As EDM has risen into the pop music sector and more and more people have been initiated into dance music, certain genres have taken the lead at one point or another.
In 2011 and 2012, dubstep was the fad, thanks to people like 12th Planet and the U.S. king of the genre, Skrillex. Then 2013 came, and dubstep took a backseat to the new “it” genre: trap.
But throughout 2013, a new genre, pushed by Dutch events company and record label Q-dance, was quietly building up a following. That genre, the genre that made the biggest impact on electronic music in 2014, is hardstyle.
Hardstyle emerged at a fast-paced 150 bpm, influenced by earlier dance music genres like hardcore and hard house. Q-dance had been pushing the genre in the Netherlands and throughout Europe, but breaking into the U.S. market was tougher.
“With hardstyle, there is a certain barrier to entry,” said a Q-dance rep, who asked not to be named, as the label doesn’t normally give interviews. “Generally the first time you share the music with people in the U.S., they pause and give you a strange look. For a lot of people, they don’t understand it until they experience it live.”
Once festivals in the U.S. began showcasing hardstyle, though, things picked up fast. Georgia’s TomorrowWorld and Insomniac’s EDC Las Vegas have dedicated whole stages to hardstyle. Q-dance held their “The Sound of Q-dance” show in the U.S. for the first time in L.A. at the Shrine Auditorium in late 2013. Fans were getting exposed to hardstyle without having to go out of their way.
Also in 2013, Dutch hardstyle DJ and producer Headhunterz, who hosts the podcast Hard with Style and owns a label of the same name, was signed to Ultra Music. A few months later, Steve Aoki brought hardstyle artist Coone to his label, Dim Mak. By the end of 2013, many in the industry were predicting hardstyle to be the next big thing.
It did not disappoint.
2014 has been hardstyle’s year. But much like dubstep, hardstyle remains a genre that’s hard for the uninitiated to understand. Tracks have an uplifting, anthemic, quality to them at certain points, then just as quickly shift into teeth-gnashing, seemingly random mechanical noises.
To some, this is dubstep all over again, but maybe worse. Just like dubstep, though, a special subculture, born largely out of original Q-dance fans, exists — and it’s growing.
The third and most recent “The Sound of Q-dance” at the Shrine, held last month, was the biggest yet, with 4,800 attendees. More and more mainstream artists, such as Diplo, Kaskade and Krewella, have been dropping hardstyle into their mixes and collaborating with hardstyle artists.
But the main reason why hardstyle has become the new “it” genre is the fans. Hardstyle fans are devout; Villain, a hardstyle MC and hype man who has been at the forefront of bringing harder dance styles to the U.S., says they identify with the music as a way of life.
"The dedication that they have for this music is like no other,” says Villain. “I can easily say that hardstyle has the most dedicated fan base in the world of electronic music."
Hardstyle fans bond over their love of a sound that a lot of others — even their peers — don’t understand, and maybe even hate. It draws together a generation of kids who want to belong to something. It doesn’t hurt that the songs themselves are nearly all anthems, albeit with the addition of some gnarly bass.
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"Hardstyle has the power the connect people," Villain continues. "The energy that comes out of this music makes you feel alive, it lets you explore every human emotion you can imagine. It’s an energy that can’t be matched by any other genre in dance music, and although it sounds hard from the outside, it’s soft and gentle from the inside, and it makes you feel like you’re a part of something great."