Oliver Heldens: From High School to Main Stage at Mysteryland [Interview]
As one of the opening acts at Mysteryland USA, Oliver Heldens took over the Main Stage just as festival goers were just entering the grounds on Saturday, May 24. Despite entrance lines and wait times to enter the festival, fans made it through and Oliver drew in a big crowd to the Main Stage. As people edged closer to the massive stage to check it for the first time, they were quickly drawn in by Oliver’s deep house beats. Despite playing tracks that you’d normally expect to hear in a dark, late-night club, people were really into his early afternoon set, which was graced by some beautiful sunlight and blue skies. According to the Dutch artist, “I’m really proud that I’m playing here at Mysteryland on the Woodstock grounds at Bethel Woods. Mysteryland is a really big thing in the Netherlands and I’m really happy for them that they can also settle here in America. It’s their first time, so I’m proud to be on the Main Stage. ”
Surrounding Oliver during his set was the massive house of cards: the intense Main Stage of the festival that dwarfs all of the artists performing on it and puts the capital ‘P’ in Production for this festival. Overall, Oliver’s set was probably one of best quality sets on the Main Stage for the entire weekend, though I am definitely partial to deep and tech house. It was refreshing to hear Oliver’s unique take on house, which combines a reverence for classic, old-school sounds with a willingness to innovate, before the Main Stage would be entrenched with progressive house for most of the rest of the weekend. While some fans of Oliver worry on Facebook that Oliver Heldens is making deep house too obviously awesome (with the underlying fear that pop stars will soon be destroying the beloved sound), it is also great to see the genre and this great artist get the recognition it deserves by putting it on the Main Stage at a major festival that covets the diverse and unique sounds throughout the spectrum of the electronic dance scene.
What is most fascinating about Oliver Heldens is that, while his sound calls to mind some older house from the mid- to late-nineties, Oliver is, in fact, only 19. Actually, Oliver only just finished his last high school final exam the day before the festival! While he was in school, Oliver’s travels and shows were limited to the weekend, and his grades definitely suffered from all of the work he did outside of class. According to Oliver, “It was really hard to balance. For example, I failed one year and now in the last year I switched to a lower level so I would pass my exams, so I couldn’t do the highest level.” However, when asked if the sacrifice was worth it he nodded with a definitive, “Yes.”
Recently, Oliver Heldens’ track “Gecko” has blown up, bringing deep house– often considered a more “underground” sound– to the full attention of the popular EDM scene. Since it’s release in January, “Gecko” has been rated #2 on the Beatport Top 10, #1 on the Beatport Deep House chart and #1 on the latest most popular Shazam new release chart. You’ll even hear “Gecko” on Sirius XM’s EDM stations– a spot usually reserved for the most in-your-face “progressive house” and “bass music.” According to Heldens, “It was a huge surprise for me that it was so big. I really like “Gecko,” it was one of the best things I made at that moment. I didn’t think that so many other people would also like it and play it, share it. It’s a lot softer than all the hard house at the moment, it’s a lot different than the things that Tiesto makes, yet Tiesto released it on his label and so many big DJs supported it.”
Listeners will immediately notice the distinct sound “Gecko” has– it’s totally different most other tracks that you’ve heard. The track has a old-school house sound infused with something totally modern and fresh. Where did that sound come from? “‘Gecko’ was really inspired by old, clubby house tunes, like old Fedde LeGrande and old Bingo Players. But in the last few years I’ve really gotten in touch with deep house– but deep house was a bit too soft and I couldn’t really play it. So I came up with my own kind of deep house which is really uplifting deep house with a lot of energy. So it’s a combination of the new UK deep house sound and the old house club sounds,” says Oliver. Later on he would note, “In deep house you have a lot of different kinds of deep house, so I see myself as ‘uplifting deep house.’”
For someone so young, it’s amazing to see such a leap-frog their career and see much success so early on. Moving forward and continuing to grow after such a major success is essential– if you don’t, you could quickly just be another “one hit wonder.” However, for Oliver, the release of “Gecko” resulted in a burst of new creativity and we can expect more new work soon! According to Oliver, “Actually, at the beginning, I was a bit nervous about how I would grow. My first track was a hard electro track, and then I was like, ‘Oh, now I have to make more tracks like that and it has to be sooner and better,’ so then I was a bit nervous. But actually, with ‘Gecko,’ I got a lot of new inspiration and new tracks. The follow up for ‘Gecko’ is already done, I made it in November, and it will be in July or August or after that. I think at this moment I have too many things to release, so I’m in a bit of a luxurious position. I also have a lot of stuff to work on; I get a lot of collab requests, also from big names.”
What kinds of artists would you love to collaborate with? “I think I want to collaborate with Sander Van Doorn, and I’m going to go with him in studio. I really want to get his old sound back; I really like his old tracks. I also like his new tracks, but his old tracks were the first house experience for me. Or, the old Fedde LeGrand, old Bingo Players. But I’d also like to collaborate with Disclosure or Kaytranada or Chocolate Puma.”
Now that school is over, Oliver Heldens has big summer plans. According to the Netherlands-based producer,”It’s the same as what I was doing before, but now I have more freedom. I don’t have school duties. [Now I’ll be] making music, traveling the world.” Mysteryland was just the beginning– Heldens will be performing at major festivals in Europe and North America, including EDC Las Vegas and Electric Zoo. Stay tuned as Oliver releases more tracks this summer as well! Be sure to follow Oliver Heldens on Facebook to keep updated on news– and some fun/adorable selfies with him and other artists!
Check out Oliver Heldens at the end of this summer at Electric Zoo! More details here.