Until he began branching out in 1996 with a barrage of album productions and remix classics (several of which were heard by more people than the originals), Armand Van Helden was one of the best-kept secrets in house music, recording for such labels as Strictly Rhythm, Henry St., and Logic. Afterwards, he became one of the top names in dance music altogether. As one in the steady progression of top in-house producers for Strictly Rhythm during the early '90s, Van Helden joined such names as Todd Terry, Erick Morillo, Roger Sanchez, Masters at Work, and George Morel to record scores of club hits. By the late '90s, a clutch of crucial remixes and several albums made Van Helden's name as one of the most popular producers around. His fame continued well into the 21st century, thanks to successful collaborations with Dizzee Rascal, Steve Aoki, and especially A-Trak, with whom he formed the chart-topping duo Duck Sauce in 2009.
Van Helden spent time in Holland, Turkey, and Italy while growing up the son of an Air Force man, and listened to music from an early age. He bought a drum machine at the age of 13 and began DJ'ing two years later, mostly hip-hop and freestyle. Based in Boston while attending college, Van Helden proceeded to moonlight as a DJ; though he settled into a legal-review job after graduation, he quit in 1991 to begin working on production for the remix service X-Mix Productions (founded by his future manager, Neil Petricone). Van Helden also owned a residency at Boston's Loft, and soon made it into one of the most popular nightclubs in the city. After playing one of his production demos for the dance A&R guru Gladys Pizarro in 1992, Van Helden released his proper debut single, Deep Creed's "Stay on My Mind," for Nervous Records.
Later that year, Van Helden released "Move It to the Left" by Sultans of Swing, his first single for the premiere American dance label Strictly Rhythm. Though a moderate club hit, the single was eclipsed by another Strictly Rhythm offering, 1994's "Witch Doktor." It became a dancefloor hit around the world and introduced him to a larger club audience. Although he had remixed Deee-Lite, Jimmy Somerville, New Order, Deep Forest, and Faithless, a reworked version of Tori Amos' "Professional Widow" hit the clubs with the same impact as his "Witchdoktor" single. During 1996-1997, Van Helden became the name for forward-thinking pop and dance artists to recruit for remix duty from the Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, and Puff Daddy to Sneaker Pimps, C.J. Bolland, and Daft Punk. His own-name singles productions continued unabated, with hits like "Cha Cha" and "The Funk Phenomena," plus the release of his first album, Old School Junkies. Following a 1997 Greatest Hits retrospective, Van Helden returned to his old-school rap roots with the party breakbeat album, Sampleslayer...Enter the Meatmarket. The 2 Future 4 U album followed in 1998, spawning a U.K. number one single in "U Don't Know Me" (featuring Duane Harden) as well as the Top 20 follow-up "Flowerz."
In mid-2000, Van Helden returned with Killing Puritans, which contained the hit "Koochy," built around a sample of Gary Numan's iconic "Cars." Gandhi Khan followed in 2001, and New York: A Mix Odyssey appeared in 2004, containing hit collaborations with Spalding Rockwell ("Hear My Name") and Tara McDonald ("My My My"). Both of these songs also appeared on Van Helden's 2005 studio album Nympho, and "My My My" became a chart hit once again when it was re-released and remixed in 2006. Van Helden's Ghettoblaster album, influenced by freestyle and other '80s dance sounds, appeared in 2007. Retrospective You Don't Know Me: The Best of Armand Van Helden and New York: A Mix Odyssey, Pt. 2 both appeared in 2008.
In 2009, Van Helden collaborated with British rapper Dizzee Rascal for a fidget-house song called "Bonkers." The song hit number one in the U.K., and was a decent-sized hit elsewhere. Later in the year, he teamed up with Canadian DJ A-Trak under the name Duck Sauce, producing a track called "aNYway." It hit the charts in a few countries, but it was a moderate success compared to next year's "Barbra Streisand." Built around an infectious Boney M sample, the song hit number one in several countries, partially thanks to the viral popularity of its music video, which featured cameos by Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, André 3000, and numerous other famous musicians. A few other Duck Sauce singles followed during the next few years, leading up to full-length Quack, which finally arrived in 2014.
Van Helden continued to be an in-demand remixer, with stars such as Sam Smith, Madonna, and Disclosure among his clients. In 2015, he released a three-CD mix on Ministry of Sound titled Masterpiece, including one disc of early house tracks, one disc dedicated to yacht rock, and another consisting of '80s freestyle. Van Helden's recording career was given another retrospective in 2016, with Defected Presents House Masters.
© John Bush & Paul Simpson /TiVo