Hopping from festival to festival, the hardstyle emissary teaches U.S. crowds how to dance -- at 140 BPM.
But as the sun drops and his set time draws nearer, Rebergen becomes more withdrawn. He may be among hardstyle’s leaders overseas, but here he’ll be playing to a crowd largely unfamiliar with his music, that’s spent the day listening to well-known EDM fare.
“I'm pretty nervous now,” Rebergen says. “Not about my performance, because I know it will sound right, but about the crowd. It could go so many ways." He gets some last-minute reassurance in the form of a surprise visit from Insomniac CEO Pasquale Rotella, who’s placed Rebergen in high-profile time slots at all three EDC events this summer.
As Steve Angello winds down with a medley of Swedish House Mafia classics, Rebergen runs behind him and crouches behind the booth. The idea is to limit the time between the last notes of “Don’t You Worry Child” and Rebergen’s thunderous opening, keeping the Angello crowd in place. The transition is swift, and a large majority of the fans stay to see what Headhunterz is all about. By this point, the backstage is teeming with EDM brass, including Rebergen’s management team and higher-ups from Ultra Music. Nerves are running high. “Will they get it?” members of the team ask repeatedly, to no one in particular.
The answer comes quickly. Angello wraps up, and Rebergen’s easygoing demeanor is replaced by the raw energy of his Headhunterz persona, for whom DJ-ing is a full-body workout. When he’s not mixing in or out of a song, Rebergen throws his hands into the air, palms open, in perfect time with the music. The sharply articulated movement makes it appear as if he’s hoisting up his heavy bass and kicks to present to the fans before him, and they mimic him excitedly. In moving to the 140-beats-per-minute music — a tempo considerably faster than nearly every mainstream EDM track — Rebergen is teaching the fans how to do it too.
Early in the set, Romero comes onstage and grabs the mic: “This is the one and only Headhunterz,” he says. “He’s not only one of my best friends, he’s one of the most talented producers in the world… so if you’re ready to go a little harder, make some fucking noise!” When the beat drops, it sounds as if the whole crowd has followed his orders. Romero mans the decks for a moment while Rebergen does a victory lap of sorts around the DJ booth and, seeing the fervent response, his whole team visibly relaxes.
Rebergen also gets on the mic soon after, to introduce an unfinished demo of the Krewella collaboration. The instant the dance-pop trio’s name leaves his mouth, iPhones and cameras shoot skyward to capture the song’s debut. By this point, the Headhunterz team is pouring champagne to celebrate.
But then, disaster. Rebergen introduces his last song of the night, his remix of Hardwell’s festival favorite “Spaceman.” Just as the beat is about to hit, the clock strikes 11, the stage goes dark and fans are utterly bewildered. Some boo, some applaud and others chant for one more song. Rebergen is visibly crestfallen. Trying to salvage the night, he jumps offstage and greets the remaining fans, one by one. Rotella returns, apologizing profusely for the early ending — CitiField noise ordinances — but congratulating him on a successful set.
Redemption comes the following month at EDC Las Vegas (June 21-23), which takes place in the middle of the desert, where noise doesn’t matter. Rebergen’s performance was initially unlisted, marked just as a “surprise special guest.” Social media pundits said it couldn’t be Headhunterz; he was booked to play at the Defqon.1 Festival in Holland that weekend. But Rebergen came straight from Europe, still wearing his Defqon wristband. “I’m not jetlagged,” he said. “I’m too excited.”
After a well-received set, Rebergen dropped “Spaceman” just as he had in New York, with the blazing sun starting to rise in the sky. This time, however, nothing kept the crowd from experiencing the buzz of that final drop. In full daylight, tens of thousands of ravers jumped as high as they could in time to the beat.
After it was all over, attendees shuffled toward the exit — with the exception of a few diehard Headhunterz fans, who run toward the front of the stage are and lean over the metal barricades, yelling his name to catch his attention. Rebergen gamely makes his way down to ground level (a much tougher feat on this EDC stage) and shakes hands, poses for photos and accepts every manner of gift. After about 20 minutes and a bit of pressure from his tour manager, he finally departs, with arms full of inflatable animals and beaded bracelets. “It’s bad karma to turn it away,” he says while hauling the gifts to a waiting SUV. “At the end of the day, you live from your fans.”
"Explode" Tour Dates
09.19: Starlight Ballroom, Philadelphia, PA
09.20: Telus Theatre, Montreal, QC
09.22: Royale Nightclub, Boston, MA
09.24: Barrymore’s Music Hall, Ottawa
09.26: Revolution Live, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
09.27: South Side Music Hall, Dallas, TX
10.03: Foundations, Seattle, WA
10.04: Pne Coliseum, Vancouver, BC
10.05: Phoenix Theatre, Toronto, ON
10.10: Monarch Theatre, Phoenix, AZ
10.11: Shaw Centre, Edmonton, AB
10.12: Sound Republic, Winnipeg, MB
10.13: Concord Music Hall, Chicago, IL