What began as Northen California's one day extension of the famed SoCal festival has now turned into a full 2-day smorgasboard of electronic music, costumed performers, and art installations. Yes, we are talking about Beyond Wonderland Bay Area, one of Insomniac's many defining events in their storybook-inspired series. Last year the show took over the Oakland Coliseum's parking lot, where attendees had space to wander through three different stages and experience acts like W&W, Clockwork, Chuckie, and Alesso to name a few. This year festivalgoers will venture to South of San Francisco to Mountain View's Shoreline Amphitheater and the surrounding ground, with an even bigger and better lineup.
As the industry continues to grow and change, we've seen a lot of crossover between genres: some good and some bad. Of course the progressive/electro arena has faced ongoing chastising for the homogenization that causes any track with an "Epic"-like drop to be met with a critical eye. Yet we have also seen artists take risks with uncommon blends, and styles break into larger audiences. For example Avicii's True spanned the gap between dance and country, lending an instrumental feel to one of the largest electronic acts in the world. Similarly, hardstyle, something the Europeans have long been acquainted with through artists and events (Qlimax, Sensation Black), has truly made its way into the American dance community.
That's where Willem Rebergen comes in, the 28-year-old Dutch hardstyle artist better known by his stage name, Headhunterz. While his productions like "Dragonborn" and "Psychedelic" delight hard enthusiasts worldwide, remixes like those of "Lessons In Love" and "Clarity" have brought a new crowd to his fan base. His most recent track, "Colors", sits at number 3 in the Beatport Hard Dance chart, a welcome success to accompany his North American Explode tour, which began on September 19th.
Willem took the time to talk with us about hardstyle, his roots, and his upcoming performance at Beyond Wonderland Bay Area. Read on and don't forget to enter our contest to win 2 GA passes for Beyond Wonderland this Saturday and Sunday.
Earmilk: How did you get into the hardstlye scene and then start producing it?
Headhunterz: It used to be kind of a hype in the local discotheque when I was about 16 years old so when I started to make music I automatically chose for hardstyle, to share the fun of it by playing it for my friends and eventually even in the local club, which at that time was my ultimate goal, not knowing what was about to happen next…
EM: It’s a type of music that definitely requires a bit of getting used to. In your experience have you come up with a good way to ease people into it?
HH: Remixes have been helping me a lot to guide people through their first experience with hardstyle. This has been giving the new listeners some form of recognition after which they start to understand the formula more easily.
EM: Who are some good introductory artists (besides yourself of course!) to the genre? Who are some new faces that more experienced listeners should explore?
HH: Wildstylez and Noisecontrollers are definitely up there and more than worth to give a listen to. Further some good new faces are Neilio and Adrenalize.
EM: You’re going to play Beyond Wonderland Bay Area in a week or so. How do you prepare a set for a multi-genre festival versus a pure hardstyle festival?
HH: I try to imagine what it would be like to hear this music for the first time and adapt my tracklist to that, within what Headhunterz stands for of course. For example by picking tracks that I think would be easy to get into when hearing them for the first time.
EM: Do you have anything special prepared for Beyond?
HH: Who knows ;)
EM: There seems to be at least two main variants of hardstyle: your more traditional version and something along the lines of Organ Donors. How exactly would you define each sound and are there any intangible differences between the two?
HH:I would say that over time the different sounds in the hardstyle scene start to grow apart more and more, which I think is a good thing. That means more variety.
I'd say right now there is the more melodic and euphoric side, there is a raw side which contains less melody and more aggressive type of sounds and there is a more kick and bass type of style which is also less melody based and more related to the early sound.
EM: What are some of the particular challenges you have converting a track like "Clarity" or "Lessons In Love" into a hard track?
HH: The first important factor was the tone the original vocal was on. It has to be just right to be able to fit it into a hardstyle track. I prefer having my tracks in F, G or G# for example.
Also it has to sound good on a higher bpm.. So when these things don't work out in the first place I won't do it. But with Lessons In Love it did.
EM: Two years ago you donated all the proceeds from your track "Sacrifice" to Dance 4 Life, an HIV/AIDS awareness foundation. What inspired you to do so?
HH: I went through a phase of not feeling so well and felt like doing things really positive. I felt a strong connection between what I do and what Dance 4 Life does so I just followed my heart on that.
EM: Over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of crossover between genres. Do you plan to produce any progressive/electro house tracks?
HH: Definitely.. I already want to broaden my horizon for some time but I have been gathering courage to overcome the critics from determined only-hardstyle fans. I'm getting there though, it's a path in itself for an artist to break free from the imaginary prison that is built around him. I feel that traveling changes my mindset. I'm fantasizing about making an album somewhere no one can find me and do something completely unexpected.
EM: Having signed with Ultra earlier this year, what kind of opportunities does this open for you?
HH: Ultra is simply giving me the possibility to work with great vocalists, top line writers and what not. They are very inspiring people and I'm happy to be part of their team.
EM: What do you hope to achieve with your Explode tour and how has the face of hardstyle changed with the growing electronic scene in America?
HH: The tour is a great opportunity to find out more about where we currently are with hardstyle in the states and so far it's been going really well. I'm attending cities I never even knew there was a scene at all.
Hardstyle itself I think hasn't really changed because of the growing market in the states but maybe it will, I don't know. I think it's too early to say.