]

A year on from Skin, Streten dropped its final bonus track, ‘Hyperreal’, as part of the Skin Companion EP II vinyl release. It’s a fascinating closer to a prolific chapter — and notable as another electric team-up with Kučka.

The Australian singer appears twice on Skin, but ‘Hyperreal’ finds a new angle on her brittle, crystalline vocals. This is Flume at his most turbo-charged, with booming house kicks and a melody that swells and breaks apart. For all its sonic straining, Kučka’s vocals keep it anchored in pop.

#12. Lorde — ‘The Louvre’ [Melodrama, 2017]

Unlike some of his peers, Streten keeps the for-hire production to a minimum. His short list of studio credits mostly includes friends, such as fellow wunderkind Lorde.

In 2017, Streten casually announced he lent a hand on ‘The Louvre’, a standout on Lorde’s triumphant Melodrama. Whatever part he played in the final product, it certainly wasn’t overbearingly Flume-y. ‘The Louvre’ is a gleaming creation, and Lorde rightly holds centre frame.

#13. ‘How to Build a Relationship’ (feat. JPEGMAFIA) [Hi This Is Flume, 2019]

In an interview with Zane Lowe, Streten described his approach to working with rappers, which often involves reshaping his production “so the whole piece of music fits the vocals like a glove.”

He’s refined that technique in the years since ‘On Top’, making him a viable partner for the likes of Vic Mensa, Raekwon, Freddie Gibbs and Ghostface Killah. (“I feel, like, super white sometimes in these sessions,” he told triple j’s Richard Kingsmill.) The best fit so far might be Vince Staples, who tore through Skin’s ‘Smoke & Retribution’ before inviting Streten onto his own ‘Yeah Right’.

Then came the Hi This Is Flume mixtape, which features a perfect example of producer and rapper in lockstep. JPEGMAFIA is a livewire, but he’s matched at every turn by the fizzing beats on ‘How To Build A Relationship’. As the rapper swerves, disassembles and doubles back, Streten stays right there with him.

#14. ‘Voices’ (feat. SOPHIE & Kučka) [Hi This Is Flume, 2019]

The significance of this one is simple: Streten got a proper chance to work with SOPHIE, one of the biggest influences on his evolving sound.

Previously the two producers contributed to Vince Staples’ ‘Yeah Right’, albeit on obviously distinct sections, while Flume and Eprom also remixed SOPHIE’s ‘Is It Cold In The Water?’.

But ‘Voices’ is a true collaboration, fusing their sensibilities alongside another commanding turn from Kučka. Shame it’s over so quickly.

#15. ‘Friends’ (feat. Reo Cragun) [2019]

Back in March, Streten shared ‘Friends’ with a simple message: “Damn it feels good to be back.” Featuring Canadian rapper Reo Cragun, the track feels like a recalibration after the form-bending on Hi This Is Flume.

This is party-ready Flume as you’ve previously known him, complete with a chorus you instinctually hear at festival volume. And what better way than that to round out the story so far?

Jack Tregoning is a freelance writer based in New York City. He was formerly Editor of inthemix. He tweets at @JackTregoning.

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