Oct 03, 2013

Hardstyle is pounding its way into the US mainstream, & leading the charge is Headhunterz, a recent Ultra signee slated to crack the DJ Mag Top 10 this year. The man also known as Willem Rebergen spoke with us about his “shocking” set at Beyond Bay Area, the secret to making hardstyle work in America, & the wonders of the Virus TI.

Headhunterz feat. Tatu - Colors (Original Mix) [Ultra]
LessThan3: What was planning behind your Beyond Wonderland set like? Was it different given that a lot of people there may not be familiar with hardstyle?
Willem: It’s important that I do something that I as Headhunterz feel comfortable doing. If not, I wouldn’t consider playing there. But I always try to put myself in the position of the listener who has never heard me. The challenge, as well as the fun, is in finding the balance between what best fits me and what it would sound like to someone hearing it for the very first time. You could have certain hardstyle records that an avid listener would love, but if you never were into the genre, it might be too much to digest.
LessThan3: Were you pleased with the crowd reaction?
Willem: It was shocking. That may be an understatement. Right before I went on, I told my tour manager “I’m just gonna do this, people are probably going to run off, and that’s it–we’ll forget about it.” I was almost sure that was going to happen. When I dropped the first record, I was like “oh my God, what is happening?” People just went for it. Usually when you hear something for the first time it takes a while to get used to it, but people were so open-minded, and I did not expect it. From that moment on, my energy switched on completely, and I felt that connection with the crowd that I feel at my best gigs.
LessThan3: Do you think this was your best gig in America so far?
Willem: By far. I haven’t felt that way about a set that I’ve played in a long time.
LessThan3: Just wait ’til you play in more of these huge cities. Mountain View is a suburb.
Willem: The thing is, I’ve already played at the EDCs in New York, Las Vegas, and Chicago, but it took me some time to start to understand what actually works for people that don’t know the genre of hardstyle. New York, Vegas, and Chicago were big learning experiences for me. At Beyond, I got to apply what I learned in those cities and create a combination of tracks that took people away.
LessThan3: What specifically did you do differently that made it work better this time?
Willem: House, electro, trap, and dubstep listeners are very used to something I like to call “anti-climaxes,” or where the drop is very different from the breakdown melody. In hardstyle, a lot of the tracks drop with the actual melody, similar to how they do in a lot of trance. It’s something people have to get used to. Because of this, I tried to combine the regular hardstyle formula tracks with hardstyle tracks that drop with a different sound and heavy bass. When you combine that with other tracks that have beautiful melodies, they go “hey, this is cool!” You create an easier learning experience.
LessThan3: What track this year has worked the best for you in your sets?
Willem: It always takes some time for people to know a record. Most of the time, it’s a track from last year that works the best because everyone knows it. I’d say my remix for Spaceman by Hardwell is the track that works best in America. I love to finish my sets with that track.
LessThan3: Our favorite in your set was Nakonga.
Willem: Wanna know something interesting? In Europe that track doesn’t do very well. I played that track for the first time at EDC Vegas and people went nuts, so I went back excited to play it in The Netherlands, and people weren’t that impressed. Then I came back here, played it again, and people went nuts. It’s interesting how different the tastes are.

Once you start playing in the US it will open you up and give you inspiration. Hardstyle fans in Holland, they really just want to hear one thing, and they try to keep you where you are. If you try to experiment, they don’t really support that. Once you start playing in the States, you play for a different kind of crowd who are much more open to trying new things.

LessThan3: Who are some hardstyle producers who are really being innovative and pushing the genre?
Willem: Technoboy N Tuneboy, the Nakonga producers. Technoboy is a legend–he’s probably the reason I started producing hardstyle. He’s coming back after being under the radar for a few years. Besides them, Wildstylez and Noisecontrollers.
LessThan3: What are some of the preferred software synths of hardstyle producers?
Willem: The most preferred is not a software synth–it’s the Access Virus TI. I would recommend that to anyone, not just hardstyle producers. A lot of house producers use Sylenth, but I think the Virus TI crushes Sylenth. The guys from Showtek would agree with me as well–it’s such a bright, flexible sound.
LessThan3: Speaking of Showtek, what are your thoughts on their shift from hardstyle to electro?
Willem: I respect those guys a lot. The American crowd only started to see them when they started coming up with Cannonball, and I have seen them lead the hardstyle scene for a long time. They had to take so much sh*t from their old fans when they started doing a new sound. Hardstyle fans are very devoted, and that can be a good thing and a bad thing, because when they get angry, they get really angry. But the Showtek guys did it, went through a difficult time, and then they started coming back up again. The fact that they went through with it commands respect.
LessThan3: What was it like working with Krewella on United Kids Of The World?
Willem: That was a big thing for me. I signed with Ultra and gave them my first demos and they actually came back with a topline from Krewella. That was the first time I had heard of them. Two weeks later, Alive exploded and everyone knew who they were. They told me when we started communicating that they were hardstyle fans; a couple of years ago they actually opened for me in Chicago and warmed the crowd up. Even though they’ve become super big, they still keep playing harder tracks. They’ve got balls.
LessThan3: What do you think the future for hardstyle is in America?
Willem: I think we need to take the BPM down a little bit. I also felt that at Beyond–I played my set at 145 which is about five BPM slower than I normally do, and it felt right. The first hardstyle songs were as low as 138 or 140. One of my first releases, The Sacrifice, was at 142 BPM, then things eventually got all the way up to 150. I think we should broaden the horizons–they don’t have to be all slower, but why not a little variety? I think slowing it down overall will make the transition in America smoother.
LessThan3: Do you have any big releases coming up you can tell us about?
Willem: The focus right now is the Krewella track–we recorded the video in LA last week. It’s got an anti-bullying theme, focusing on cyberbullying.
LessThan3: If the world were ending in LessThan3 minutes, and you had an iPod with every song ever made on it, what would you listen to?
Willem: Right now, probably Thinking About You by Calvin Harris.
LessThan3: Describe your sound in LessThan3 words.
Willem: Euphoric, energetic, explosive.
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