“It was a crazy journey,” says Flume - aka Harley Streten - of his 2012 self-titled debut’s international success. “I was just some quiet kid in high-school and all of a sudden I kind of got dropped into the deep end. Physically and mentally. It was a huge shock to the system.”
“Shock” plays a significant role on Flume’s often-outrageous second album, Skin. The 24-year old Australian producer’s wildly eclectic follow-up is a meticulously crafted, vivid universe of big emotions woven into a densely cinematic whole. With good reason - its creation mirrors the complex rush of sensations that came with Streten’s success.
“It used to be just writing for myself but now there is an audience,” says Streten. A sizeable one at that - beyond millions of listeners and his own sold-out shows, Flume has become a major draw at international festivals, including Reading, Leeds, Pukkelpop, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and a headliner slot at Rock En Seine in Paris to 40,000 fans. “I do think about them and I don’t want to isolate them,” says Streten of the writing process. “If I wrote chilled stuff, which I really like, I’d find it difficult to play it at a festival. So I did want to keep the next album at a certain high energy. That definitely influenced the new stuff a lot.”
Recorded in hotel rooms, aeroplanes, trains, taxis, and tour vans, and in locations as far-flung as LAX airport, a shack on the west coast of Mexico, a log cabin in rural Tasmania, a bus rattling towards Vegas, as well as studios in LA, New York, and his hometown of Sydney, Skin is “a grand expedition in trying to capture the biggest, most epic, powerful moments,” says Streten. “It’s the hi-fi version of my sound. I know it won’t be for everyone but it’s what I had to do. I needed to do something bold.”
The initial problem with this vision was it proved maddeningly difficult to articulate. That’s where the title comes from. “I didn’t feel like I was in my own skin throughout the writing process,” says Streten. “I’d think I had it all figured out and then discover I didn’t. I had big moments of self-doubt. I’m a perfectionist and it all drove me a bit crazy.”
That pressure was self-made. His forward-thinking debut had maintained a consistent rhythm and heartbeat, part of the reason it was so quickly embraced - to fans it was a world unto itself. For Skin, Streten wanted to rudely interrupt this pulse. “Skin is a record you couldn’t put on at a dinner party,” says Streten. “I wanted jarring things that make me feel,” he says. “Potent contrasting emotions - vulnerability and strength, uncomfortable and euphoric. Skin was designed to trigger these things. Skin itself is alien and weird but also really intimate and that’s how I want this music to come across, and to explore the line in between. Strange but organic, like it has a soul.”
After slowly beginning work on Skin as far back as late 2013, Streten’s breakthrough came in mid-2015 when he shifted to LA for three months of solid work. Then, stuck on what would become the clattering standout, ‘Numb and Getting Colder’, he crushed together three completely different songs. It was a lightbulb moment. “I thought, cool this sounds like it’s from the future’” says Flume. “I hadn’t heard anything quite like that. I thought, this is how the album’s going to sound. I want to sound like the future.”
With a whole new sonic palette developing alongside his production skills, Flume sought key vocalists to flesh out the weird pop he was making. Canadian singer Kai, who provides the emotional centrepoint on Skin’s lead single ‘Never Be Like You’, heads an eclectic range of talent that includes Tove Lo, Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano, MNDR, AlunaGeorge, Australian newcomer Kučka, Canadian MC Allan Kingdom, US rappers Vince Staples, Vice Mensa, and Raekwon of Wu-Tang fame, as well as award-winning singer-songwriter, Beck, who collaborated with Stretan on uplifting closing track, ‘Tiny Cities’. A song which, as befitting the dynamic of the record (and maybe some of its sound), finally clicked as Streten worked away inside a Sydney car wash.
Despite featuring an incredible array of talent, Skin is, at its core, a hard-won and profoundly personal victory. “The point of being an artist is to be yourself,” says Streten. “Not to please people but to make stuff that doesn’t exist. Following my instincts is what got me to this point. I want to make things that sound like nothing else out there.”