Flume Opts for Astral Travel Over Remix Duties on Mixtape ‘Hi, This Is Flume’
Aussie electronic producer Harley Streten, who records as Flume, is one of the leading lights in the Future Bass sound. For those unacquainted, it’s largely a homage to chainsaws and motorcycles, along with cutting edge advances in bass, snare, and synth technology. Any instrument that defies the rigid parameters of conventional rhythm is also fair game — chimes, for instance. Clashes and interruptions of all types are strongly encouraged. You’ve likely seen this all before, perhaps even too much of it — which brings us to the most serious threat facing future bass today: the genre got too big too fast, and imploded. By the time Dubstep made its way across the Atlantic, it had already evolved largely to Brostep, and moments later, sporting events were being organized throughout the nation to determine who could endure the most intense bass drop. Meanwhile, Dirty South hip-hop was steadily supplanting the old school East and West Coast guards, and by the time the conquest was complete, people were calling it trap. At some point, certain producers began drawing heavily from brostep and trap, along with an assortment of other electronic styles. They called it Future Bass, and for anything else you need to know, Streten’s new mixtape is called “Hi, This Is Flume.”
Flume’s last proper album, 2016’s “Skins,” was essentially a record of negotiations between estranged entities. There was a lot of meeting halfway, and it often made its way into the music. Streten might call off the two-minute sonic aerial bombardment simulation in exchange for exclusive rights to all bass sounds. Or a featured singer might petition to cap the splintering and skewering of vocal audio at one every ten seconds. If the tension was palpable, the collaborations were still successful, and the music bares testament. Guest features explored new edges, and Steten at least made strides in communicating with the layperson. This time, however, it’s an entirely different affair. The lines often blur between albums and mixtapes, but if you had any doubt about Streten’s latest, you could start at the title. Mixtapes offer free reign; what you hear is what you get. Ever the skilled ample slicer, Streten has isolated clips from radio promos, saying, “Hi, this is Flume.” What’s more he played them simultaneously, unsynced — an effective introduction to what he does.
Ecdysis” runs like “Future Bass 101,” a sampler of the most popular sounds on display, while “High Beams,” one of the few proper songs on the mixtape, is surely a standout. The core sound her, again, was already nearly exhausted, much to the credit of Hudson Mohawke, who made it his life’s theme music. Still, even it this track is on the less adventurous end of the spectrum, Flume knows what he’s doing. Moreover, there couldn’t be a better artist than UK rapper Slowthai to flow over this beat. His default mode of delivery is aggression, and he and Flume make a hell of a team. Streten spends much of his time in active bass combat, but sporadically leaves a tight trap beat tin charge, and yields the floor to all types of mellow sounds. There’s a constant shuttling back and forth, the less predictable the better — between any available parameter — panning, instruments, rhythm, although the classic dubstep rhythm shifting should perhaps be given a moratorium. Tracks like “Jewel” suffer considerably from their insistence on hoarding cliches. On the other hand, the brostep lexicon is so limited that it’s up to artists like Flume to develop and diversify.
Flume has a hand at remixing another glitch giant SOPHIE’s “Is It Cold In the Water?” The big surprise comes in a massive bass drop — if you can even call it that. There’s a frenetic, chaotic scattering of sounds somewhat, and it gets downright brutal. “How to Build a Relationship,” featuring JPEGMAFIA is the closest to a normal beat so far, with the only real difference being heavier, hi def sounds. This makes it a bit underwhelming, although one could view it essentially as a transposition of an older style to (somewhat) newer instrumentation. “Wormhole” begins with a percussive stampede, and practically begs to be parodied, as it sounds like the work of cavemen with computers. Still, when the ambitiously randomized percussion does momentarily assume a recognizable pattern, it’s thoroughly satisfying. “Voices,” featuring both SOPHIE and long term collaborator Kucka, is a montage of dimmers, scanners, tunnels, and jangling metal tools. Towards the end, it delves into a type of dubstep t not uncommon to UK experimental label Hyperdub. As often, there’s magic in the details, and the sounds concocted can be so novel that they defy description. We’re talking whistled air pockets in an M.C. Esher constructions. “MUD” prominently features a sound that might best described as gas, sculpted and directed.
Clichés continue to be a holdback, for instance on “Upgrade,” packed with what sounds like electronic scale exercises. To its credit, it also experiments with a couple entirely new types of glitches, which makes it all well worthwhile. “71M3” finds Streten venturing slightly beyond his usual sound palette, recalling sounds from Prefuse 73, with new boldness, clarity, and edge. Spattering of drums comes down in stereo like a hailstorm of varying intensity. “Vitality” has percussion that calls for a redefinition of “syncopation.” There’s something immensely satisfying about the way that this music plays with perception. With such unconstrained syncopation, Imperfection are the defining feature. Other times, the same figures are slided, or volleyed between positive and negative space, and take on new forms. “Amber” sounds a lot like a SOPHIE track, with snapping elastic bands, and swells of feedback that soar and snap. “Spring” speeds up music written for regular instruments, resulting in what sounds like forced melodic labor.
Streten is already part of a longstanding tradition of outre sound art. He has named one of his new tracks with a ridiculously long symbol that one has to see to believe, and it has already become a meme. Merely an interlude, it features an earth-shattering rumble that shifts timbres, a stutter voice triggers the bending of notes, synced up in a way that seems like some transcendence. On the other hands, experiments yield varying results. employs some sounds that are downright painful — although perhaps that’s the intention. The ability of sound to have an effect on you might be a better measure of its power than the suitability of the sound. These horrible noises of Flume’s could maybe one day lead to a sort of sonic rollercoaster. On the other hand, many of the new songs give way to vaguely robotic space choirs. In one instance, breath sounds morph into sung snippets, and it’s unsettling uncertain who’s a person and who isn’t. With the effect of AI on humanity one of the most contentious topics today, everyone should be bumping Flume. Streten proved on “Skins” that he can tailor his tricks to sounds from disparate genres, and polish the edges if needed. On “Hi, This Is Flume,” he makes a compelling case for a style of music that has taken the backburner, and proves that he’s better suited for advancing than conforming.
“Hi, This Is Flume” is available March 22 on Apple Music.