Growing Up Fast With Oliver Heldens
The young Dutch DJ talks about coping with early success—and that time Hardwell played at his middle school party.
Sometimes, the impossible can happen—if you're talented and really, really lucky. That's what happened to 19-year-old Oliver Heldens, who made a melody in his car while coming back from vacation in France. He decided to go out on a limb and send the track to Tiesto. Within 15 minutes, he had a reply from the superstar DJ. "He invited me to hang in his hotel room at Amsterdam Dance Event," Heldens recalls, his voice still revealing slight traces of awe.
That track ended up becoming a wildfire success, debuting at number one on the UK Dance and Singles Chart after receiving a vocal reboot from English songstress Becky Hill. Fast forward a couple months, and Heldens is now living the fucking dream. While most guys his age are crushing beer cans on their heads while navigating their first years of college, Heldens is bringing his brand of twangy house jams to some of the biggest stages on earth.
But his early success comes with its drawbacks, too. "Sometime I feel like I'm missing out," Heldens says. "I started to not be able to do a lot of things my friends were doing because I had gigs." While his parents are extremely supportive, they still can't shake their fear that he's trading a university education for a career of making people dance. Plus, Heldens only gets to see his friends when he plays local gigs now in Rotterdam now.
Regardless, Heldens is ready to grapple with the expectations and pressure that come along with scoring a number one single before legal drinking age (in the US, at least). After all, this is what he'd dreamed of back when he was 17, producing tracks in his bedroom inspired by hometown heroes like Fedde Le Grand and Sander van Doorn. His first big break came when Dutch powerhouse Spinnin Records plucked the youngster out of a promo pool and signed him as an exclusive artist, banking on his production prowess—which they viewed as a bit of a mold-breaker from the big-room sound the label had been known for.
Then came the smash success of "Gecko," a track he'd made up spontaneously in his head, but ended up helping him graduate to the big leagues. However, faced with the pressure of a follow-up, Heldens' second single "Koala" was met with less fanfare. What does he think of the criticism of that track in the blogosphere? "I know people expect a lot of me, but in the end of the day they can't always know what to expect, because I have so many different kinds of stuff that I'm working on," he says. "The thing is that 'Koala,' the follow up for 'Gecko,' (was made) before "Gecko" came out and was even a hit."
Perhaps the level of expectation surrounding Heldens' career stems from the fact that his home country has produced more superstar DJs than anywhere else on earth. His middle school dances were on an entirely different level—"When I was 12 years old, Hardwell was the support act for Fedde Le Grand and Chuckie at one of my school parties," he recalls. "I can remember one teacher got really drunk and he lost his shoe. People threw beer at him. The funny thing was, the next day at school someone gave him his shoe back and he kept it as a souvenir at his desk."
After bringing his unique blend of deep house and big-room styles to the Main Stage at Electric Zoo a couple weekend's back, Heldens is now gearing up for his first tour across the US. If you have any doubt that big things are in his future, look no further than his smash hit's moniker, which doesn't actually refer to the green lizard of Geico fame as you would think. It is in fact a nod to the Dutch word for "crazy." Fittingly, Oliver Heldens' life is moving fast—crazy fast—but he's not looking back for even a second. Unless it's to DJ his former school's dance, of course.
David's high school didn't even have dances and he's still upset about it - @DLGarber