Hardstyle is a Dutch electronic dance genre mixing influences from techno, trance and hardcore, Hard Trance, and Acid.

Early hardstyle typically consisted of an overdriven and hard-sounding kick drum, 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 melodic 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. Pitching kicks is primarily done through a series of distortion, equalization and layering (among other methods). Hardstyle is typically produced around 150 BPM.

The genre gained commercial acceptance in the 2010s, with hardstyle artists performing on the biggest stages in EDM worldwide.

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.

Around the late 1990s into the early 2000s, hard trance was being experimented with and influenced hardcore and hard trance producers, with small changes and tweaks being made such as the introduction of the reverse bass and an increased amount of screeches. The exact origin of hardstyle cannot be specifically defined as it did not simply appear out of nowhere, but the evolution and mixture of other genres turned hard trance into a more pronounced hardstyle, which is now known as early hardstyle. As it progressed, it gathered characteristics from other genres such as hardcore and hard house and developed the unique reverse bass and was played in the 135-150 BPM range. In a sense, hardcore producers such as DJ Zany, Lady Dana, DJ Isaac, DJ Pavo, DJ Luna and The Prophet, and external influences like hard house were mainstream at the time and turned hard trance into early hardstyle. This also explains the reason why later on, the BPM of hardstyle increased slightly (from 135-150 to 150-160). Some hardcore producers such as The Prophet brought the reverse bass and screeches back to the hardcore gabber scene making hardstyle and hardcore nowadays similar or even indistinguishable in some cases, only differing in BPM. Hardstyle was influenced by gabber. Hardstyle has its origins in the Netherlands where artists like DJ Zany, Lady Dana, DJ Isaac, DJ Pavo, DJ Luna and The Prophet, who produced hardcore, started experimenting while playing their hardcore records. The first hardstyle events, like Qlubtempo, took place at the beginning of the 21st century. The first few years of hardstyle were characterized by a tempo of around 140–150 BPM, a compressed kick drum sound, a short vocal sample, a screech and the use of a “reverse bass”, which can be heard on the offbeat after each kick.

Around 2002, more hardstyle labels emerged. Fusion (with artists as DJ Zany and Donkey Rollers) and Scantraxx (founded by Dov Elkabas) are two of the Dutch labels that started to bring out hardstyle tracks around that time. Q-Dance coined the term Hardstyle worldwide on July 4, 2002. In 2003, Q-dance hosted the first edition of Defqon.1.

The end of the 2000s saw hardstyle music change to a more melodic sound, pioneered by Headhunterz. 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.” 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.

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. Because of the sporadic beat in dubstyle, the bass is often more dragged out and/or it doesn’t follow a strict offbeat pattern that regular hardstyle incorporates, which in turn results in dubstyle basslines bearing similarities to dubstep basslines.

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 Coone, Atmozfears, D-Block & S-Te-Fan, Headhunterz, 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, screeches and deeper-sounding kick drums. Notable rawstyle artists include:Rooler, Ran-D, Sub Zero Project, Phuture Noize, MYST, Malice & Radical Redemption.

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.

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.