Breaking Big: Oliver Heldens Reflects on Massive 2014

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Between genre mainstays like Armin van Buuren, Afrojack, and Fedde Le Grand, it’s no small task to break into the upper echelon of the Dutch dance music scene.

However, Oliver Heldens flipped the script with 2013’s “Gecko,” his debut single on Tiësto’s Musical Freedom label that blurred genre lines with its combination of EDM builds, tech aesthetics, and sassy garage swagger. The track managed to kickstart the 19-year-old DJ/producer’s career, as it saw widespread adoption by fans, festivals, and fellow DJs, leading to a contract with Spinnin’ Records.

Helden’s innovation even managed to transcend to the pop sphere when “Gecko (Overdrive)”—the vocal reinterpretation of the track featuring singer Becky Hill—debuted at No.1 on the U.K. singles chart this past summer. Heldens has kept the momentum going well into the latter half of 2014 with another pair of Spinnin’ releases—“Koala” and a remix of Dr. Kucho’s “Can’t Stop Playing” alongside Gregor Salto—and a collaboration with Sander Van Doorn on his Doorn Records imprint.

DJ Times connected with the young artist to catch up about his main stage performances, breakout hit, and more.

DJ Times: How did you get started DJing and producing?
Oliver Heldens: When I was going to high school, I went to school parties and Hardwell was playing there, which really inspired me. In that period, I also discovered how to make music on the computer.

DJ Times: How did you first catch Tiësto’s attention to release “Gecko” on his Musical Freedom label?
Heldens: Tiësto was following me on Twitter, and he supported my older tracks. I sent “Gecko” to him in a direct message, and within 15 minutes he replied to me. A week later I met him in Amsterdam during ADE.

DJ Times: The vocal version of “Gecko” went to No.1 on the U.K. singles chart. What do you think this says about where pop music is heading currently?
Heldens: I think on one hand is pop music is getting more dance and housey, and on the other side EDM is getting more groovy and housey.

DJ Times: After its success in the clubs, what made you decide to record a vocal version? Also, what went into the process of recording it?
Heldens: We sent “Gecko” to a lot of vocalists and songwriters. They sent their demos in, and my label and I are really liked the Becky Hill version. I think it’s really nice to have two versions of one track. The instrumental was really big in the dance community, and it was a great opportunity to put vocals on it to reach a bigger audience.

DJ Times: What’s your preferred live DJing setup?
Heldens: Four CDJ-2000 Nexus players and a DJM-900.

DJ Times: And your must-haves in the studios?
Heldens: Fruity Loops [aka FL Studio]. For synths, I use the plug-ins Massive [by Native Instruments] and Sylenth1 [by LennarDigital].

DJ Times: You played the main stage at EDC Las Vegas this past summer. What’s it like to play on a stage that’s normally known for big-room house? Does it signal a change in the musical landscape?
Heldens: I feel honored that I can do my own thing at EDC Las Vegas, especially my music is not like the big room house. I guess it says something that one of the biggest festivals of America booked something like me on the main stage.

Read more in this month’s Digital Edition