Oliver Heldens On HI-LO Evolution, Tiesto, Life Balance [Interview]
The current global electronic music explosion has made stars out of some unlikely characters. One of these new found stars is 20-year-old Rotterdam native, Oliver Heldens, who at the age of 18 was producing electro house and big room songs to varying degrees of success, but wasn't on the most people's radar. Then just as fans were starting to tire of the repetitive din of big room and the deep house revolution was starting to take hold, a new sound was being created to help bridge that gap for a new eager fan base. Dubbed "future house," the track "Gecko" was first shared as an ID by Tiësto and then quickly bubbled up into one of the biggest releases at the end of 2013 and into 2014. With a series of follow up singles like "Koala," "THIS" with Sander van Doorn, "Melody" and "You Know" alongside Zeds Dead and a UK number one for the vocal mix of "Gecko," Heldens sparked a movement and gave producers, new and old a sound to experiment with.
2015 has seen Heldens continue his dominance with a breakneck touring schedule and more singles like the recent "Shades Of Grey," which enjoyed some commercial success in Belgium and Holland. He launched a new alias, HI-LO as a way to release different, techno, tech and drum n bass influenced sounding tracks that might not fit with the quintessential Oliver Heldens sound. Today, Heldens linked up with German DJ Da Hool to revive his rave classic "Meet Her At The Love Parade (MHATLP)" with a Hi-LO edit to top it all off.
We had the chance to catch up with the Dutchman before his set on the main stage at Electric Zoo to discuss the evolution of HI-LO and how it will impact Oliver Heldens music, upcoming collabs with Knife Party, Tiësto, The Magician and others, how he balances touring and producing and more.
Music Times: Success came quickly after "Gecko." What was the biggest adjustment you had to make?
Oliver Heldens: So I made "Gecko" in the summer of 2013. I still had one year to go in high school and I was in a very high level. That was tough. So I finished the lower level, which was easy. After that I didn't really study. After my last exam, two hours later I was in an airplane on my way to Mysteryland at Woodstock. Then I toured a lot and also on tour I made a lot of tracks as well.
I made so much stuff that I just launched a new alias HI-LO. Its for my more techno-influenced, underground stuff. So I have been making a lot of music and in the last two years I have really developed my DJ sets. I am really happy with my sets now.
MT: Was it tough adjusting to life on the road?
OH: Actually it was pretty fluid because it was a dream coming true. For example my first Miami Music Week was my first time in America. I met a lot of DJs for the first time and they gave me a lot of compliment. I try and stay normal and down to earth.
MT: How do you balance touring and producing?
OH: For me there is no problem. Sometimes to work something out there is a problem because sometimes you need to give your ears a rest and then use the day to tweak a lot of stuff. That is something I don't have a lot of time for, but the track itself is easy. Also the thing is with producing, it is about inspiration. When I am touring, I don't have much time. So when I am on a plane or in a hotel, I can bounce my ideas from my head to my computer. Some tracks that I play live are tracks that I started on tour and finished on tour. Of course there are small things I finish in my home studio, but that is it. For me the situation is perfect.
I am from the new generation where I learned producing on really small screens with headphones and that is it.
MT: Where did the idea to go out into the crowd at festivals?
OH: Yeah actually yesterday at a Dutch festival I did it. I did it My first time in Miami at Ultra Music Festival. EDC Las Vegas last year was really fun. I am Dutch and we are more sober people, Americans are just different. I took a lot of pictures with people in funny costumes. At Halloween I had my turtle suit and I also went in the crowd at Freaknight. In America people become a different person at festivals and in Holland they stay the same person. The Dutch are just there to dance. In America they are also there to dance, but they kind of change into a really happy person.
MT: You also shuffle on stage...
OH: Yeah people really like it and I really like it. It is really fun to play my own track and then go out front and do a little dance and get the crowd crazy. For my DJ sets it's very important to have good flow because I want to make people dance. It is important for me to play a set that is actually a set, not just the most amounts of hits. It is a line that goes to different plays and also has a certain flow. What I try to do is to play diverse stuff. If people read this then they should check out my Tomorrowland set [or his Electric Zoo set]. It is a challenge of course because I only play for an hour at festivals. So it is a challenge to play my own hits and a diverse set.
MT: Would you ever release a three house club set to the public?
OH: Not yet. For example for the new alias HI-LO it would be fun to play really long sets. It would also be fun with Oliver Heldens for my own shows. It sounds a bit business, but when I am doing my own shows at big clubs and venues it would be dumb if I played for 2-and-a-half hours. The first time people see me it should be around one-and-half hours or two hours because then people want more. Sometimes it is better to stop on the peak and then come back a few months later or a half-year later. One hour sets are less fun than one and half hour sets or two hour sets.
MT: Why did you reveal you were HI-LO so quickly?
OH: It was really quickly indeed. It was because of the label actually. The first HI-LO track was on Mad Decent and luckily it gained a lot of buzz on the first release. The second release was on my own label. Because of the buzz around the first release, we decided it was better if we announced at the same time that it would be more then just a label or just an alias. It would be like "whoa Oliver Heldens is doing next level stuff with his career." "Renegade Mastah" did extremely well and I am very happy with that. The alias is like a new world, not because I have been producing it for a long time, but rather because I can finally put it out. It is great to see in my Oliver Heldens sets that the HI-LO stuff works. Of course there are some similarities, but Oliver Heldens is based on its catchy melody. HI-LO also big bass lines but has completely different way of building a track.
MT: How different will Hi-LO get from Oliver Heldens?
OH: What is am working on working on right now with HI-LO is more steamtrain tracks. I don't want to say techno. For example I am very inspired by drum n bass. Within drum n bass you can many different sounds like liquid drum n bass which is very mellow. You can have really dark stuff or heavy, dubstep-influenced drum n bass. Then you also have some techno-influenced drum n bass. So a lot of my new stuff is very techno influenced. The first song "Crank it Up" was more bass-heavy, UK garage kind of vibe.
The second, "Renegade Mastah" was more industrial, tech house. You also see a swinging bass line in this. I did the free download "Wappy Flirt," which was more techno and acid house influenced. With Oliver Heldens I am really excited by nu-disco kind of vibes. I don't want to call it indie-dance, but it is kind of like that label. It is kind of a cross over between UK house, nu-disco and indie-dance. I really like that stuff at the moment. I am working on that stuff with Oliver Heldens at the moment and also some really housey stuff because my favorite kind of stuff is club tracks.
MT: What do you have coming up?
OH: For my songs with Knife Party and The Magician separately, I just went into the studio with them and we didn't finish those. The Tiësto one is actually finished. This month I am releasing my rework of Da Hool "Meet Her At The Love Parade." The cool thing about that track is that it is a crossover between Oliver Heldens and HI-LO. It is really drum n bass influenced.