(Original Photo By: Luna Ellinger)
Over the course of our lives and careers we’re all focusing on personal growth. As humans, it’s natural for us to seek out challenges. One of the mantras for success that is often preached is to step outside of your comfort zone. What happens then, when in the quest to try new things and experiment outside of your boundaries, you realize you should have stayed right where you were? This is what famously happened to Willem Rebergen, better known as renowned hardstyle producer/DJ, Headhunterz.
Headhunterz has been in the game for over a decade and he is one of the luminaries of hardstyle. However, like any producer, he wanted to prove his chops and show that he didn’t have to be pigeonholed to just one genre. Unfortunately, producing other genres did not give him the sense of satisfaction and belonging that he felt while producing hardstyle. I think this is something we can all relate to. Sometimes, you dip your foot in the water, and you realize you’re just not meant to dive into that pool.
“The period 2013-2016 was a struggle for me. I was losing my connection with the essence of hardstyle because I was very focused on experimenting, exploring boundaries and growth. I left the genre to find out what else is out there, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I felt like I had abandoned my pack. Alone, out in the big world where different values count and playfulness often makes way for relentless business. Also, as a producer I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t a ‘one trick pony’…But I did not succeed in terms of finding satisfaction in other genres. That particular feeling I look for, I couldn’t get a hold of it and translate it to EDM, future bass or anything else like I used to when making hardstyle. Furthermore, I missed the unity, the dedication, and the love that the hardstyle community breathes. I mean how could I not miss that?!”
As a young child, there was no doubt in Willem’s mind that he wanted to be a musician. He grew up in a musical family and was constantly immersed in music. In fact, His first introduction to music was singing in a children’s choir in his native Netherlands. Willem also had an interest in mixing and music technology. As he puts it, the first time he saw a DJ in a club as a teenager, he knew exactly what he wanted to do and become.
“I grew up with a lot of music around me. Not only in my family, but also when I started singing in a kids choir at nine years old. We recorded CDs and did TV performances…so it was pretty serious. I was immediately fascinated by all of the big mixing consoles and the whole recording process, but when I reached puberty that faded for a while. When I started going out at age 17 it returned. I saw the DJ play records at the local disco. I started dreaming of being up there and that is the moment I began learning to produce and to DJ. So I guess when I look back I can say I’m pretty lucky, everything unfolded beautifully to this point.”
Despite his innate passion for music, music also provided an escape. As he puts it, his school years were not the most pleasant. Like so many of us, Willem didn’t fit in; he was constantly trying to find himself. That can be a really difficult thing to do for any adolescent, however, for Willem, he had a more difficult time than most. Although, he says he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Had it not been for the social alienation he experienced, he might not have come upon music production.
“My time at school was a very unhappy period in my life. When I look back on it I see that I was so lost, so insecure. I would have loved to give my little self a big hug if I could now. I just couldn’t find my place at school; I was the youngest, the smallest, and I had trouble finding my place in the group. Today I am grateful that that all happened. It triggered my curiosity to go and explore things other than just social life and school. And that is of course, why I found solace in making music and gave it my all. It was my way to escape the rest.”
In adulthood, Willem finally found his home in the hardstyle community. If you’ve ever been to a hardstyle show, it’s a visceral experience. The fans are loyal and tight. If you’ve ever been to EDC Las Vegas, you see all the same people at the Wasteland stage all night long. Even when Headhunterz “left” hardstyle to explore other genres and experienced criticism, he never took it personally. He knew it was all love the whole time, and he’s glad to be back where he started.
“Everyone that is in the hardstyle community has a special bond with it, and I’m a part of it. Of course when I left, I received a lot of criticism and ‘hate,’ but the funny thing is that I think a lot of it wasn’t actually hate, but rather…frustrated love. Like you see couples fighting sometimes. They love each other, yet they’re fighting. Even if I wouldn’t have returned to making hardstyle, we would have wished each other all the best, that’s how it felt. But it was also at that point that I realized what I had done. I had left behind the love of my life.”
What a career it’s been for Headhunterz, it feels like he’s been around forever, but he’s only getting started. He’s done a lot that many artists would like to achieve. He’s found success in one genre, he stepped outside of his box and showed his versatility, and he’s returned to where he started, knowing that he has a rabid fan base willing to support him. It’s funny how as you get older, you tend to simplify things. Whereas Willem was looking outwards earlier in adulthood, with experience, he’s realized the best thing anyone can do is work to improve themselves.
“I think everyone is way too busy trying to change the world. If everyone would turn around and look at themselves for a moment…now that would solve a whole lot of problems.”