Headhunterz on Exclusive Interview with Out Now
When it comes to Hardstyle, it’s impossible to argue the fact that any artist has had a bigger impact on the genre than Headhunterz. From the moment his first records were released, his unique melodic and energetic take on the genre sparked a new movement within the international music scene. A rise unparalleled, Headhunterz continues to take Hardstyle to new heights.
Willem Rebergen, better known as Headhunterz, kicked off his DJ career over a decade ago. A visit to Qlimax 2003 lit a spark in Willem, leading to an uncontrollable wildfire, as he dedicated himself to becoming the best producer in the genre. His originals, as well as the album he made with Wildstylez under the Project One moniker, redefined the hardstyle sound of the late 2000s. Headhunterz’s new take on hardstyle music made the genre grow into an international phenomenon and become something worldly.
From 2014-2017, Headhunterz took on a new challenge and found himself headlining major festivals like Ultra Music Festival, Coachella and EDC, making him explore the boundaries of his own, musical imagination and discover new parts of the world as well as different territories within the electronic dance scene. Though it did trigger his creativity, Willem became homesick, missing his beloved hardstyle scene. In 2017, in front of 60,000 ecstatic fans who thought they had lost their hero, he announced his comeback to hardstyle at Defqon.1. With open arms, the community embraced him, as he traveled the world to celebrate his return with fans, old and new. It took him to 125 performances across 34 countries in 2018 alone, a journey that inspired him to create ‘The Return of Headhunterz’, an album that tied past, present and future together. Surpassing 15 million streams on Spotify, the album – along with his #28 position in the 2018 DJ Mag Top 100, showed that, no matter the adventures Headhunterz would undertake, he’ll always find a warm welcome in his home base.
The album also marked the launch of a new label – ART OF CREATION, with his colleague Wildstylez. A creative and dynamic platform that bridges the gap between music makers and community. At the same time, Headhunterz relaunched the HARD with STYLE Podcast, recorded live from a brand new studio, with state-of-the-art equipment and sound. This is where new Headhunterz music comes to life, plans to conquer new territory for his tribe are forged and the one thing reigns that will always remain Headhunterz’ greatest achievement; the music from within.
*Photo of HEADHUNTERZ
Where are you from? I’m from a little town in The Netherlands called Veenendaal.
When did you start making music?
I started making music in 2004 when I first started going out as a teenager in a local teen club. Hardstyle was kind of a thing there at that moment. I wasn’t having a good time at school, so I was looking for other ways to satisfy myself and to feel happy, and I was very inspired by this music. So, I went home and downloaded some software, locked myself in my room, and started trying to recreate that style of music, trying to find some satisfaction, but also trying to make something that would impress my friends. That was my first experience producing music.
How do you describe your music? Hard on the outside, soft on the inside.
*Photo of HEADHUNTERZ
Favorite moment from your career?
Definitely my return to Hardstyle, because leaving Hardstyle was both the worst and the best decision that I made in my life. The worst, because I was really confronted with the fact that I was leaving something that was most dear to me in this life, but it also was the best thing to be able to realize that, and coming back has really revived me and given me a lot of awareness about how much I am at home with this music and how I feel empowered when making this music. It’s all in my roots. I am in a place where I was before I left Hardstyle, but with much more awareness and enjoying it like never before. So, it was a very important event in my life.
Who is your biggest musical inspiration?
I always say that inspiration is a mysterious thing. It can come from anywhere, and if I knew the exact source and could always come back to it, that would be like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But it’s not like that; it always comes unexpectedly. I’m always very open and on the lookout for new sources of inspiration. It could be anything - an event in my life, an emotional state, another piece of music. I’m very much into looking for obscure, never heard of music that is very different from what I make myself, where I can find new influences. I listen for example to a lot of movie scores, French music, or whatever. Nowadays with Spotify, you can go deep in the depths of music that is almost unheard of when you click around. So, it’s just a matter of being open-minded and receptive to things you hear besides what’s on the radio and being hungry for ways to be triggered by whatever comes on my path.
What is your producing software? I have used almost everything, and am a very curious person and like to experiment a lot, as opposed to a lot of producers who have started out with a piece of software and never change because they feel comfortable with it. I’m always curious to see what else is there.
I started off with Fruity Loops back in the day, I’ve used Reason, Cubase a little bit, Logic for a long time, then I went to Studio One, and now since last year I am working with Ableton, and I must say that’s for me definitely the best so far and I’m planning to stick with that for a long time.
As a speaker set, I use ATC, which is absolutely the most amazing speaker that I’ve ever used. Speakers are one of the most important features of a studio, of course. I was used to working on Genelecs before. A lot of Hardstyle producers use them and they have a very distinct sound and they work very well for Hardstyle, but as I said, I am always curious, so I took the advice of the guy that designed my studio and tried those speakers. It was absolutely mindblowing.
I use a Mac, a MIDI keyboard, an Access Virus TI and an Access Virus C, which are two synths that are almost unmissable for a Hardstyle producer. They’re very much a key to making lead sounds in Hardstyle music because they have this openness to them you don’t find in almost any other synth. I think that it’s kind of a must to have that as a Hardstyle producer.
Besides that, I went back to the basics, also because I want to be able to work on my music on the road, so I try to keep my use of hardware to a minimum to be able to be creative anywhere in the world.
*Photo of HEADHUNTERZ
What other things do you do besides making music?
Fitness of course, but besides that, I love learning. I’m always learning new things. It can kind of switch from time to time. I’ve been into a lot of things, like photography & videography in the past. It’s not really what I like, it’s that I like the learning process. You know, looking for something new, to develop new skills.
What is your favorite track of all time?
My own: Orange Heart. It’s almost dangerous to say that because it’s a relatively new song, but for me, it has existed for a while already, because it was finished a long time before it got premiered at Defqon.1 this year. I really feel like it all just worked out this time - the pieces of the puzzle just fell together and I was able to really put in everything that I think a Hardstyle track by me should have. The exact combination of a mix of emotions that I look for when I want to be touched by music. I was very lucky to work with an amazing vocalist, which I really made a big effort for. We wrote the lyrics together, as opposed to a lot of songs where toplines are just received by a producer and they just work with that. I actually sat down with her and wrote the lyrics together, so they are very much directed to this scene, to the people that love this music and are interested in different kinds of topics that go a little bit deeper than the stuff you hear on the radio; you know, the usual love songs. It really addresses the essence of why these people love this music and what it means to them, so that gives it a lot of depth and it feels very profound to me. The melody, the mixdown, everything for me on that track is kind of perfect.
If I have to name another song, I don’t know… music is very much connected to memories, so I can’t say that objectively, like “what’s the best song ever made”. But I can only say that I have songs which have very special memories for me. One of them is Africa by Toto because my father used to play in a band when I was really young. I guess that’s where my interest in music really started because when I was a little 5 or 6-year-old kid I was sometimes watching his performances and they would play that song. So, whenever I hear that, it’s a very vague memory, but it gives me a very warm feeling when I hear that.
What is your best-producing tip?
Train your ears. There are a lot of tricks and techniques you can learn in the studio, but your ears are definitely the most important tool when it comes to making music. I know a lot of producers that have very little technical knowledge but have very good ears and that can just by trial and error listen and get to the right result even though they don’t know what they’re doing. So, rather than having good skills and performing tricks, it’s almost better to have great ears, and that takes a lot of time. So, put in the work, put in the time, be persistent and don’t give up. Keep trying and be brutally honest to yourself. Don’t start releasing music too soon and just give it time, because the 10,000-hour rule also applies to this.
Why did you start making music?
That was when I first started going out when I was 16 years old. The same goes for making music - I wanted to create that music, but I also wanted to play it for a crowd. I saw the DJ playing and I was just like “Wow, how would that be?”. So, I actually entered a DJ contest there, and I lost. I was also working at a clothing store at the time (in 2003) and I got my first tickets for Qlimax that year for free. I went, and I only remember standing right at the front for the whole evening and just watching the DJ, feeling very very inspired. So, for as little money as I could, I bought some turntables and I started practicing myself.
What are your upcoming gigs?
I’m currently touring until November, I play:
XSES, Solaize, France – Sat, 21 September
Fabrik, Humanes de Madrid – Sat, 28 September
Zouk, Singapore – Sat, 12 Oct
Escape Psycho Circus, San Bernardino, CA – Fri, 25 Oct
Scream, Edmonton, Canada – Sat, 26 Oct
Vision and Color Festival, Wuhan Shi, China – Sun, Nov 3
*Photo of HEADHUNTERZ
What are your goals for the future?
My goals for the future... well, of course when you begin your career, it’s a challenge for every producer that wants to be on stage to get your music across, to get recognized by the scene and to get your first performances, but with me, I’m so far past that stage. At the beginning of my career, I would have seas of time, oceans of time, to make music and I was very happy to even get one booking. Nowadays, it’s kind of flipped around. My heart still lies in my studio where I create something out of nothing, and if I’m very honest I must admit that the balance of doing shows and being able to be in the studio and create new things is somewhat not in the middle. In the future, I hope to bring that balance back a little bit and create more music again because for me personally its a thing that I love doing and that I need to get the ultimate satisfaction out of my career. So, I’m not looking too far in the future, but if I can think of one thing, I would love to get back to producing a little more and back off from touring a little more because that’s very dominant in my life at the moment.
What advice can you give for the young music producers/DJs:
This is kind of a paradox - it’s very important to have your own style, but I think the best way to really learn is to first learn the rules before you can break them.