Oliver Heldens Talks Creative Freedom and the Trends of Future House

The DJ caught up with Popdust right before his performance at Electric Zoo 2019.

Rotterdam-based producer Oliver Heldens refuses to be boxed in.

The 24-year-old told Popdust prior to his energized set at Electric Zoo this year that he's excited to see dance music "getting bigger and bigger." Heldens exploded on to the scene in 2013 with "Gecko (Overdrive)," a track that established Heldens as a pioneer of future house. We spoke more with the DJ on his big break, his inspirations, and what's next for him.

You have had tremendous growth these last few years and you're absolutely crushing it. We caught you down in Miami as well. Where do you get your inspiration from when you're creating your tracks?"

[Definitely] 'Gecko' still. That was my big breakthrough song, and I just love it and the impact it had on the whole scene. I'm really still so proud of it."

Where do you see the scene going?

"Well in general in the last couple of years we've seen dance music, in general, getting bigger and bigger, where whether it's techno or tech house or future house or deep house, it's really growing and that's really nice. I definitely see Trance going more upwards, back to the roots and getting more danceable and less aggressive. It seems like that dance music, in general, is getting so big, and it's only been mainstream since like 2010, so like right now is the perfect time for people to really dive in deeper, and it's really nice to see that you can be a really niche sounding artist, and it can be very dark and not mainstream but you still have a big crowd to play for. That's what's really nice about the scene right now. I feel like people are very open-minded nowadays and they like multiple genres."

Oliver Heldens - Summer Lover (Lyric Video) ft. Devin, Nile Rodgers

Your Heldeep Radio has really grown and includes so many great underground artists. Your song choice in particular has gotten you a lot of recognition. How do you narrow down what to include?

I go through a lot of tracks, and the ones that excite me I put them on the show. When I started doing monthly mixtapes, they became so popular that so many radio stations were asking me to do a weekly mix, and in the beginning, it was quite hard for me, because to deliver quality tracks every week was quite difficult, and at that time there weren't many producers making future house or like this kind of mix between bass and tech house. But over the years more and more people started to make more of that more music...and Heldeep Records kinda developed from doing Heldeep radio shows, because with the Heldeep Radio shows I got so many demos and promos from undiscovered talents, e-mails, people on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc. So I decided to start Heldeep Records. Also, at that time, I wanted to create an alias for my more underground, more bass-driven and darker tracks. So it all came together perfectly. Even though I felt kinda young to start my own record label, but luckily there were a lot of my inspirations when I launched the label and a lot of artists were really keen on releasing on Heldeep, which was both inspiring and motivating.

Will you be focusing more on the Heldeep sound as you go forward?

"Over the last few years, we've been trying to do more Heldeep shows, Heldeep stage hostings at big festivals, and that's been going great so far. So definitely wanna do that more and more."

What type of sounds are you mostly looking for now?

"I'm never looking for a specific sound, I'm very open. I love to be doing the in-between, the underground, and the commercial, and the mainstage. I really like to be in that spot. I'm very open to different things."

What's a piece of advice you can offer those underground acts?

"I would say to aspiring DJs and producers, take your time, don't feel rushed to breakthrough. Sometimes it just feels better to just take more time, and it takes time to develop your own sound. So don't try to go for shortcuts or, yeah, it's important that it's fun and that you like the music...especially if you're very young your tastes can shift very quickly. Sometimes it's important just to take time and think about what kind of music you really want to make, and don't go off too much on trance, stay true to yourself and support it."

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Culture Feature

Drew Brees Exemplifies How NOT to Be a White Ally

The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.

Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."

This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.

Colin Kaepernick Kneeling Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality

Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.

But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?

Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?

When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.

After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.

Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.

Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.

Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.

For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.