Hailing from Sydney, Australia is a long-standing, musical trailblazer who’s stood the test of time in the rapidly fluctuating Hardstyle scene. Releasing his first track back in 2009, Elie Abwi, aka Toneshifterz, has grown to become a household name for Hard Dance fans around the globe.
Notorious for creating immaculate, thumping reverse basslines and astonishing melodies, Toneshifterz has pumped out an array of stunning tracks over the past year, including “Let Go” with Outbreak, Defqon.1 Australia anthem “Dragonblood” alongside Code Black and Audiofreq and most recently “Stand Together” featuring Cayo.
Recently relocating back to Hardstyle’s nucleus, The Netherlands and gearing up to take the scene by storm, we pulled Toneshifterz aside to speak about some of his triumphs, struggles and his recent Psy-inspired creation!
– Hey Elie, thanks for this interview and welcome to AAN! First of all, can you give our readers a quick run-down on 2016 and how the year went for you?
Hey! You are more than welcome, it’s a pleasure. I feel as though 2016 was the best year of my life so far; I hit more milestones than ever before and also worked with an amazing team of producers and DJ’s during that time. It’s was a really busy year as I finished my second Bachelor’s degree, which was Business majoring in Financial Panning and took me three years to complete.
As well as that, after a year of planning my wedding, I got married in January 2016. And if that wasn’t enough, along with my studies, I was producing music for my Toneshifterz Project, wrote the Defqon.1 Festival anthem with my buddies Code Black and Audiofreq (closing the mainstage was the highlight of my career), produced music for several other artists (in and outside of Hardstyle) and toured around Australia and Europe! The year was a little full-on, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way!
– Moving into 2017, did you set any career goals or personal resolutions for the year?
I am focussing on eating well and taking care of myself, both physically and mentally, so I can achieve success in my career and life goals.
– Something huge that’s happened recently is your move to The Netherlands. How is it going so far?
YES! To be honest with you it’s actually going great; I love being back in The Netherlands and in the home country of our Hardstyle scene. I’m currently living in a little city called Tilburg and the scenery is quite nice, very green and extremely different to Australia! The Dutch weather isn’t the greatest, but I’m learning to embrace the rain and the cold; I think it makes me appreciate the hot weather in my home country a lot more than I already did!
Personally, I think it’s great to be involved in the Dutch scene again; I think The Netherlands is where you have to be for Hardstyle, and in such a competitive scene you always have to be thinking outside the box in order to come up with the next best thing. And on Dutch soil it’s really easy (at least for me, and the team here) to make things happen!
– What are the biggest difficulties you’re experiencing with this move?
Well, in all honesty the biggest difficulties I’ve been experiencing are just making the European promoters and event organisers aware that I’m actually back and living here in the Netherlands again. People are so used to me living in Australia, but I’m sure this will get easier over the next couple of months as the momentum has already started rolling.
– For you, what’s the importance of being in The Netherlands, or at least in Europe, and if you’re trying to ‘make it’ as an artist?
For me, being back in NL makes it easier to come up with concepts, work with professionals here in the scene and just generally make things happen. The scene is just waiting for the next concept to market and turn into a sensation at the next festival or event and I believe that it’s easy to collaborate not only with other artists, but also with companies and event organisations to push your brand.
It’s great to be able to organise a meeting, or a short coffee and show your latest music, ideas and brand to these companies. The world’s eyes on are The Netherlands; everybody watches the trends here, looks out for what’s cool and follows.
– You’re part of the mini-congregation of Aussies in The Netherlands, alongside Code Black, Outbreak, Audiofreq and Delete. Do you guys hang out together often for epic BBQ’s?!
Haha, yeah! Were a bunch of kangaroos who often speak in Aussie slang ‘cause we miss our home so much, but the sacrifice is well worth it! But yeah, we all hang out here; Corey and I see each other the most, because we work in the same building, together with Brennan Heart and also live five minutes from each other! I also hang out with Outbreak and Audiofreq; we’ve all had massive BBQ’s in the past and need to have another one again – even in the snow! I don’t see Delete as often, so maybe we need to have a BBQ with him too, haha!
– Did you feel as though living in Australia was weakening your career? Or did you feel as though you had to work harder than artists based in Europe?
No I wouldn’t say it was weakening my career at all, I actually grossed the most I had ever grossed living in Australia. But there are a number of factors that make it harder of course living in Australia. First and foremost: the distance, we are way too far from anything else in the world, 24 hour flight to Europe which is quite frustrating and super expensive for promoters, so it gets complicated to organise tours all the time. Being in Australia all the time means that my popularity in Australia is growing faster in Australia than in Europe of course, because I’m showing my face more there. So it just meant I had to go the extra mile with communication with the people I worked with here in the Netherlands. Now I’m based here in the Netherlands which is so much easier.
– Your recent release “Stand Together” featuring Cayo has done quite well! Can you tell me a little more about this track and how it represents the musical direction you’re heading into this year?
I wrote the track, including all the guitars and instrumentation, but I felt as though it really needed something slightly ‘rocky,’ but not too ‘pop-ish.’ I came across the singer/songwriter Cayo, who’s extremely talented and fit the track perfectly. I’m really happy with how “Stand Together” turned out; it’s a slightly darker sounding, melodic vocal track which has been doing so well!
This year my direction isn’t necessarily displayed by this track, although there are a couple more tracks in a similar style. I’ve always been an artist who thrives on variety and exhibiting a broad range of styles, but still adding that Toneshifterz touch.
– You’ve recently jumped on board with the Psy-Style hype! What are your thoughts on this emerging sound and can you tell me more about how you’ve been experimenting with it?
Well, the momentum right now from this track is enormous and there’s been many DJ’s asking to have it for their sets. Whenever I’ve played this track, the reactions are amazing and people absolutely lose their minds! I’m always up for a change, something that’s fresh and a new injection of life and I think it’s important to be at the forefront of these changes and moving trends.
With this track in particular, I didn’t just want to add in a standard Psy Trance kick and bassline, but actually go back to the drawing board and take the Hardstyle approach to redesign the sound, so it actually represents Psy Trance, but is still Hardstyle at its core. I redesigned a kick and bassline as if it were a Hardstyle track and not a Psy Trance track. I’m really excited to see how this track will affect the scene and emerge as a new sound.
– Aside from merging Psy Trance with Hardstyle, another signature of yours is creating phat reverse basslines!
Haha, yeah! Reverse basslines are always good and I think that right now they’re back in fashion; however, the problem is that people are using the same old formulas and ideas which have been done many times before. Nonetheless, I have a couple of tracks coming out this year with these fat reverse basslines, so keep on the lookout!
– You’ve had a long career with many milestones and difficulties. Can you speak about some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to face?
To be honest with you, my biggest obstacle was my health. I got sick in 2012 and I moved back to Australia, which was devastating for my self-esteem and what I thought of my career at the time. I still had the mental capacity to see past it, and thankfully my career did really well whilst I was still in Australia, sick, studying full-time, writing music and touring.
It was incredibly hard and took me almost three years to get back on track with my health, which was the reason why I moved back to Australia in 2012, but now having overcome this, I feel stronger than ever and ready to take on the scene like I’ve never done before!
– One big ‘complaint’ that people make about melodic Hardstyle follows a repetitive formula and the vocals are too whingy. As a representative of this sound, what do you have to say about this statement?
To be honest with you, I agree. It’s become quite repetitive and I think the quality control in the scene for this (and also for the raw scene) is appalling. I think it’s cool when there’s a few of these types of tracks per year; I do produce them myself, but when I do I try to create them differently and make each one stand out in its own unique way.
In saying this, I think the whole Hardstyle scene is starting to shift and return to a sound that resembles Hardstyle from 2010 – 2012 with a brand new feeling and touch. It’s always a great thing when a scene’s music starts to shift, as it brings about change and innovation.
– What do you do to keep your productions fresh and innovative?
Haha, sometimes it’s hard to stay that way, but personally I have bursts of innovation here and there and I try to utilise that when it happens. I also enjoy listening to many different genres of music, because basically ‘everything is a remix’ and everybody draws influences from everywhere. For example, I drew many influences from Slavic music at one point in my career; I just love their style of folk and it inspired one of my biggest tracks “Empire Of The Sun.” Aside from that, there are many other sources of influences such as dance music, classical, TV shows and movies.
– When comparing your recent work with your older productions, what components do you feel as though you’ve improved on most over the years?
Sound design 100%. Of course in Hardstyle, as you grow as an artist, you improve in sound design and engineering as you start to perfect your sound. Another thing is understanding what works and what doesn’t work music-wise and on the dance floor!
– Before we wrap this interview up, what’s on the horizon for Toneshifterz?
In 2014 I started an album which I had to postpone, due to the fact I simply had too much on my plate to actually finish it, so my album could be on the cards again now that I have much more time to focus on it. I’ve built up an enormous bank of unreleased music on my hard drive which fans and artists have been etching to get to, so we’ll see what will happen this year!
– Finally Elie, what did you eat for breakfast today?
I had a “big Aussie brekkie” with vegemite on toast, bacon and eggs with mushrooms and asparagus tossed in pesto and Parmesan with a cup of strawberries and passion fruit juice.
What a fucking awesome breakfast – we’ll have to pay Elie a visit for an authentic Aussie breakfast! A huge thanks to Toneshifterz for this interview. We’re happy to hear that he’s back on track and ready to conquer the scene in 2017! We’re also incredibly excited to hear his brand new tracks, including a full version of that Psy Trance-inspired banger!