Oliver Heldens details plans for Hi-Lo alias, evolving future house and Internet trolls (Exclusive Interview)
In less than two years, future house frontman Oliver Heldens has shuffled his way into becoming not just an in-demand DJ and chart-topping producer, but a bonafide brand. With his international Heldeep radio show, headlining tours, and his recent résumé addition as label owner of Heldeep Records, the 20-year-old Dutch prodigy has swiftly maneuvered his way into the ranks of some his childhood idols like Tiesto, Laidback Luke and Fedde Le Grand. His guileless positivity and incessant work ethic remain unwavering.
Sitting in the dimly-lit lobby bar of a former courthouse-turned-chic hotel in downtown Tampa, Heldens casually sports sandals, shorts, a plain tee and fitted hat with his initials “OH” inscribed sideways — a newly adapted nonchalant branding tactic. Oliver is discussing plans with his tour manager for his fast-approaching headlining gig at Amsterdam Dance Event. No stranger to the booth, Heldens is raising his own stakes, premiering new production and stage elements at ADE for a revamped show that will involve “something with dancers and also our own new set up of LED screens and lights.” He continued, “Basically we’re going to try stuff and you’ll see that at Paradiso and the small UK tour I’m doing. I’m very happy with the ID’s we have now so it’s going to be special I think.”
Heldens, known for career-launching tunes like “Gecko (Overdrive)” and “Koala” among others recently unveiled a new alias under the name Hi-Lo – his nickname, Oli H, spelled backwards. Planning to inject more variety into his sets with this latest creative endeavor, Oliver states, “I also get to play with my new Hi-Lo stuff and also play more melodic house material. Since we last talked I think my show has become more diverse and there is more of a flow to it. Of course you can’t go from hard tech house to melodic piano.”
So, what is the primary distinction between Oliver Heldens and Hi-Lo? Sweeping his shaggy bangs underneath his hat, he explains, “Hi-Lo is about the groove, bass lines and the way the music builds up and gets people dancing. I mean “Gecko” and my other stuff is also danceable but these are more based on melodies. So, Hi-Lo is more bass house, tech house and UK house vibes — more underground basically — while Oliver Heldens remains future house.”
No stranger to having multiple irons in the fire, the Dutch sensation has immediately began working on not-so-covert collaborations under his adopted alias. “I’m working with Jauz on a pretty bass-heavy record under Hi-Lo and I’m doing some more melodic tracks with Throttle incorporating pianos, guitars and all that,” he states staring up at the marble ceiling while counting with his fingers as he lists each. “We’re working together on a track that blends his world of dirty disco with Oliver Heldens that I think could be a big crossover hit.”
His big brown eyes grow wide with anticipation upon detailing his previously-leaked passion collaboration of Da Hool’s 90s classic “Meet Here At The Love Parade” that is scheduled for a tentative release in October. Hearing the song for the first time at age 12 in a Laidback Luke set, Oliver divulged, “I tried to remix it years ago and again last year, but I just wasn’t happy with it. So a few months ago I tried it again and I was pleased with it this time.” He proceeds, “It’s also really heavy, big bass but still has a future house melody. I was going to do it just as Hi-Lo but Da Hool wanted it to be the official 2015 remix of “Meet Her At The Love Parade,” which is a huge compliment for me because other people wanted to do reworks earlier so I’m happy Da Hool went with me. I will be using both of my artist aliases for that — so the official track name is ‘Oliver Heldens & Da Hool – “Meet Her At The Love Parade (Hi-Lo Edit).'”
Fans can also expect to catch more Hi-Lo-centric sets throughout 2016, which Oliver was actually testing out in his performances before adopting the new moniker. “For Hi-Lo I’m really inspired by drum and bass and the weird kind of sounds that they do. It’s very bass heavy but also some techno influences as well,” he explained. “So the next Hi-Lo track will be very techno influenced — I’m already playing it as Oliver Heldens and it’s been going well.” Meanwhile, this new territory has improved his artistic inspiration for the traditional Oliver Heldens sound which he added, “I can do my more melodic stuff. I can draw influences from the ’70s and ’80s and even my own childhood. The soul and disco funk kind of stuff. So that’s my biggest influence right now and it will continue to go more in that direction.”
With the future house vibe undoubtedly rising to prominence in clubs and festival markets stateside, inevitably other producers want a taste of the genre’s groovy “womps” and subsequent mass appeal. Recently, artists like trance legend Paul Oakenfold and Mad Decent boss Diplo have experimented with future house, and Oliver believes “it’s cool that people like them are inspired by the stuff we’re making.” But is it a just a fad they’re clinging on to in order to appease a new fan base? “Someone like Paul isn’t just going to make it for the younger crowd because I believe he loves it,” expressed Oliver. “It is a great thing that Paul is inspired by this kind of house sound because he comes from the trance world where he’s a legend. But it’s also really great that artists like Diplo are making future house now too — I believe he has a new track with Sleepy Tom. I hear from people all the time like ‘Oh, they’re ripping you off.’ If they rip me off then that means I’m ripping off the UK house guys. I’m just really excited where this whole house scene is going.”
As Heldens’ rapid ascendence to headlining honcho remains ceaseless and an incessant demand for new music grows from his burgeoning fans, he dispelled all hints at a potential full-length studio album any time soon. Citing the tumultuous industry sales as a major factor, Oliver says “that would require having lots of songs, and by that I mean full-length vocal songs and right now I’m focusing more on beats and making music for the clubs. So no album from me soon.”
In a recent interview, deep house-meets-pop super producer, Duke Dumont, stated that the “electronic album is almost dead,” which Oliver essentially agreed with. “I think how it is with albums as an electronic artist is they only work if you have a few songs on there that are commercially huge,” he voiced. “Like the way Swedish House Mafia released two songs that were huge then came out with an album, and I think it did really well. You might also need artists on it that are really big like Calvin Harris’ albums or Avicii and David Guetta — those do well. But for people who are specifically more ‘EDM’, they have to lean more on just songs.” While he makes a valid point for primarily mainstage DJ/producers whose success may be more defined by sales, 2015 has seen some artistically innovative releases from the likes of NERO, Jaime xx, The Chemical Brothers, Ratatat and Galantis among others.
Stepping out of the spotlight and into his new role as founder of Heldeep Records, Oliver is just as focused on the tracks and artists he’s signing to his label as he is his own music. “For me I think the biggest challenges are yet to come,” he quipped. “With Heldeep I’m pushing new and established tenants. I’m going to release a track with Chocolate Puma, Tommie Sunshine and DJ Funk. When I play it in my sets it goes off! It’s all about picking the right songs and the songs that I like, but it’s also important that I mentor the new kids. It’s fun and inspiring to work with new tenants on the label.” An up-and-coming artist he seems to be narrowing his attention on is teenage DJ Throttle. “He is amazing and very unique,” Heldens expressed with excited hand gestures. “I’m working right now on an EP with the new tenants we have – I actually already have four tracks for it. When people hear it they’d never guess it was made by a 17-year-old in his bedroom. I’m happy mentoring those new guys.”
Nothing screams success like the ever-growing comments section of Internet trolls, and it’s taken some time for Oliver to overcome the often-times demoralizing effects of hateful online bashing. “A year ago it frustrated me to get hate because I didn’t handle it as easily,” he hesitatingly recalled. “Back then people would say ‘you’re doing the same thing’ or ‘you’re just recycling “Gecko,”‘ and I thought I was doing new stuff that I was happy with but people can’t really say that any more because of all the new tracks.” Noting that he doesn’t get too much hate on his social accounts anymore, he admitted: “I read almost every comment and tweet and I actually don’t get that much hate. I think most of the hate comes from people bitching at their friends because they like me. They’ll say ‘Oliver Heldens isn’t cool, you should listen to…’ then they just name like a bunch of really underground guys.”
The conversation wraps using the industry’s latest example of the Dyro versus Seth Troxler beef — stemming from the Tuskegee ambassador’s remarks in a viral video clip of him at last year’s Tomorrowland calling the Dutch DJ’s set “sonic ear rape,” and a subsequent back-and-forth between the two on Twitter. “This whole thing with Seth Troxler tweeting at Dyro about him using machines instead of computers is also just ridiculous,” remarked Heldens. “There’s something for everybody but for a guy [Troxler] who’s so intelligent, he says some stupid things.”
Never one to bite his tongue, Oliver Heldens is in his sweet spot musically and mentally. A noticeable growth can be witnessed in his no-holds-barred approach that lives just below the surface of his happy-go-lucky demeanor — a balance he’s found fruitful as his expansive brand continues to develop and evolve. With so much accomplished at such a young age, EDM’s shuffle king is unapologetically becoming a force to be reckoned with.