Hardstyle pioneer Willem Rebergen, better known as Headhunterz, has played an integral role in bringing more attention and popularity to the hardstyle genre. Not only has he played at essentially every major hardstyle festival — Qlimax, Defqon.1 and Q-Base just to name a few — he has also performed at EDC Vegas and more recently, Coachella. As a reflection of his influence, Headhunterz is now bringing his own brand Hard with Style to the US for the first time, which will take place in LA on August 23 (you can learn more about the event here and get your tickets here). His passion for the scene and the music itself is carried out through his Hard with Style podcast, as well as his Hard with Style label — platforms which he leverages to expose new artists to a larger listener base. Not afraid to step out of the comfort zone, Headhunterz has broken out of the traditional hardstyle boundary through remixes and collaborations with other genres.
About a year ago, when I was looking to explore a genre different than the typical electro house, trance and dubstep, I thought I would give hardstyle a chance. I immediately fell into Headhunterz’s music (which I enjoyed so much that I created a piano medley cover of 11 of his tracks), and his sets at EDC Chicago and EDC Vegas last year were easily one of my favorites. With his Hard with Style show in LA coming up and a preview of his latest collaboration with W&W, “Shocker,” recently out, it was the perfect time for me to chat with Headhunterz himself to get an inside scoop about his upcoming event and collab, and hear his perspective about the growing popularity in the hardstyle scene.
Your Hard with Style brand is coming to the US for the first time with its first-ever Hard with Style show in LA. How does it feel to be bringing the hardstyle scene to the US?
It’s another dream come true. The first thing on my list was to get myself to the US and now my “baby” is coming to the US as well. I never expected my brand, Hard with Style, to become what it is today and to have it grow exponentially. It’s a logical step for Hard with Style to come to the US but I definitely don’t take it for granted.
The upcoming US Hard with Style lineup includes Wildstylez, Adrenalize, Rebourne and Kayzo. Out of all the hardstyle artists out there, what made these artists become part of your lineup?
These artists have all been closely involved with Hard with Style and meant something important for the podcast as well as the label. I tried to get a lineup that represents Hard with Style and what it stands for — hard music with a soft edge that can touch you on a deeper level — and I believe these artists deliver that.
Hard with Style initially started out as a podcast for you to open doors for new artists and share their music to a larger audience. How did the idea for this podcast come about?
One of my colleagues suggested that I start a podcast, as podcasts were new and really becoming popular at the time, and I was definitely immediately interested in doing that. I grew up doing Dutch movie voiceovers for Disney movies as a kid, so I was comfortable talking into the mike. I was also excited to talk about music — I normally reach people through music, but it’s nice to actually transmit your enthusiasm by actually letting listeners hear your voice. After the pilot episode, everyone was enthusiastic and I had a lot of fun doing it. Eventually, I let the podcast grow on its own, and the crowd became hungry for more and more.
Hardstyle seems to have an exponentially growing presence in the US. Q-Dance made its debut in US last year and is now debuting in Canada; you played at EDC Vegas and also Coachella this year. What do you think created such an upsurge in interest in hardstyle within the US?
In Europe, the hardstyle scene guys began to see electronic music explode in the US, so automatically there was a question of whether we could be part of that growth. When I started doing gigs in the US, I got a taste of what the US audience like and how far I could go, and that gave me an opportunity to create a blend of music that’s suitable for the American crowd but is still considered hardstyle. The hardstyle sound has evolved in a decade’s time period to suit the needs of the Dutch people today, and now we have to come up with a way to cater to the US audience. It’s a nice experiment to go out of the comfort zone and reinvent a sound that has evolved in the last decade.
So it seems like the US crowd’s reception to hardstyle is different to the European crowd. Why do you think there is this difference?
It has a lot to do with experience. The scene in Holland is at a very different stage, as it has been maturing for a very long time. For the American crowd, hardstyle is still new so they are still adapting and learning and fine-tuning their taste, which also challenges the producer to get out of their comfort zone.
Speaking of going out of your comfort zone, you’ve crossed genres yourself, with your remixes of Zedd, Kaskade, Flosstradamus and your collaborations with Krewella and W&W. What makes you want to get into these different genres outside of hardstyle?
I want to give myself the opportunity to explore other genres. If you only collaborate or remix within your own genre, you end up staying very much within the boundaries of the genre, and I think that’s a pity because I think you put a limit to yourself and the potential you have. I think the real interesting stuff happens when you go out of the genre and take stuff back into the genre. That’s how genres grow and evolve and come into existence. A genre is a combination of elements of other genres, and crossing genres is a wonderful way to get new ideas and make a genre grow in itself.
In fact, you just recently collaborated with W&W on your newest track “Shocker.” What was it like to work with them?
It was amazing and it is definitely an example of what can happen when you go out of your genre. I learned so much and gained a whole new perspective on how to approach music and production. It’s been an inspiring experience to see these guys work in an extremely different way than I do, and you get to enrich your own capabilities and your approach to making music. So I’m really happy I got to collaborate with those guys.
Other artists have been remixing your track, such as “Colors” remix by Yellow Claws and “United Kids of the World” remix by Project 46. How does it feel to know that other artists of different genres are remixing your music?
It’s really cool and I feel really honored. It’s exciting to see my own projects come alive in different ways — to have other people explore my sound and combine it with their sound, and to see other people’s approach on my work.
What are some upcoming projects that your fans can expect from you within the coming months?
I’m busy working on some solo tracks at the moment, so when the time is right, you can hear them!