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Interview

Headhunterz brings hardstyle to North America for a brief tour

By KC Orcutt
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Netherlands producer Headhunterz (aka Willem Rebergen) has often been cited as one of the leaders of the hardstyle genre and movement. He recently began his foray into curating through his own imprint, Hard With Style Records. In the midst of a brief North American tour, including a set at Electric Daisy Carnival last Friday in New York, Rebergen took the time to answer a couple questions about what he’s been up to recently, how he got his start in dance music, and his newly launched label.

How did you first get into DJing and producing? 

I had a hard time finding my way at school and got bullied a lot, so I started looking for something that made me happy, some kind of distraction. I first started singing in a kids’ choir. We did performances and recorded CDs. Soon I found out that I was very much interested in what was going on on the other side of the mic in the recording room. This took place at age 9 to 13. That was where the seed was planted.

Later on, when I started going out to the local club, about three years later, I suddenly knew that I wanted to make that music that was being played for the people, and my ultimate goal became to make some tracks and play them myself at that club as the DJ. Funny fact is that Nicky Romero also started his path at that same little club.

When I reached my first goal, I got so motivated that I locked myself in my room, left the world for what it was, and basically came back out of it when I got my first record deal. This period feels very dreamlike when I think back. This includes the first years of performing as Headhunterz. There was no room for doubt, no looking around—just concentration. Music.

As a leader in the hardstyle movement, how do describe the genre to people who are just learning about it? Do you think that we will begin to see more DJs and producers working within the hardstyle genre who haven’t before—especially in the US, for instance, where the music is just starting to receive mainstream attention?

A few weeks ago I received a wonderful tweet from someone who defined my music as “hard on the outside, soft on the inside.” That kind of nails it. A lot of people I tell that I make hardstyle feel intimidated by the word “hard.” When they actually hear some tracks, they get touched. Hard or not, everyone can appreciate a beautiful melody. It resonates naturally. If I were to describe my music in a few words, then I would rather pick “euphoric” and “energetic” than “hard.” Furthermore, it is pretty unique compared to what else is out there. It’s really a different approach to dance music. It would be awesome if producers get inspired and start to make their interpretation of it. I would be super-excited to see that happen!

Tell us more about Hard With Style Records. When did you decide it was time to take the leap to create your own label? Do you have any signees yet? Do you plan on releasing your own music through Hard With Style, or strictly curating?

Hard With Style Records was a very logical step to take after the podcast became so successful. I noticed that I could make a big difference by playing tracks from upcoming producers and give them a boost by presenting them to a larger audience. I feel great every time I see the reaction of producers whose music I play. They get really motivated and inspired, so I feel that this way I can contribute to the scene and give the young guys a chance, just like I got. The label is an extension of that. I will mainly be releasing singles. Whatever comes in and fits the podcast will fit the label. I’m not particularly looking to sign artists completely, but more to release on a single basis. No nonsense—just good music.

I myself will mainly release my music on Ultra. The label is a platform through which I hope to open doors for my fellow producers and present the sound of the podcast, which is not just about Headhunterz but dependent on all these great producers out there.

Who are some of your go-to producers that you’ve been listening to and mixing into your sets lately? Who would you like to collaborate with? 

Wildstylez and Noisecontrollers are two names that are also responsible for taking the music to the level where it is now. We still inspire each other a lot and play a lot of each other’s music. And besides that, we’re really good friends and live in the same town—which is pure coincidence, by the way. Furthermore, I play a lot from Frontliner and some good new kids are Adrenalize, Omegatypez, and Neilio. I would still like to collaborate with Frontliner again some day. But maybe a collab with someone in a different genre would be great as well. First some single releases coming up.

Regarding your upcoming summer festival dates, are you looking forward to bringing the hard Dutch sound to Tomorrowland? Details have been kept quiet about the TomorrowWorld Festival in the US this September, but is there anything about the festival that you can share? 

Definitely! I have been playing at Tomorrowland for years and have seen it grow from just a nice festival in Belgium to what it is now. Amazing. Looking forward to be part of it again. Sorry, I can not share anything about TomorrowWorld.

What are you looking forward to in the days and weeks upcoming?

This week, I leave to the US for a small tour. EDC New York, EDC Chicago, Vancouver, Toronto, and Edmonton. To be honest, I can feel the butterflies again. For years I have been in my comfort zone playing this music and now I feel like the new kid on the block again. Wish me luck.