In Conversation With Oliver Heldens
Working with Nile Rodgers and remixing Chic, rebooting noughties classic ‘Riverside’, hosting arena takeovers at some of the biggest festivals in the world and giving us a certified feelgood house anthem… You might say it’s been another exceptional year for 23-year-old Amsterdam artist Oliver Heldens. That’s before we even get to the great year his label Heldeep has enjoyed, his activities under his heavier bass-bitten alias Hi-Lo, his role as ambassador for environmental organization Plastic Soup Foundation or the simple fact that he feels he’s written some of his best music to date this year… And it’s locked and loaded for 2019.
But before he hurtles into what’s shaping up to be another exceptional year, we caught a moment of his time for a rare deep interview about life, music, the past, the present and how we make the future more exceptional for all of us…
Fire in His Soul!
I think it would be fun to start with the new single…. What three pleasures in life put the most fire in your soul? And why?
Probably not a surprise, but making music! I love the whole process, especially at the end when I can finally play new music live. I also love to meet fans in new cities at my shows. And when I’m at home, I usually play a bit of soccer too and love video games, specifically Fortnite, FIFA and CoD.
You debuted the song at Ultra in the spring. I love the lead time on that; no rushing to get it out, letting it build natural hype and interest. Dubplate style basically.
I spent a lot of time playing it out live and then tweaking it as I want to find that perfect balance between live play and home/radio consumption. After a bunch of edits and taking time to prepare the campaign on the song, the timing was right to release when we did. I think it’s nice that people are a bit familiar with the song before the release as well.
It’s the audience that turns a song into an anthem
What are your thoughts on the longevity of music anyway? Sometimes it feels like we’re being bombarded with music and things move so quickly there’s no time to make anthems because we’re onto the next thing…
It’s definitely true that there are a lot more artists making music these days. In my opinion, this is only a good thing. With the digital age, it’s a lot easier to discover new artists and genres. This is actually one of the reasons I started my label Heldeep. People were sending me their projects and I wanted to help to give them a platform to share their talents with the world.
In terms of my own music, I never really feel rushed. For example, with ‘Fire In My Soul’, I really took the time to get it just right. As long as you’re not jumping onto every trend of the minute as a producer, you shouldn’t feel the need to move too quickly in the creative process. In the end, it’s the audience that turns a song into an anthem!
Absolute. And you can speak from multiple perspectives on that; as an artist, DJ and label owner. How do you personally preserve music and maintain that lifespan of music you make or release?
I don’t really have a specific method or plan to preserve music, but I often include a few classics in my sets, from other artists and also some of my older stuff. So I guess I’m doing it without really noticing. Remixes also help of course!
I’m glad you mentioned classics. Obviously this year it’s been all about Riverside and now Chic! How cool was that day was when you were invited to remix Chic? What were you doing when you got the request?
I was so pleased when I got that phone call. I was in Ibiza with my team and when the opportunity arose we all instantly knew we had to jump at it. I have always been a fan of disco music, and Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ is one of my favourite disco songs. Growing up I heard it a lot because my parents loved Chic. I really admire Nile Rodgers and he was always high on my list to work with, so it was a big honour that he asked me to remix ‘Le Freak’.
I have a deep love for your Da Hool remix a few years ago (the original was a tune that got me into electronic music a long long time ago) So I’m interested in your thoughts on revamping classics… What age does a tune become legitimate for that treatment?
Wow, thank you! I think it’s hard to put a number on it. I like to choose songs that were loved on the dancefloor in their time and give them a modern feel while not losing their original sound.
How do you go about picking the classics you decide to update?
There is not really a process to that, I think everybody has a few classics that they love. Lots of 80s, 90s and 00s songs that can make anyone dance. You forgot all about them until you randomly hear them live, on the internet or radio again. There are some that just stick out to me.
What type of feedback do you get from younger fans who were unaware of the tune the first time round?
I think a lot of younger fans may have heard the old classics at some point, maybe their parents have played it or it’s been played out and about. But it’s great that I can give the song a new life and maybe introduce it to some new people.
It was life-changing when Gecko first broke out
Absolutely. Let’s flip that and go five years in the future. Gecko turns 10, it’s now a verified classic… What type of remix can you imagine it getting?
That’s a tough one. Gecko was a huge driver at the beginning of my career. It was picked up first in the UK and ended up being a #1 hit there, so maybe a British artist would be fitting. I’m open to anything though, we’ll see what the future holds.
Now let’s go back to the past… Pre Gecko. We all have ambitions and anyone who invests in DJ equipment has a dream of making it pro. But what were your hopes back then?
I first started producing music when I was in my early teens, and back then I just wanted to finish projects from start to finish. It was life-changing when Gecko first broke out. That’s when the DJing really started as well.
If you could go back in time and give that younger Oliver some words of advice what would they be and why?
Keep trying and don’t be discouraged if things don’t happen straight away. That goes for every producer just starting out.
And what’s a golden piece of awesome production advice you’ve recently learnt which you wish you knew years ago?
I wish I’d known earlier that you don’t have to mix out your track very loud to make it sound big. It’s important to create headroom in a mix. Don’t over compress or over process your sounds.
The team put in a lot of work to deliver something authentic
Amen. Back to this year now, how was your summer? You did a lot of Heldeep stage takeovers this year.
This summer was definitely one for the books! Having a home base in Ibiza and playing so many shows on the island was really special while simultaneously having the opportunity to curate and produce Heldeep stages at 10 plus festivals this summer was really amazing. Some of the highlights were Tomorrowland, Spring Awakening Music Festival, and South West Four. We continued developing our boxing match theme and ramped up the productions this year with new dance costumes, boxing rings, and even boxing robes for every performing artist. The team put in a lot of work to deliver something authentic, and it seemed like all the fans really enjoyed the experience.
You’ve eased up on your schedule this year and put more focus on your wellness, right?
I’ve had a great balance this year of touring, studio sessions and time at home with my family. I always try to take enough time to rest, sleep and eat healthy meals when I’m on the road – this definitely helps to preserve energy, which puts me in the best place to perform and produce the best music I can.
Has it given you more time to run Heldeep? There’s been some big releases from a great variety of artists both established and new…
For sure! We’ve had some great artist involved this year. Most recently was Mr Belt & Wezol. Before that Heldeep released a collaboration under my alias HI-LO with Mike Cervello. Some other stand out tracks have come from Aevion, Chocolate Puma and Will K! We have a lot in store over the coming months, so keep an eye out!
What’s been inspiring you musically full stop this year?
I’ve been inspired by a lot of African music lately, which you probably noticed when you listened to ‘Fire In My Soul’. Besides that, I’ve enjoyed collaborating with different vocalists and sharing the different music/genres that are inspiring us at the minute. Having the opportunity to get in the studio with a legend like Nile Rogers was extremely motivating and I think I’ve been making some of the best music of my career!
Music seems to be in a very vibrant place right now where anything goes and it’s a great big melting pot. You’ve always treated dance music in this way, but it feels like more people are being more eclectic…
Yes, that’s right! There shouldn’t be too many rules, in my opinion. It’s all about making music that resonates with you as an artist, as wide-ranging as that may be!
I think it’s great that we’re seeing more female artists at the big festivals
Wrapping up both this interview and another great year for you now, what would you like to see more of in the future in music?
I think the industry is heading in the right direction. There is a lot more awareness about mental health and self-care. I think it’s great that we’re seeing more female artists at the big festivals as well. I’d like to see this continue. On Heldeep, Skiy just released ‘Who Got The Keys’. She’s the first female releasing on Heldeep.
The first of many no doubt. What would you like to see more of personally in life in general?
One thing I would like to see more of is the reduced use of plastic. I think we could take better care of the amazing planet we live on. I’m actually working with the Plastic Soup Foundation, as an ambassador to help keep plastic debris out of our oceans.
Props! How about yourself And what releases can we expect from you in the future?
Yes, tons of music coming on both RCA and my Heldeep label. We’re already well into planning my 2019 tour schedule and I’m really excited to continue building out the live element of Heldeep, hosting festival stages and label nights across the world!