Festival 101 with Oliver Heldens

The Rotterdam DJ/producer schools you on how to festival in 2016.

Oliver Heldens is among the Netherlands’ popular dance music producers, joining the ranks of the nation’s other festival main-stage contenders including Hardwell, Afrojack, and Tiësto. Heldens introduced a refreshing and unique sound in 2013 with his breakout hit “Gecko,” and has continued to contribute to a fun new wave of music for EDM lovers. Such originality landed him a residency with Hakkasan Group in Las Vegas, and has also scored him a number of festival appearances in the short span of his career. And since he knows the ins-and-outs of festie life, Heldens had a few insights to impart on the wild, wild world of international festivals.

You’ve had a busy festival season; you must be an expert by now. What do you suggest partygoers do to stay healthy and safe at festivals?

Drink enough water and take care of each other. Some people do drugs. Drugs and alcohol together go really bad. So either do drugs or do alcohol. The best thing is just to do nothing. Myself, I don’t do drugs, and I may drink alcohol at night; it’s the best time.

What’s the best strategy for enjoying all the music festivals have to offer?

I would advise people to check out the timetable before a festival and listen to the artists who are playing to get a sense [of their sound]. If you see a name somewhere that you don’t know, then just spend a few minutes on SoundCloud listening to their songs. That’s always a good thing to do.

At some festivals, there is just one group who stays at the main stage the whole day. But there are also so many other stages with great music. Usually, at the smaller stages, it’s the newer artists. Some of them can also be really interesting to check out. I would definitely advise people to do some research before you go to a festival to see who’s playing.

What else should attendees see or do? I always eat at every festival.

Oh, yeah, definitely. The food is also important, of course. I love that there’s good food at festivals; that’s definitely a plus. In general, one really nice thing about festivals is that usually you end up meeting a lot of new people.

I’ve met some of my best friends at festivals; such great memories. What are some of your favorite festival memories?

I played at Lollapalooza in Chicago, and the crowd was comprised of people who went kind of crazy, and then I saw a girl in a wheelchair crowd surfing. That was a pretty epic moment. Actually, stuff like that happens often, the people in wheelchairs crowd surfing. Also, sometimes you’ll see that people start to create a circle and they do dance battles. You’ll see people shuffling and break dancing; that’s also really fun.

What are some of the best festivals to play?

Dance festivals are always really good. [But] for me, the crossover festivals are even better. For example, Coachella, or Lollapalooza, and even Glastonbury.oliver_heldens_omnia_provided_WEB

Why is that?

At crossover festivals, people go see bands as well, and they go see maybe singer/songwriters. My music has [different] energy than the average festival act. And usually the small stages and smaller crowds are more fun to play for.

What appeals to you about the smaller stages and crowds?

It feels more intimate. You feel a stronger connection with the crowd. It makes it also a little bit easier to read the crowds. Actually, for me to play the main stage is always a challenge. But it makes it really fun if it’s a challenge. Most festivals I play at the moment, I play on the main stage.

How do you prepare for these performances?

I don’t really have special routines, but I’m always prepared nowadays. We DJs categorize all our stuff on software and then put it on a USB stick, and I also make a lot of edits of the tracks and mashups. On most of the tracks I play in my sets, they are edits or remixed by me. Also, my old tracks, I make little different versions of my old tracks, and I love classics [alongside] fresh music. Every week, I make new edits and new music or also every week I receive a lot of new music. Then I can categorize it easily on my USB stick. That makes me always prepared. Usually, I mix on the fly: I know what it’s all going to start with, and my last track, usually, and then the rest is on the fly.

What else do you have coming up?

I’m always making new music, and especially at the moment I’m feeling really inspired—even more than a few years ago when I broke through this whole new sound and style.

What’s inspiring you right now?

I’m really inspired by disco. Also by techno and bass. I’ve been working with a lot of songwriters, working with vocal tracks and lyrics. But I’m also working on a lot of more club, more bass and rhythm tracks. I have an alias called Hi-Lo. As [Hi-Lo] I use more underground stuff, which is really meant for a dance floor. As Oliver Heldens, I make more accessible, more melodic stuff. This month, there’s a new track coming up [as Oliver Heldens], called “Flamingo.” It has some ’90s house vibes, but it’s very sexy. It’s probably my most sexy track yet.