Put another shrimp on the barbie, light up that fat, densely-packed propane tank and get ready for some outrageous fun — The Aussies are taking over. “Downtempo,” or “chill,” electronic music is seeing a surge in popularity, and artists from the land down under are spearheading the mellow movement.
“Downtempo,” “down beat” or “chill (out),” are names for the same musical style. As opposed to other pop electronic genres — like EDM — downtempo takes it slow, relying on relaxed tempos, more sophisticated and nuanced melodies and complex, understated beats.
Something is in the water down under. Artists are suddenly saying, “Fuck the didgeridoo, time to harness the power of electricity and make some introspective beats.” Alas, the pioneers of the very non-obscure, Australian Downtempo movement were born. The two most prominent, Flume and Chet Faker have not been producing for long, but they’ve already made a big splash in Australia, Europe, and are beginning to make headway with an American audience.
Roughly 10 years ago, Sydney-native Harley Streten, aka Flume, discovered his musical destiny at the bottom of a Nutri-Grain cereal box. Buried beneath the crunchy and fibrous deliciousness was a CD for a simple music production program — Streten was hooked and his interest in production grew exponentially over his teenage years. Now, at the age of 22, Flume is the fastest growing electronic artist in the world. His self-titled album was released in November 2012, to critical acclaim. In 2013, he was recognized at the Australian Recording Industry Association Awards as the Breakthrough Artist and Best Male Artist of the year, and also received the award for Best Dance Release.
In 2013, Flume collaborated with fellow Aussie, Chet Faker, to release the Lockjaw EP. The track, “Drop the Game,” went platinum. Not only did the partnership elevate Flume to the next level of stardom, it also placed the relatively less-known Nicholas Murphy, aka Chet Faker, in the limelight.
Murphy, a Melbourne native, offers a slightly different take on downtempo. Much like his idol, jazz musician Chet Baker, Murphy’s vocals are a crucial element in his recipe. Faker’s music tends to be darker, and more soulful than Flume’s, making their collaborative efforts an interesting blend of style.
Faker released his first EP, Thinking in Textures in 2012. The EP received positive reviews from many indie outlets, but didn’t generate much momentum in the mainstream. However, when his first true album, Built on Glass, was released in 2014, it debuted at number 1 in the Australian charts.
Together, the collective success of Flume and Faker are emblematic of a larger trend in music. “Electronic Music” is becoming increasingly dissociated as a genre. Given the massive variety of styles that fall under the electronic heading, the label is meaningless alone. “Electronic” is no longer a stylistic descriptor. It would be like if someone grouped rock, blues, jazz, country and folk under “Guitar music.” Flume and Chet transcend general classification, and bridge the gaps between classical style and new means of creation. By chilling out the tempo and reducing the bells and whistles associated with electronic music, the downtempo movement is forging a new distinct musical identity and a genre that the masses can enjoy.
Chet and Flume aren’t the only ones riding the downtempo wave from down under — other Aussies, like Jordan Rakei and Thief, are also generating hype. If you are only going to listen to one song by each artist/pair of artists, my recommendations would be “Drop the Game” (Flume/Chet Faker), “Holding on” (Flume), “Talk is Cheap” (Chet Faker), “Broken Boy” (Thief), and “Streetlight” (Jordan Rakei).
Relax, enjoy your barbied shrimp, and listen to the noises of Australia – you may be inspired enough to buy a box of Nutri-Grain.