Hardstyle music has been around the block and back, making a perpetual imprint on countless artists and paving the way for modern electronic music.
Pioneering the genre and its encroachment are Headhunterz and D-Block & S-te-Fan, who recently joined forces for the aptly-titled “Keepers of Our Legacy.” Their first-ever collaboration, the track is an ode to the persevering and tight-knit hardstyle community.
The idea behind “Keepers of Our Legacy” started at the beginning of the pandemic after Headhunterz and DBSTF realized they had to collaborate on a song. It felt “natural” after hanging out with each other, they tell EDM.com.
“We had each been pursuing our careers side by side for so many years, and then during the COVID-19 pandemic, we reached out to Willem to remix our series ‘Enter Your Mind,’” said D-Block & S-te-Fan. “He showed great enthusiasm, delivering a fantastic remix of ‘Twilight Zone,’ and most importantly, we had a great vibe hanging out that day and discovered how much we think alike. It felt natural to agree on a collaboration.”
“It all began with the vocals. When we received them, we were instantly captivated by them and immediately thought that this could be the start of the collaboration with Headhunterz. This is what the song had to be about—our people, our scene. It had to reflect how resilient we are and how much we all contribute to this music.”
Hardstyle stomped its way into fans’ playlists and libraries more than 20 years ago and has continued on with its tonal kicks, fast-paced tempos and unrelenting synths ever since. Various fads and styles have come and gone, but the fundamental energy and love for the genre have not faded. In fact, hardstyle music appears to be growing in popularity.
“For us, Hardstyle began even earlier with the likes of Isaac, Scot Project and many other German and Italian influences before Holland embraced it, with artists creating the sound we now refer to as hardstyle,” DBSTF added.
Headhunterz and DBSTF each started gaining traction nearly two decades ago in the aughts, a time, according to the latter, when melodies became the backbone of the cacophonous genre.
“Us and Headhunterz started gaining traction around 2005 and 2006, where the melodic sound influenced the entire scene,” DBSTF reminisced. “It’s mind-boggling to contemplate how much we have both grown as individuals and artists. It was long overdue to solidify that process through collaboration, and what better way to pay tribute to all of us Hardstyle lovers who are keeping the legacy of this wonderful music and scene alive.”
And despite hardstyle’s growth in popularity over the last few years, Headhunterz doesn’t believe it’s becoming mainstream. Instead, he believes it’s more of a “self-confirmation bias.”
“To be honest, I don’t really think there is an upward trend of hardstyle,” Headhunterz explains. “I believe it’s more of a self-confirmation bias that people who love hard dance have. They always like to think it’s up-and-coming, and that people will want to advertise it that way. However, I have seen something else that brings me much more happiness.”
Perhaps hardstyle isn’t becoming more popular, but more diverse as more artists enter the genre and create their own aggressive sound and style. Despite these constant changes, the genre has, according to D-Block & S-te-Fan, “demonstrated a remarkably strong foundation.” This bedrock of support from a loyal fanbase allows producers to truly explore the bounds of their artistry without the harsh criticism that comes with their desire to grow artistically.
“It has been an insane rollercoaster ride for the past 15 years,” DBSTF gushed. “It’s sometimes strange to see how much has changed and yet how much has remained the same. You live and you learn. When we started making music, we were carefree; there were no expectations, neither from us nor from the crowd. We simply made music for the joy of it.”
“However, as we gained popularity, achieved success and encountered larger crowds, played at big festivals and embarked on hectic tours, it became easy to lose sight of what truly matters.” the duo continued. “It’s crucial to stay connected to yourself while evolving and to always have fun! These key factors are things we struggle with along the way and must embrace even more quickly.”
The commercialization of music oftentimes leads to significant changes in an artist’s sound. And that fluidity often leads to happiness, despite the hollow opinions of fans. A revamped sound is new and exciting, enabling them to test the waters of untapped creative ventures and connect with fans in innovative ways.
“It’s changed a lot and not so much at the same time,” D-Block & S-te-Fan add. “Sounds and subcultures within hardstyle have been emerging and fading, evolving almost every year. However, overall, hardstyle has demonstrated a remarkably strong foundation, providing a platform for all of us to navigate and express our creativity. It is undoubtedly growing, but it has not yet reached its peak, and perhaps that’s for the better. Our scene is already beautiful as it is, the perfect environment for both the sound and the people. We wouldn’t want to change anything about it.”
“It’s a very steady scene that hasn’t experienced high peaks, and that’s actually for the better,” Headhunterz adds. “It’s also the reason why we have managed to stay around for so many years. Artists are able to have careers that last over a decade without being forgotten and at the same time, keep the music pure for the fans.”
While Headhunterz is a solo project, DBSTF is not, so there’s an added element of balancing what gets approved and what doesn’t. Managing the music’s direction, work schedules and creative endeavors gets more difficult, but DBSTF have figured it out. They adhere to two simple rules, which they admit can be difficult to follow at times.
“One is that we both agree that we have the best interest of our brand and music. Two is if one of us isn’t feeling it, it’s not happening. Both of us need to be in complete agreement that this is what we want. In our case, it works well because Stefan has a stronger sense of commercialism, while Diederik has a greater inclination towards musicality. This allows us to create something that appeals not only to musicians but also to the audience. Since we come from different perspectives, it provides us with cool insights in the studio. It’s simply a perfect match, and we’re delighted that we started working together all those years ago.”
Big transitions in an artist’s sound aren’t always welcomed by longtime fans. In the case of Headhunterz, however, he’s maintained a long and successful career by innovating within his own hardstyle community—and fans have stuck around.
“Once a certain style of music becomes adopted by the mainstream, it changes, gets consumed and then discarded,” Headhunterz says. “So, I think we should be very happy that it has stayed under the radar for the masses. It’s actually a part of what hardstyle is all about in my opinion.”
Striving to innovate and keep things fresh in a genre that has remained stagnant over the years has its own set of unique struggles. But the challenge of creating something new has allowed Headhunterz and D-Block & S-te-Fan to become more resilient and make the best music of their careers.
“At the beginning of your career, you have nothing to lose, so you can only improve,” Headhunterz says. “Each time, you strive to surpass yourself and exceed expectations, but as time goes on, it becomes more challenging. I’ve certainly experienced moments when it was both challenging and even scary to create something and present it to the audience, fearing that I wouldn’t be able to surpass my previous work.”
These demons inside Headhunterz were mitigated with deep introspection, he says.
“Over time, I’ve engaged in a lot of introspection and have always found this to be an intriguing topic,” Headhunterz explains. “I’ve learned a great deal from it, and I can proudly say that I have achieved the goal of reconnecting with the point where music no longer feels like work. For a while, it did feel like work, but I have rediscovered the pleasure of making music purely from my heart. I am immensely grateful for finding that joy because, for me, that’s what it’s all about.”
And finding joy in creating music is exactly what Headhunterz has done. Over the course of the past decade, his music has become increasingly popular around the globe, fueling dancefloors and festivals.
“When creating music, I don’t rationally think about what I am going to create. It comes from a visceral place,” he says. “I only find out what my music is suitable for afterward. My music isn’t really made for the dancefloor, although it ends up that way in the end. But creating music for a dancefloor is not the philosophy that I have in my mind when I’m in the studio. I make music because I want to get in touch with my emotions and also hope that other people will feel the same when they hear my music, but that’s always a guess. Until now it’s worked out!”
It’s most certainly worked out, and the future is bright for both Headhunterz and his beloved hardstyle genre. When asked about his upcoming collaborations and projects, he says he enjoys remaining quiet and using the element of surprise. DBSTF, on the hand, are not as secretive.
The duo have a number of exciting releases coming out on Scantraxx, a hardstyle label founded by The Prophet), who carries the title of “Godfather of Hardstyle.” They’ve also finished a remix of Headhunterz’s classic track “Reignite,” which they hope to release soon.