“It feels amazing to be represented on a stage like that,” Streten says, “But at the end of the day, I do this because I love doing music. The awards are … a really cool bonus acknowledgment, but it's never something I strive towards.”
The 2016 Grammy-winning album pushed Streten to a new realm of international stardom. Skin topped the Dance/Electronic Album Sales chart, while singles “Never Be Like You” featuring Kai and “Say It” featuring Tove Lo landed the producer his first Hot 100 hits. Flume's signature off-center synths began a movement of copy-cats. Diplo even publicly accused Zedd of ripping it off with his remix of “The Candyman” for an M&Ms ad campaign.
Streten supported Skin with two world tours and granted “a billion interviews every day,” the burden of which can be felt in the Hi This is Flume intro, a 30-second collection of radio drops layered into cacophony. The idea of embarking on another album campaign left him “a bit freaked out” and “scarred.”
“I actually wasn't enjoying doing the music because I was laboring over it so much,” he says. “I had this anxious energy about 'Is it as good as it can be?'”
So, he gave up on the idea of an album altogether and tricked himself into making it fun. Despite 16 of its 17 songs being entirely original material, he called Hi This is Flume a “mixtape” to destress the creative process.
He says his first two albums were slaves to a “grand vision.” Hi This if Flume became an exercise in letting go. Streten weaved together bits and pieces of rhythms and noise, striving not for perfection but rather to embrace “some grit and dirt.” Usually the type to insist on doing everything himself, he worked on a few cuts alongside respected peers Eprom and Sophie, both of whom champion a glitched-out, experimental sound whose influence is felt throughout the mixtape. A remix of Sophie's “Is It Cold In The Water,” from her Grammy-nominated debut album, is the only non-original piece.
“Being in the studio with [Sophie] is so loud,” Streten laughs. “She'd just have [the speakers] at nine or 10 out of 10. It's like, 'Woooah.' She's so talented, though.”
In the spirit of keeping things casual, Streten dropped Hi This is Flume with no build-up other than a teaser tweet in March of 2019. There was nothing casual about the accompanying visualizer, though. He'd teamed with Skin cover artist Jonathan Zawada on a seven-day shoot that saw the pair explore the beautiful wilderness of Austalia's southwest coast.
“We actually were staying in some seriously remote locations,” he says, “Lots of snakes, lots of spiders, lots of things that can kill you in general. I vividly remember laying in bed one night after shooting. I was on my iPhone, scrolling on Instagram as you do. I saw this silhouette walk over my chest, and it was this huge spider. I let it walk off me and slowly got up. It was a tough getting back to sleep.”
The 42-minute epic brings the full mixtape's experimental mood to life in brilliant color as Streten explores giant sand dunes, salt flats and other “alien-looking landscapes” in a meme-worthy blue robe and patchwork painted, Sharpie-colored Nissan 300ZX.
“We were just nerding out about cars, and we wanted to get that one,” he says. “It was just working, like a 50/50 kind of thing whether it was going to start. The guy we bought it off was passionate. He'd looked after it so well, and all the interiors were custom. It was this beautiful, red car, the classic look. When Jonathan told him what we were going to do with it, he almost didn't sell it to him.”
The Nissan reappears in Flume's “Rushing Back” music video, a stand-alone song not included on the mixtape featuring Vera Blue. “Rushing Back” was released in September, just in time for a surreal live performance at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. The show caught headlines for bizarre on-stage antics, like when Streten spent a few minutes potting some house plants, only to smash the pots a moment later.
“I was getting bored of the show, standing there twiddling knobs, putting my hands up,” he says. “It didn't feel challenging. I didn't feel like the audience was as engaged as they could be. They didn't know what I was doing, half the time I didn't know what I was doing. It didn't feel authentic … So I was like, 'How about instead of that, I'm going to put on a theater performance.'”
The show, which has been recreated at Lollapalooza and will be performed at upcoming festival slots, fancies itself a bit of a drama. When he does create music, the production is captured on live-feed video screens. When he's not outright performing, he does other things, like carving the name of the city into the stage with an angle grinder, sparks flying in all directions, or just laying down, looking at the audience while chit-chatting through a robot-voice computer program.
“Instead of trying to build a ginormous spaceship that's bigger than everyone else's, I wanted to try and do something that's different,” he says, “Just throw the whole huge production UFO thing out the window. Start something new … I'm not bored. That's the point.”
His year-long experiment in tearing down conventions is precisely why the Recording Academy has honored the project. In trying to reinvent himself, Flume once more proved his worth at the bleeding edge of music culture. Hi This is Flume is not outright accessible, but on “High Beams” with HWLS and UK rap breakout slowthai or “How To Build A Relationship” with Jpegmafia, it's catchy as hell. It's as gritty and crunchy as intended, but it's also emotive, dynamic and awe-inspiringly beautiful. It's a project that taught Flume to trust himself, and he takes those lessons with him toward his next project.
“At the start of the new year, I'm on a mission,” he says. “I want to try and write a record in four months. I'm just going to chill until then, and then I'm just going all hands on deck, dedicate to getting it done. I'm planning on doing some traveling solo … Trying to stimulate my creativity as much as impossible. The idea of an album is not so stressful after doing the mixtape. I'm really looking forward to it and seeing what happens, seeing what comes out.”