oliver heldens

An afternoon in Portobello with Oliver Heldens

We play market trader with the Dutch mega-DJ

Google ‘Oliver Heldens’ and a cursory look at the results will tell you this is someone who’s had some serious success. More than a billion streams on Spotify, first UK number one aged 19, 1.5 million Instagram followers – where his eclectic mix of memes, footage from sold-out world tours and selfies regularly earn likes in the tens of thousands.

It is something of a surprise, then, when Heldens arrives at the Sir Plus store on Portobello Road – our makeshift shoot HQ – as an unassuming entourage-less figure lugging his own suitcases out of an Uber and happily trying on anything our stylist hands him. A fussy influencer Heldens is not.

It soon becomes clear, however, that this easy going nature is very likely the key to his success. Heldens is, very briefly, in London for a show at Printworks before heading on to Madrid and then Ho Chi Minh – all in the few weeks before Christmas when everyone else is winding down. Between that he’s managed to squeeze in time to join us for a spot of antiquing and vintage vinyl shopping in Portobello Market. Oh, and he’s off to play a set on Kiss FM in a bit too.

Not that you’ll hear him complaining. “When I’m touring and doing shows I barely get stressed at all,” he says. “I relax by making new music and travelling helps me with new ideas because you get a lot of new impulses from all the places you see and people you meet. Of course, seeing all the fans going crazy also motivates me to make more music.”

You get the sense that Heldens is not so much a workaholic as someone who just really, really loves what he does. It helps, one suspects, that he is also something of a prodigy. Spurred on by a progressive high school in Rotterdam that threw parties soundtracked by the likes of Fedde Le Grand, Hartwell and Eric E, Heldens started making tracks in his bedroom aged 12. By 17 he was signed to Spinnin’ Records and a year later had his big break when Gecko (Overdrive) – a version of his 2013 track with vocals added by Becky Hill – went to number one in the UK.

Heldens, clearly, was not one to rest on the laurels of early success. In 2014 he began releasing weekly Soundcloud mixtapes which quickly evolved into the Heldeep Radio podcast that’s still going strong today.

“It blew up pretty quickly. I started getting hundreds of emails a week from new talented producers who wanted to be featured on the show – people like Curbi, Mesto and Mike Williams,” he remembers. Before long Heldeep Records was born – along with Heldens’ darker, bass heavy alter-ego Hi Lo – and Heldens now helps steer the careers of more than 90 artists who release on the label.

oliver heldens

“What was pretty mind blowing was that some of my heroes from when I first started out would actually submit demos for Heldeep,” he says. “People like Chocolate Puma, Bart B More, Vato Gonzalez – all people I’ve looked up to since I was a teenager.” When it comes to new talent, Heldens points to emerging dance scenes in Australia, America and Canada as being particularly exciting.

But what of his own music? “I’ve always focused on making music that works for the dancefloor,” he explains. “Some of those tracks became big club hits, then we added vocals and they became big on the radio.”

oliver heldens

This focus on creating the kind of euphoric beats that work well at 2am in a packed club, but grate slightly at 7am on the Radio 1 breakfast show, goes some way to explaining why, despite putting out 18 singles over the last few years, you’re likely hard pressed to name one. Heldens’ prolific line in remixes, however, is another matter. Over the year Heldens has offered his musical stylings to the songs of everyone from Coldplay and Moby to Robin Thicke and Katy Perry. “I can tell if a remix is going to work as soon as I hear the song,” he says. “Sometimes there are songs I really like but they just don’t work with my style. Halsey’s team, for example, really wanted me to remix Graveyard. I really like the song but it was never going to work so I had to turn it down.”

The perpetually laid-back Heldens maintains there’s no extra pressure to please when you’re working with someone else’s music – with one exception. “When Nile Rogers approached me to remix Le Freak for its 40th anniversary. Then I definitely felt some pressure. That song is so iconic.”

oliver heldens

“I like to draw a pretty diverse crowd – young and old,” Heldens adds on the breadth of his work. “My music is very funky and groovy but also very high energy so it works on a main stage at a festival as well as a club. I’d love to work with artists like Dua Lipa and Pharrell.” If you happen to be heading to any of this summer’s big festivals, keep an eye out for Heldens on the line-up. His aforementioned tireless touring schedule has so far seen him perform at Glastonbury, Lollapalooza and Coachella while Heldeep Records has had its own stage at Miami’s Tomorrowland since 2017.

Of course, if you’ve already seen him live, you’ll know Heldens’ unique style is as much a part of the show as the music. Loud Hawaiian shirts, bright colours and bold prints are par for the course. He recently picked up the Iconic Global Producer award at Style Icon Asia wearing leather trousers and a neoprene T-shirt.

“Ever since I was a teenager it’s something that I’ve spent time on but I just wear what I like, it’s not crazy important to me,” he says effusively. “I wear a lot of Air Max One sneakers and have just bought a bunch of stuff from Supreme. There’s also this brand from the UK called Collusion I really like.”

And that hard-to-miss timepiece that peaks from beneath his coat sleeve for the duration of our shoot? “This Hublot is basically the only watch I ever wear. I love looking at watches in airports, and I had a Bulgari before this, but I’ve been wearing my Big Bang for four years now and I’m definitely not bored of it.” Dance music’s most dedicated DJ is clearly a man after our own hearts.

Looking for more musical insights? Read our interview with Labrinth.

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