Flume: From Hard Rock Cafe Waiter to International Sensation

Five years ago, Flume was a waiter at Hard Rock Cafe. Now, he's an international sensation.

Flume may be one month shy of turning 25, but he already “feels old.”

“Do I think I’ve matured?” the electronic musician asks from St. Louis, one of the many stops on his current seven-month-long worldwide tour. “One-hundred percent. This life and this job and this position that I’m put in, it forces you to grow up quick. I definitely got dropped in the deep end.”

But fame will do that to you, especially when your road to success has been as immediate and meteoric as Flume’s.

The self-described “guy who likes computers and loves music” first learned how to produce music at the age of 13 thanks to a box of Nutri-Grain cereal that contained a CD with “a crappy version of GarageBand.” Around the age of 20, the Sydney, Australia native began uploading his songs to SoundCloud while juggling a variety of random day jobs, such as waiting tables at Hard Rock Cafe, working the register at a magazine stand, and cleaning offices using a wearable, Ghostbusters-esque “backpack vacuum.”

His luck changed in 2011, when he submitted the tracks “Sleepless,” “Over You,” and “Paper Thin” to a competition thrown by the Australian record company Future Classic. They chose Flume as the winner, signed him to their label, and released his first EP soon thereafter.

Now, five years later, Flume, who, according to Spotify, is the 44th most listened-to artist “in the world,” has two full-length albums under his belt, is headlining slots at various international music festivals, and has a seven-digit yearly income, according to The New York Times. He’s topped Australia’s iTunes charts more than once, taken home nine awards, and produced a handful of records that have been certified gold, platinum, and double-platinum. One song, “Never Be Like You,” released in January, has even achieved quadruple-platinum status.

“It’s all happened very quickly,” Flume says of his success. “I didn’t expect it to quite pan out like this.”

Known for textured, tightly controlled productions that strike the perfect balance between lush opulence and rigid industrialism, Flume’s music stands out for its lack of trendiness — you won’t hear typical EDM bass drops — and difficulty to predict. Over the years, Flume’s style has also become much more avante-garde and experimental.

While his first album was more melodic and sample-based, containing only a handful of songs with vocals, his second album, Skin, is much more ambitious. Released in May after years of simmering in the studio, Skin, which clocks in at just over an hour, has more guest singers and an array of field recordings that includes the sounds of children playing in a park, rocks ricocheting down metal pipes, and balloons being rubbed against one another.

“I definitely wanted the second record to be a much more grandiose thing,” he says. “I wanted to push myself and make a big statement.”

While bizarre, solely instrumental offerings made their way onto the album — like “Wall Fuck,” a shadowy, futuristic tune that plays with reverb and repetition, and “3,” a glitchy, cavernous song filled with Flume’s eerie moaning — the bulk of tracks on Skin feature vocalists. And not just any vocalists, but big-name artists that range from pop acts, like Kai, AlunaGeorge, Little Dragon, Vic Mensa, and Beck, to rappers, like Allan Kingdom, Vince Staples, and Raekwon.

Unlike 2012’s Flume, which was composed piecemeal and remotely, every artist — except for Raekwon — ventured into the studio with Flume to lay down their tracks. Flume also composed the songs differently this time around, leaving space between the instrumentals for the vocals, rather than slapping them on to the finished product.

Instead of jumping into a new album, Flume has been collaborating on art installations and pop-up stores with the artist Jonathan Zawada, who created the album art for Skin.

“Right now, I’m definitely feeling more excited about doing stuff that’s not even albums,” he says.

But fans can rest assured that a third album will come out eventually. And even though he can’t say when that will be, Flume can promise one thing about it: It’s going to be weird.

“I’m sure of that,” he says.

Flume plays at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22, Friday, Sept. 23, and Saturday, Sept. 24 at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. $46; apeconcerts.com.

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