The Red stage at Defqon.1 in 2018, the world's biggest hardstyle festival
|Cultural origins||Late 1990s – early 2000s (decade), Netherlands|
Early hardstyle was typically written at 140 BPM and consisted of overdriven and hard-sounding kick drums, often accompanied by an offbeat bass, known as a "reverse bass". As the genre grew, the production techniques and songwriting changed to be suited to a more commercial audience. Modern hardstyle can be recognized by its use of synthesizer melodies and distorted sounds, coupled with hardstyle's signature combination of percussion and bass. The genre is particularly known for its harmonic use of kickdrums. Due to the sustained nature of a hardstyle kick, producers are able to play basslines by using only the kick itself, which becomes a distinct bass tone through a series of distortion, equalization and layering (among other methods). Modern hardstyle is faster, produced around 150 BPM.
Hardstyle influenced other styles of electronic dance music such as big room house, which began sharing similarities with hardstyle like structures, rhythms, and later, pitching kicks became popular in big room, too. Hardstyle also played a large influence in frenchcore and happy hardcore music, which both became popular in the late 2010s with the hardstyle audience after producers started applying hardstyle production techniques and melodic styles to the genres.
The exact origin of hardstyle cannot be specifically defined because the evolution and mixture of other genres turned hard trance and hardcore into what is now known as early hardstyle. As it progressed, the genre gathered characteristics from other electronic music genres and refined its own sound and identity. Over time, the BPM of hardstyle music increased, from a range of 135 to 150 to a range of 150 to 160. Some hardcore producers brought hardstyle elements back to the hardcore scene, which made modern hardstyle and hardcore very similar and often indistinguishable in some cases, only differing in BPM.
The first event credited as a hardstyle event was Qlubtempo, which took place in the year 2000 in Zaandam. Qlubtempo was the first event produced by Q-dance, a Dutch event company which would later go on to produce hardstyle festivals in other countries in Europe, Australia, North America, South America and Asia. In 2001, Q-dance produced the first edition of Qlimax. Q-dance trademarked the term "hardstyle" on the 4th of July, 2002, after both Qlimax and Qlubtempo proved to be successful. Since its inception, Q-dance has guided the evolution of hardstyle music with its events and is often involved with hardstyle artists on a creative level. In 2003, Q-dance hosted the first edition of Defqon.1.
The first few years of hardstyle were characterized by a tempo of around 140–150 BPM, a distorted kick drum sound, vocal samples, dissonant synth sounds known as "screetches" and the use of a "reverse bass", a hard kick distorted offbeat bass within the same beat. Around 2002, more hardstyle labels emerged. Fusion Records (with artists as DJ Zany and Donkey Rollers) and Scantraxx (founded by Dov Elkabas) were the two largest Dutch labels Hardstyle labels in that period. At this point in time, hardstyle artists were primarily from either The Netherlands or Italy.
The end of the 2000s saw hardstyle music change to a more melodic sound, pioneered by Headhunterz' releases on Scantraxx. Headhunterz refined a more harmonic variant of hardstyle using pitched kicks, which led to the rapid growth of the hardstyle scene, and opened doors for new producers to create more musically advanced hardstyle music. This style was known as "nu-style" at the time, and later became "euphoric hardstyle."  During this period, Hardstyle gained popularity on the internet and the scene became more international, leading artists from other countries to produce hardstyle. Multiple local scenes developed around the world, and in 2008, Q-dance hosted the first Australian edition of Defqon.1. In 2010, Headhunterz became the first hardstyle DJ to reach a position in the DJ Mag Top 100, landing at position 36. In 2012, he reached the 11th position.
From roughly 2010 onwards, the move towards a more melodic emphasis from early hardstyle evolved into the subgenre "euphoric hardstyle", characterized by highly emotional melodies and heavy pitch-shifting of kicks. Notable euphoric hardstyle producers include Headhunterz, Coone, Atmozfears, D-Block & S-Te-Fan, and Da Tweekaz.
Since around 2011, more terms to identify developments of hardstyle were introduced. Rawstyle, is a type of hardstyle influenced from Dutch hardcore or older hardstyle resulting in darker melodies, more dissonant elements and harder kick drums. Notable rawstyle artists include: Ran-D, Sub Zero Project, Rooler, Malice & Radical Redemption.[unreliable source?]
Popularized by Sefa and Dr. Peacock in the late 2010s, euphoric frenchcore combines both hardstyle and frenchcore. Euphoric frenchcore uses hardstyle production techniques at faster tempos, ranging between 180 to 220 BPM. The genre caught on quickly after Sefa released his first album in 2018, and it became common for hardstyle artists to close their sets with euphoric frenchcore tracks. That same year, Headhunterz invited Sefa to play on his radioshow, HARD with STYLE. The following years saw multiple euphoric frenchcore performances on the mainstage of Defqon.1, as well as a euphoric frenchcore anthem for the festival in 2019.
The trapstyle is a sub-genre of the hardstyle scene linked to the trap which appeared in the mid-2010s DJ Coone evokes the genre in his remix of the Techno track from Yellow Claw, Diplo and LNY TNZ.
In early 2010, a new variation in hardstyle, named dubstyle was introduced. Dubstyle is the name given to the genre fusion of hardstyle and dubstep. Dubstyle tends to have reversed wobble basslines and take the kick styling of hardstyle tracks, while combining them with the rhythm, groove, and dubstep tempo and effects a fusion of elements of hardstyle with a dubstep rhythm, usually a 2-step or a breakstep rhythm. After its initial appearance, Dubstyle did not evolve or progress beyond the mid 2010s.
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