Ferry Corsten interview: Widescreen productions

Marko Kutlesa caught up with the legend of trance for a killer interview.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 12th Dec 2017.
Originally published: 24th Nov 2017

Image: Ferry Corsten (source)

When Ferry Corsten arrived on the international music scene in the mid 90s he made quite the entrance. It took a while to cotton on that all of these new names appearing like Moonman, Gouryella, Albion, System F and Pulp Victim actually belonged to the same guy.

When the penny dropped, his achievements looked absolutely staggering. Barely a week seemed to go by without a release (sometimes even two!) from Ferry Corsten. And with his fresh, varied sound he had punched his way immediately into the top flight of trance music and progressive house producers.

Equally, almost every track he seemed to touch as a remixer scored equally highly. His remix work from the period, including those for the likes of Kosheen, Binary Finary, Cygnus X, Faithless, Moby, Matt Darey and his timeless interpretation of Barber's 'Adagio For Strings', positioned him as one of the best dance music producers in the world. By the end of the decade he was being recognised as such, winning the leading industry awards for best producer and best remixer.

His prolific output could partly be attributed to Corsten having concentrated solely on production at the start of his career. But towards the late 90s he embarked on a career as a DJ and by 1999 appeared had began compiling and mixing the highly popular Trance Nation mix series for Ministry of Sound.

Moving into the 2000s, he became one of his sound's leading ambassadors and he has DJ'd across the globe ever since. He began producing music under his own name, issuing several albums (while also keeping some of his most popular aliases, such as Gouryella, alive). 2017 has seen Ferry Corsten release his sixth studio album, 'Blueprint', a science fiction-themed concept album/audiobook.

Prior to his return to the UK for DJ dates at Rong's 7th Birthday at Venus in Manchester, Colours & Zoom Xmas Party at SWG3 in Glasgow and Goodgeef's 17th Birthday at Digital in Newcastle, we chatted with this most down to earth legend of trance to ask him about the science fiction inspiration of his latest album, his future plans and some of his philosophy of production.

Hi Ferry! With the benefit of hindsight, do you still think it was the right decision, when you were younger, to issue so much music using different aliases?

I think yeah. It was a conscious decision but at the same time, it was also something that I had to do. It was a product of the era, I guess. Firstly, in those days it wasn't very cool to use your Dutch name, ha! Then, I wasn't really DJing at that time, I was just producing and my production rate was so high that I was putting out two EPs a week. That was too much for any single record label to handle. By coming up with the different names I was, therefore, able to release with different labels. 

Artists today release here, there, everywhere under the same name. But at that point, that just wasn't done. Every label had a sort of exclusive hold on the name that they signed.  

Things have changed a lot since. The Dutch are one of the leading names on the global dance music production scene.

Yeah, with the whole crew combined. There's a lot of them.

There is. Especially for quite a small country. Sweden is like that too, small population but incredible exporters of music.

Yeah. They've even less people than us. 

 

In 1999 you remixed your own Pulp Victim track as Moonman. Does that indicate that in your head the aliases you use like Moonman, Gouryella, Albion, System F and Pulp Victim, each have their own distinct sound?

Yeah, I tried to do that at the time. And if you listen to some of the newer Ferry Corsten trance stuff and Gouryella you can definitely hear the difference. It's trance, but Gouryella has this sad but happy at the same time kind of vibe, whereas my sound as Ferry Corsten can be more gritty at times, a grain, a distortion or a little bit more attitude. I did the same thing back then. It was quite funny at the time to see Pulp Victim being remixed by Moonman.

Moonman indicates a certain interest in outer space. That's a theme you've further explored on this year's 'Blueprint' album. Is science fiction an enduring interest for you? 

It has always been. Not just space, but also an interest in what else is out there. If you look at Gouryella, the question of where we come from and who made us. All of that. Without being religious, because I really try to stay away from that stuff. That would be opening a whole different can of worms. 

When did that interest in science fiction start?

It was from a young age. I can't even remember it. I was just always interested in space and what else is out there.

I recently read an essay that stated the reason science fiction was so popular among black Americans was that it offers total escapism from realities like prejudice and puts the audience on an equal footing, irrespective of ethnicity, race, religion, gender. Do you think that is part of science fiction's appeal?

Yes, I can see that. Even taking basic, cheesy science fiction 'us against the aliens'. All of a sudden we become more human. It doesn't matter if you're black, white, yellow, purple or pink. It's us against them. Under those circumstances we turn to ourselves. The further you go from earth, the more we all become one.

There's no us against them on 'Blueprint' though as the two main characters in the album's story, a human and an alien, develop an inter species love interest?

Yeah. The album has a science fiction theme, but ultimately it's a love story. It's a love story between dimensions, almost. The alien, Vee, is from a galaxy far away, but she's actually just as human as we are. 

I read that the album is called 'Blueprint' because of your technical approach to making it. What specifically was that technical approach?

Actually, the title refers to the blueprint of what Vee was. The code that Lukas receives is a blueprint for building Vee. 

But, at the same time, the way I always approach music, it always has a system to it. I wouldn't say I go by the book. It's my own book, the way I put things together, building a track. But there is a system. It's always melody first, then the soundscaping of stuff, then the rest. But everything starts with a melody or at least a strong hook. 

Because the album has this concept and a cinematic feel to it, it kinda reminded me of a movie soundtrack, so I wanted to ask if movie soundtracks were an inspiration? 

Yeah, I've always been a big fan of film scores. There's a similarity with trance. The way I look at it is that, more than anything, trance music exists to stimulate the emotions and no music does that better than film score, right? That's the job of that music, to enhance the emotion that's in the picture at that certain point.

So, because of my trance background I've always been interested in film score. Even more so now. I approached 'Blueprint' as though it was a movie score, just without the motion picture. That's just for everyone else to create in their own head.

Are there any particular soundtracks or soundtrack composers that you'd say were your particular favourite?

For a time it was definitely Vangelis. Ennio Morricone, of course, although everyone would say him. Nowadays, Hans Zimmer would be up there.

There are also a bunch of guys from Iceland, Jóhann Jóhannsson, who did Arrival. Ólafur Arnalds, he did the whole score for Broadchurch. It's amazing stuff. Listening to that is really inspiring because they use sounds in such a different way that dance music producers would. 

 

A soundtrack is different to a general dance track as it is often designed with a specific image in mind rather than allowing a total freedom of imagination. Did you feel in any way that you were restricting imagination by making 'Blueprint' fit into such a specific narrative?

In the beginning that's what I thought. Am I not limiting myself here? But it was actually the opposite. Because there was a story, there was a guideline.

It became clear that the inspiration I had, I needed to channel it towards that. Without that guideline... I've been sat with songwriters in the studio before now and we've thought, OK, so what do we write about? It's taken two hours to even come up with a topic. When I started this album the whole story was there first.

I'd been introduced to the scriptwriter David Miller by my manager and the story that evolved, I was able to chop it up into chapters and those chapters guided me to how the album would sound; this part has a sad tone, this a heroic tone and so on. So the landscape became very clear but there were still lots of different angles to decide upon, such as whether a vocal track would tell the entire story of whichever section it was in. 

I read that writers such as Jules Verne, Hugo Gernsback and HG Wells were an inspiration to you in this kind of narrative. For you, is there a difference between old school science fiction from such writers and the stuff we see in more recent films and series?

Well, I think a lot of the science fiction films now feel more grounded in reality, they're never really too far out. The movies that we were looking at for this, Ex Machina for example, I don't think it's too far-fetched. The technology we now have, the way AI is evolving, it's all quite believable. I think some of the older science fiction was more out there, certainly at the time.

What are you asking of listeners with the album?

To be openminded. Especially in today's musical landscape, where everything is copy and paste, a quick fix. This calls for a bit more patience and repeated listens, to stay with the story, rather than to listen to the first few seconds and then skip the track, then skip the next. That's the Spotify mentality we have today. Because of that, I feel maybe the art of making an album is being lost. 

Other DJs who also achieved a large platform from making and playing trance music in the 90s and early 2000s like you have also gone on to diversify their sound. But some of them have moved into the area which many call EDM, whereas you haven't. Why not?

Well, I did. I tried it a little. I made a sidestep in 2002 with 'Rock Your Body, Rock' and 'Punk', but later on, when the EDM thing came along, I ran with it for a little while. My belief has always been that every new genre that comes along, each has elements that, if you get involved in that, you can bring it around to your own sound.

But I realised it was not for me. The whole “Put your fucking hands up!” thing. What's all that about? No. I realised that I'm more in this business with my heart than with a calculating mind. 

Aside from the forthcoming gigs, what do you have coming up in the near future?

I'm going to be doing a series of collaborations next year. I'll have more info about it soon. The whole of next year will be about collaboration. Every track I'm doing will be in that format. With different DJs. So, that should be fun. 

We talked a little about movie soundtracks and funnily enough I'm just doing my first film score. The movie's called 'Don't Let Go' and it stars Melissa George and Stephen Dorff. It's directed by David Gleeson and it will come out next year.

Ferry Corsten plays the following dates in December 2017

Rong 7th Birthday

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Zoom Xmas Party

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Goodgreef's 17th Birthday

 

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