Warped, distorted synths. A gut-punching, constant, turbo-powered kickdrum — immediately followed by more bass on the offbeat. Voiceovers from monsters, alien gods and nasty little punks. No need for a drop. It’s all one big climax. The sound of hardstyle is unmistakable, and for many, it’s more than music; it’s a way of life.
Need a primer? Check out this exclusive mix from Psyko Punkz, which tracks 10 years of hardstyle with bangers from acts like the Punkz, Headhunterz, and Showtek. Full tracklist below.
The Dutch-founded 150-plus BPM genre is over a decade old in other parts of the world, with dedicated record labels, award shows, festivals, and a legion of fierce fans. In America, it’s brand new, but is already getting support from some high-powered entities, on the hunt for EDM’s next big thing. So far this year, hardstyle posterboy Headhunterz signed to Ultra Music, played closing sets Electric Daisy Carnival in New York and Las Vegas – slots that other DJs work years to clinch – and collaborated with artists like Kaskade and Krewella. Steve Aoki announced that he had signed prolific DJ/producer Coone to his influential Dim Mak label; he’s already dropped collabs with Lil John, Dimitri and Like Mike. Even Diplo, the tastemaker’s tastemaker, is playing the stuff.
While there are undeniable machinations pushing hardstyle to “break” in the U.S., its roots are stronger than the hype. The team at Amsterdam-based event promoter Q-Dance should know: They coined the term “hardstyle” back in 2002, helping it grow from fodder for a nightclub side room, to a thriving subculture with thousands of orange-jumpsuited fans, who snap up tickets to events – like the eye-popping Defqon 1 – before lineups are even announced (sound familiar?). Those fans share the music, and what it represents: a sense of disconnection from the mainstream, and desire to live outside the lines. The small but devoted Q Dance team knows that kind of community can’t magically appear overnight.
“In the States it’s pretty new and kind of small, but it’s out there. It has to grow, but you can’t force it,” says Q-Dance co-founder Roger Werver. “We cannot go any faster than we’re going because we need the scene.”
According to Werver, and project managers Michiel Groeneveld and Andrew Smith — a Harvard extension graduate who attended Dutch Q Dance shows as a student, and gave up a lucrative finance job to work with the brand years later (now that’s love), the Q Dance community is so strong that Dutch kids have Friday night meet-ups in each other’s houses, not to party, just to hang.
“We came from the underground and there’s still a link to it,” says Werver. “We now do events for thousands and thousands of people, but that connection is something we cherish and don’t want to lose.”
Q-Dance is introducing itself to U.S. fans with a few key projects this year. The team will build one of its signature, sinister stages (past structures have included an evil shogun and electro-scorpion) at the inaugural TomorrowWorld in Atlanta (September 26-28), which is produced by its parent company ID&T (It also had a stage at Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas last year.). The just-announced lineup includes Coone, Zatox and Frontliner. Plus it’s hosting a contest. Actually, make that a Qontest — searching for new hardstyle talent, to play a set at TomorrowWorld. Contests are meant to be promotional, of course, but the idea is also to nurture the diversification of the hardstyle sound.
“We definitely want a local hardstyle hero,” says Werver. “Dutch artists have similarities, but Americans have different backgrounds and cultures, and will put something fresh into the music.”
Also in the plan: “The Sound of Q Dance,” a one-off event at the Shrine in L.A. on October 5. The show will be the first time that many of the artists play in the U.S. outside the confines of a festival. Coone, Psyko Punkz, and creepy dummy-masked duo Gunz for Hire are on the bill, plus other acts so mysterious that Google searches don’t even turn up much (search Humanoise, apparently a male-female duo, and see what we mean). But on the scorched planet of hardstyle, that’s part of the adventure.
Mix Track Listing
- Yoda – “Definitely” (Scott Project Remix)
- Donkey Rollers – “Motherfuck”
- Showtek – “FTS”
- Headhunterz – “The Sacrifice”
- Noisecontrollers – “Promises”
- Psyko Punkz – “BassBoom”
- Wildstylez ft Niels Geusebroek – “Year Of Summer”
- Psyko Punkz ft Murda – “Love This Life”