Life isn’t life without change. As individuals, we go through fluctuations, we experience periods of happiness, sadness, determination and laziness. We have undoubtedly had periods where we thought that a certain haircut was the shit or when we obsessed over certain people. Fact is, nothing lasts forever, change is inevitable and it must be accepted in order to breeze through life gracefully…
So what do these wise words concerning change have to do with music, in particular hardstyle? You’d be surprised to know that there is a lot to learn when applying the theory of change to the hardstyle scene and its music.
In order to further understand what is going on in the scene today and make some assumptions about what is yet to come, we must take a brief trip down memory lane and explore some of the changes in the music that have led us to today’s popularities.
2008-2010 – “The Golden Era”
Many hardstyle lovers refer to this period as a time where the music was incredible and filled with soul, where the scene was joined by a loving bond and where there were barely any pretentious idiots to be seen.
So what exactly was trending at this time? If you were comparing it to today’s music, it would probably be marked as melodic or euphoric, with barely any industrial sounding crap to be found. Back in those years however, it was marked as ‘just hardstyle,’ and this is another reason why many fans refer to this period of time as the ‘golden era’ – because there were no sub-genres, it was all just hardstyle. Another mentionable thing is that the dirty word “ghost-producing” had less than half as much gossip surrounding it as compared to today.
In this period of time, artists such as Noisecontrollers, Zany, TNT, The Prophet, Scope DJ, Tatanka, Showtek, Headhunterz, Wildstylez and many more ruled the scene. The music was pumped with substance, a magical feeling and was solely focussed on creating original melodies and storylines. What was classified as ‘harder’ or ‘raw’ was the music coming from Zany, Donkey Rollers, Crypsis, Tatanka and of course Zatox, who named his 2010 EP “Raw style”. The track “Raw style” itself even has a melody, which is something that we can’t really say about 90% of raw music coming out of producers’ studios nowadays.
Trends: Melodic climaxes, reverse bass intro and triplet melody, intense storylines and experiences.
Fear FM Top 100 #1 spots:
2008: Frontliner – Spacer
2009: Headhunterz & Wildstylez vs. Noisecontrollers – Tonight
2010: Psyko Punkz – Bassboom
2011-2012 – The “Modern Classic” era:
With the booming growth of hardstyle during the golden years, 2011 brought a whole new turn which involved a little less reverse bass, extremely euphoric melodies and a shitload of bootlegs and remixes. This was the period of time where Headhunterz was classified as God and the genre itself was spreading like a virus worldwide.
Along with the pioneers from the previous era, many former talents began to rise during this time. Names such as Code Black, Toneshifterz, Ran-D, Adaro, B-Front, Wasted Penguinz, Audiofreq, Bass Modulators, Hard Driver and Da Tweekaz were beginning to dominate and although they aren’t historical legends, they are still named as modern pioneers.
As melodies were still dominating, the raw side was still quite an underground movement and something that was played at the end of events. Artists such as Crypsis, Radical Redemption, DJ Thera and E-Force were still quite concealed (around 2012) in terms of the popularity that they have today.
Trends: Anticlimaxes, sing-alongs, euphoric melodies, not-so-deep storylines.
Fear FM Top 100 #1 spots:
2011: Wasted Penguinz – Melancholia
2012: Frontliner – Symbols
2013-2015 – The “Great Divide” era:
Did someone say raw vs. euphoric?! Well that’s what these past few years have been about. In countries other than The Netherlands, 2013 was still a year that celebrated melodies and good vibes and the majority of headlining artists that visited those countries were those who produced more melodic styled music. In The Netherlands however, 2013 brought a change where harder and darker music began to show up more often. Raw dedicated stages began popping up at festivals and artists who were traditionally producing on that middle line (Ran-D, Adaro, Digital Punk, Frequencerz) began shifting their sound to become a little darker.
2013 also saw euphoric artists pushing their sound to become even more uplifting and pioneers such as Coone, Frontliner, Headhunterz, Noisecontrollers, Wildstylez, D-Block & S-te-Fan and Brennan Heart became international icons for the genre. These pioneers gained an incredible status in the scene, especially for the booming international market and their sound was very accessible for new listeners in the genre. Besides that, many young euphoric producers such as Adrenalize, Atmozfears, Audiotricz, Omegatypez, Rebourne and Neilio began rising.
Trends: An accessible sound, EDM influences, fresh new talents, rising raw hardstyle.
**No Fear FM countdown**
2014 was undoubtedly the year that the split became noticeable to most fans. There were raw dedicated parties occurring regularly, the former ‘God,’ Headhunterz stepped down to pave way for a new king, Radical Redemption to rise. In The Netherlands in particular, raw stages at every festival were overcrowded and whilst traditional pioneers were off touring around the world, random raw talents began popping up left, right and centre.
Labels became dedicated to producing the rawest and hardest new talents and over-branding even started to occur. In 2014, (although some amazing melodic tracks were produced) the raw tracks dominated. The music became more hardcore influenced and the musical aspects started disintegrating as producers simply jumped on the simple kick and screech bandwagon.
This new raw was almost industrial sounding, mostly unoriginal, repetitive and overly hyped. 2014 was a year in which only a small handful of exceptional tracks were produced.
2014 was also a year which saw many original pioneers experimenting with different genres and well, there’s no need to explain the whole Headhunterz saga, right? In terms of the euphoric sphere, many fans have confessed that the music is becoming too cheesy and utilising too many elements of commercial EDM.
Trends: Producers moving to house, kicks and screeches, industrial raw, making the loudest noises.
Freaqshow Countdown #1: E-Force – Seven
This brings us up to today, 2015, or better known as the year where artists are finally admitting that raw hardstyle is getting repetitive, yet they still make the same old crowd pleasing music.
On the other hand, there has been hope! Artists such as Endymion, B-Front, Phuture Noize, Adaro, Ran-D and a few others have jumped off the standard bandwagon and have been dedicated to producing atmospheric raw hardstyle that actually has a feeling attached to it. The response from fans has been surprisingly good, which leads me to make some assumptions about the direction of this ‘intelligent raw hardstyle.’
In terms of the euphoric sphere, over the last year or two, the conception of ‘Hard Drop’ has occurred as a specific label for hard dance with a significant EDM influence. Many euphoric producers have begun creating music that fits within the Hard Drop umbrella and those who are still making traditional hardstyle have actually made some great music this year. For example, pioneering artists such as Noisecontrollers, Frontliner, Da Tweekaz, Max Enforcer and Bass Modulators as well as upcoming talents Cyber, Sephyx and Devin Wild have been pumping out some original and high quality tunes.
In 2015, another trend that has been significantly rising is the concept of branding (and over-branding). A recognisable brand is put up to tell artists apart, because sadly, raw hardstyle is coming to a point where you can’t really tell artists apart from their music anymore. It has been proven that if you want to create some hype on social media and even generate 15 minutes of fame, then gather a few artists, slap some masks on their face and create some music that better resembles a construction site.
The fact that there are still some great tracks being released and some artists who are going against trends and staying true to themselves suggests that another change is near. This leads me to review some predictions of how the scene will change and what that means for the music and the fans.
Scenario #1: The rise of ‘intelligent’ hardstyle:
When we caught up with not only Endymion, but also with the guys from Roughstate (Ran-D, Adaro, B-Front & Frequencerz), they made specific mentions towards the fact that raw hardstyle has become dull, has lost its feeling and has become too industrial and hardcore influenced. These artists along with a few others have made active steps in their production to ensure that their music is creative, original, yet still packs a powerful punch on the dancefloor. The fact that many new listeners don’t particularly go straight for the extremely raw crap, this new-found creative approach to raw hardstyle can also draw in a whole new open-minded demographic.
On the melodic spectrum, if artists continue creating original projects that aren’t simply house bootlegs or too cheesy to handle sing-a-longs, then this intelligent factor will shine through all kinds of sounds within hardstyle. If artists focus on not creating raw or euphoric music, but just creating balanced hardstyle tracks, then all problems and all debates are simply solved.
Intelligent hardstyle stands for huge atmospheres, a unique idea and clever, forward thinking. From an artists perspective, they want their music to speak for itself and although branding (to some degree) is important, musical creativity and self expression is the number one priority. This new era will be similar to the 2008-2011 period in terms of the aspects of self expression. There will be less pretentiousness from artists and fans than in 2014-2015 and the idea of hardstyle will shift back to its original concept that everybody is here for the love of the music.
I’m really optimistic about this kind of change within the scene. Creative tracks are always the ones who have stood the test of time and have been able to transcend many years, so if this extreme rawness is just a simple hype then its likely that it will die out by the end of 2015 and the birth of sheer creativity will live on. Due to the domination of raw artists at festivals this year, by the end of the festival season, raw fanatics probably would be second guessing this bandwagon and maybe learning to think for themselves instead of simply following a hype.
Scenario #2: The sub-genre split continues:
Just like it is today, there is a possibility that this great divide will continue so far that people will no longer be in denial about the whole sub-genre thing. Raw hardstyle will have it’s own demogaphic, so will euphoric, tek, freestyle and QULT and these sub genres will be disconnected with each other.
Just like within EDM there are genres such as deep house, dubstep, drum and bass, techno, electro and more, hardstyle may become so vast that the genres within it will be disconnected from one another and will push to the extremes. Raw hardstyle will basically keep getting more and more unbearably raw and create its own genre, euphoric hardstyle will become too cheesy to handle, hard drop will be the gateway to EDM and freestyle will basically be a little bit of everything.
With this prediction, there will sadly no longer be a middle ground that fans can call “just hardstyle.” Producers may decide to leave the genre and continue on elsewhere and the fans between separate sub-genres won’t socialise anymore.
Scenario #3: 2009 Revivals
Another scenario could be a revival of the 2009 sound. With assumption that the music trends work in a circular motion suggests that producers may start making music that goes back to the roots of the genre. Nowadays, the 2009 sound is still greatly appreciated with parties such as X-Qlusive Legends and many early hardstyle dedicated stages at festivals. Even modern artists such as Noisecult, A-Lusion, Scope DJ, Cyber, Dillytek and many more evidently create older vibes in their tracks.
Going back to the roots of hardstyle brings back memories for many, memories of when they first started listening to hard dance and memories of when everybody was there for the love of the music. In saying this, it is a possibility that artists will start bringing back older atmospheres into the tracks and the whole sub-genre concept will disappear as a middle-ground called “hardstyle” will be formed.
Have a good think about it. Think about the past trends and let us know what you think! Where do you think that hardstyle is headed? Back to 2009? More raw? More euphoric? Or simply just the rise of ‘real music’ again?
Post your comments below!