The electronic world's most jet-lagged artists and their management teams adorned in the predictable head-to-toe black attire descend upon the artist mansion (aka fancy horse stable) at TomorrowWorld in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia. The smell of the all-you-can-eat gourmet buffet and the vodka Red Bull-induced laughs over at the open bar permeate the esteemed air of the EDM elite, but one person sticks out like a watering hole in the middle of a dried-up main stage desert. Meet Oliver Heldens — the 19-year-old DJ/producer who's helping pioneer a new sound in a league of big room DJs whose "womp womp" tracks have proven to be no match for his "future house" success on the Beatport charts.
Heldens, sporting a plain tee and jeans, doesn't seem to fit in with the high-powered egos of dance music superstars, and that's what distinguishes him. In the world of electronic A-listers' premeditated, media-coached responses, Oliver's bluntly unrefined attitude is the perfect compliment to his infectious, chart-topping producer persona. The 19-year-old holds nothing back when reflecting on his massive year on the dance charts, shady Twitter beef with Tchami, and the future of "future house.”
HYPE AND HIT-MAKING
Six months ago, the name Oliver Heldens was among Beatport's Top 10 tracks (if not number one). It still is today. And it probably will be six months from now. His success the past year has spread quickly, and he's handling it like any excited teenager. Or at least his brother is.
"I don't have to check the charts because my brother always checks them," Heldens says with a grin. "He sends me a message like, 'Oh, you're No.1' or 'It's still No.9 and ‘“Koala” is No.9, so you have two tracks in the Top 10.’ And I'm like, ‘Nice!'" Oliver doesn't let his eager sibling do all the research, getting in on the excitement as well. "When “Koala” was like 12 weeks at No.1 and “Gecko” was like two months in the Top 10, I would check back in a month to see what it was," he reminisces. "It's been No.1 for 22 days, so it's getting a bit normal." But who's counting? With a mind-boggled look upon his face, Oliver looks out towards the volcanic main stage seemingly devouring the sky, erupting like his career. "I can remember being really happy if my songs even broke the Top 100," he recalls. "But to have some of the best-sold house tracks is just awesome."
His slew of funky smash hits like “Koala” and “Gecko (Overdrive)” have been supported by numerous main stage acts, the latter garnering more than 10 million hits on YouTube and topping the UK dance charts, as well as the Beatport chart. This unexpected and sudden popularity attracted the attention of another up-and-comer, Tiësto (kidding), who signed the breakout star to his Musical Freedom label. "When Tiësto heard 'Gecko' he immediately contacted me and a week later he invited me to his hotel room," Heldens recalls. "We listened to a bunch of my tracks and he gave me advice. Next month I'll do a studio session with him and [we'll] make a track together."
As for new music, Oliver has a busy next few months with releases alongside new talent and with those he draws inspiration from. In addition to Tiësto, there are new collaborations with The Voyagers, Mr. Belt and Wezol, Zeds Dead, Chocolate Puma and, most recently, Sander van Doorn (their track “THIS” is No.1 on the Beatport Top 100 as this article is being written). When asked if he would consider a major pop collaboration, Heldens eagerly responds. "I think it would also be really fun to make something in pop music at a whole different bpm. Like ghost production, that would be a dream for me, so I might do that as well. I already have so much stuff coming out though, I don't know when I'll have time to do that as well."
DEFINING "FUTURE HOUSE”
Deep house? Future house? UK house? While the debate continues over how to clearly label Oliver's sound, he seems to have a much easier time summarizing the new wave in dance music even big room DJs are incorporating in their sets. He best defines it as: "The most important thing in my music is that it has groove. A lot of my fans call it deep house and others call it future house, others call it UK house. I don't want to put my music in one small box so I define it as groovy house music with strong, energetic, melodic basslines and deep house feeling."
With that out of the way, Oliver tells of his musical inspirations growing up, who have impacted his sound. And while they all have varying styles, he admits he draws influence from those who share the simple similarity of pioneering new sounds. "If I look back, I started making music in what I call the 'sneakers house' time, like 2006 to 2009 when you had Fedde Le Grand's old tracks, and you had D. Ramirez, Chocolate Puma, Gregor Salto, and old Hardwell, old Bingo Players," remembers Heldens. "It was really groovy stuff. It wasn't like regular house music, it was all really new to me. That inspired me to do what I'm doing now, combined with the new deep house influences, like Disclosure and a lot of stuff from the UK."
And he's already probing for new sounds, staying ahead by using live instrumentation (hence the Disclosure influence) to explore potentially the next big sound. "Music will always change, and, over time, I always try to develop my sounds. If I look at what I'm making now compared to a year ago when I made 'Gecko,’ my new stuff is way different," Oliver relives. "I have tracks now with violins and pianos paired with a groovy, tough bassline. On the other side, I also make more techno stuff like my track 'This' with Sander van Doorn. I always experiment, and I don't know where it will go, but we'll see." Based on his resume, it looks like it will go to the top of the charts.
HOLD THE BEEF
Like any business, prosperity comes with its expected share of criticism, which Oliver most recently experienced via Twitter, fueled by French DJ/producer, and fellow claimant of the deep/future house sound, Tchami. After insisting Oliver stole his future house vibe, Tchami tweeted at him about the aforementioned issue with support (retweets) from fellow Frenchmen Mercer and DJ Snake. Oliver tweeted about the shade fest without tagging Tchami, but it was implied that the “jealousy eats nothing but its own heart" post was referring to the “Untrue” producer. Heldens sounds off one last time about the situation, expressing: "For me it was a surprise. Tchami thinks I copy his style and he was technically first with it. If I'm right, his first tracks were released in July and 'Gecko' was uploaded in November. And he thinks that I took a lot of inspiration from him. And now I'm way bigger than him, popularity-wise. It must be really frustrating for him to see a 19-year-old kid doing it better than him.” Looks like Afrojack and Steve Aoki need to interfere so there's “No Beef.” "I think at one point [he was] really jealous, but now he just tries to get a lot of attention attacking me like that," Heldens reasons. "His tweet got like 800 retweets and his French friends all retweeted it within like 10 minutes. I think it's a bit of a set-up or marketing scheme." No word on whether Tchami's sales have spiked.
He defends that statement by not knowing who Tchami was before the online back-and-forth began. "If I look at it from his perspective, I can see where it can be frustrating," adds Heldens. "The thing is, when I made 'Gecko', I had never listened to anything from Tchami. So, like I said, my inspiration was old house from the UK and new UK vibes." Whether or not he was previously exposed to Tchami's music is irrelevant because the kid is doing his thing, at least based on his charting resume. Besides, any publicity is good publicity, right? "That's not the right way to go about it," Heldens concludes. "I just don't really care, I just do my own thing."
They say opposites attract, so would Oliver like to collaborate with his future house frenemy? "Musically, I like his stuff," admits Heldens. "Now, I don't know if I would like to collaborate." No more questions.
From a 12-year-old kid making beats in his bedroom in the Netherlands to seven years later becoming the next big thing in dance, Oliver, with his shaggy hair and "happy to be here" smile, embodies the fun and the unpredictability of young artists. Heldens is spearheading a new era of excitement in electronic music for Millennial and old school fans alike. Similar to the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, he's experimenting and creating his own yellow brick road to the future.
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