Oliver Heldens interview: “It’s an honour to work with an icon like Kylie”
By Andy Jones | December 15, 2023
Oliver Heldens is the superstar DJ and producer behind 10 Out Of 10, one of the standout moments from the latest Kylie album, Tension. Here, he gives a unique insight into one of the best Kylie tracks ever…
Oliver Heldens has been producing music, DJ-ing and remixing for nearly a decade and is the DJ and producer behind one of Kylie’s latest (and greatest) songs, 10 Out Of 10, from her latest album Tension.
In this exclusive interview for Classic Pop he reveals how he collaborated with Kylie under his HI-LO alias – that’s Oli H backwards – after she became something of a dance icon for him with her global No.1, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.
How and when did you get into making music and DJ-ing?
I’ve loved dance music since I was really young. When I was 12 I started producing my own tracks and learned how to be a DJ.
That’s pretty young! What happened next and when did you become successful?
When I was 17 I got a record deal with Spinnin’ Records, and that was probably my goal at the time as they were the best label to work with. A year later when I was 18, I made a track called Gecko and [Dutch DJ and music producer] Tiësto loved that track and put it out on his label, Musical Freedom.
They also worked with Spinnin’ Records and that track became my musical breakthrough. The instrumental version became a big club hit and there was a vocal version with Becky Hill that became a massive hit in the UK and other countries.
And you were still just 18 years old. That’s incredibly young to enjoy that kind of success.
Yeah it was pretty crazy. And the thing with Gecko was that it fell within different music genres, like it was a new thing in house music and they started to name it ‘Future House’, a new genre.
[The DJ] Tchami kind of came up with the name which was like this style in between UK Deep House and Main Stage or Electro House.
It fell between those worlds and the thing with Gecko was that it became the biggest track in this new genre so people would name me as a Future House pioneer and I was only 18!
So you’d become a pioneer of Future House at 18 – did you feel a pressure for subsequent tracks to have to fit into that style?
Yes and no. At that time I actually had a track ready that I wanted to release just a month and a half after the initial Gecko release.
But that track was quite different from Gecko, quite dark, bass heavy, a bit like acid techno/electro-inspired. It just felt a little bit too different from Gecko.
But I also had a follow up track [to Gecko], Koala, ready to release and I was working on a remix of Can’t Stop Playing by Dr. Kucho!.
Plus I was working with Robin Thicke who wanted me to remix some of his stuff in that style, so it made sense to focus on things in that style.
But at the same time I was working on these darker, more clubby tracks, so in 2015 I started a new alias – HI-LO – which was to be reserved for the darker stuff.
When and how did Kylie Minogue first appear on your radar?
I guess as a kid I got introduced to her with that massive song, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, and after that I discovered her other songs.
When I started my radio show in 2014 I would always play a classic song and would play Can’t Get You Out Of My Head and In Your Eyes.
Funnily enough, though, in 2014 when I broke through, Kylie actually booked me as a support act for few of her shows in London and Cardiff so we did have some history, like I met her back then.
But this is now nine years later and I sent her this song and thought it would be really cool if she re-recorded it.
Talking of which, how did this collaboration, the track 10 Out Of 10, come together?
Early last year I received the demo of the song which I really liked. In this case we had a song from some super-talented singer -songwriters [Sarah Hudson, JHart, Liana Banks and Jackson Foote].
They sent me the demo and I produced a track around it, how I saw it, and luckily they really liked that, they were really happy with what I did with their song.
Then we were talking about what kind of singers, what kind of featuring artists we would like for the song and we all loved Kylie so we sent it to her.
You had the original demo of 10 Out Of 10 and produced your version around it. How did the track change during the process?
The vocals at first felt quite R&B and poppy on the demo in some ways but then my production turned it more into a funky dance smash with some disco influences.
With 10 Out Of 10, the bassline is definitely my signature and in general I am quite good with melodies.
Funnily enough I didn’t realise this at the time but I added a little arpeggiated synth line that follows the chords very nicely because I wanted an extra catchy, ear-candy element.
And then later on when we had Kylie on the whole track and released the song, some Kylie fans were reminded of a song she released in the 80s called Enjoy Yourself, and actually the synth arpeggio line was very similar with the same chords. It was a funny coincidence!
How did the process work between you and Kylie when you produced the track together?
From there we just worked online. I sent her the instrumental version and she recorded new vocals over the instrumental.
Then we got some feedback on certain parts of the song and she sent some new takes and from there we just went back and forth. If Kylie had some feedback we would speak over the phone about it as it was easier – we spoke a couple of times.
How much did she contribute to the songwriting?
The lyrics were all there already but she did rewrite a couple of the lyrics that were actually great changes. All the songwriters were very happy with it.
They were super happy that Kylie jumped on the song and we were all really happy about how she sounded. But yeah, she did rewrite a few of the lyrics and added a little tag line but most of the song composition was there.
How does it feel now, after all this time since you first heard Kylie, that you’ve done a track together?
Yeah it definitely feels like a dream come true, like a full-circle moment. It’s definitely a big honour to work with an icon like Kylie, definitely someone I never thought I’d work with when I first started out.
I was always a lot more focused on the more clubby side of dance music but I just love working with vocals and trying to be a bridge between the mainstream and the underground and I have just enjoyed embracing that.
In my sets I love to play mashups, so I’ll play Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head over one of my more techno-leaning club records.
I’ve always loved stuff like that. For me it’s amazing that I can make a proper fun, dance-pop song with one of the icons of that sound but at the same time I can still do my club-focused stuff. It’s really the best of both worlds.
It sounds like that is your main focus, that you can continue to bridge that gap between Kylie
pop productions and club songs?
Yeah I’m really happy that I can do that. I’ve also enjoyed remixing a lot of songs by other people, so for example, we’re talking about iconic artists I’ve always wanted to work with [like] Nile Rodgers.
I had already got in touch with him in 2016 when I sent over a super-funky bass line/house track that I made. He loved it and played some of his signature funky guitars on it, and he actually wrote a whole song over it. But it took years where I was trying to find vocals for it.
In the meantime he asked me to do an official remix for Chic’s Le Freak for its 40th anniversary in 2018, so for me things like that are such a big honour, really nice challenges to remix such legendary tracks.
It’s amazing that you got to work with Nile – is there anyone else you’d still like to work with?
Yeah, of course there are so many brilliant artists out there. If I am really shooting for the stars I would say Dua Lipa would be very high on my list.
I did do a remix of her song One Kiss with Calvin Harris and that remix turned out to be one of my most successful.
The remix was quite dark, but actually on her last big tour she used my remix as the bridge part of the song. She performed the original and then this pretty epic bridge and then it goes into the last drop of my remix, so that was mind-blowing to see her use that remix in her show.
And would you like to do more tracks with Kylie?
I would definitely be down for that. Her team did reach out for me doing a remix of Padam Padam as HI-LO, my techno alias.
I love Padam, such a great hook, but HI-LO is a bit darker. But I’d definitely be open to making more tracks with her. She came across as very professional.
She seems very driven, she has been around for so long now and has done so much music but she still seems so driven to get this [track] right doing multiple takes, different options. It was very pleasant to work with her.
What other projects do you have coming up?
I just released a HI-LO remix of Depeche Mode which is pretty interesting called Speak To Me. It’s the closing track from their latest album. It is sped up a lot and maybe if you are a die-hard Depeche Mode fan then this might freak you out!
I am now mostly focusing on festivals, playing at the weekends, so during the week I can still be at home working on new music.
The HI-LO project has really been taking off over the last few years. I’m working on so may new things.
Recently I’ve been working on more higher tempo ravey, even trancey things but keeping it melodic, like I did a remix of a Kate Ryan track, Désenchantée, which was a big Eurotrance hit of the early 2000s. So I’m doing some more things in that style, too – more trancey, higher bpm 90s-rave style.
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