Exclusive Interview: Ferry Corsten talks about EF and new track with Kristian Nairn
Ferry Corsten continues to push the boundaries of trance music, after an illustrious career of more than 20 years being at the top of the scene. We Rave You talked with Ferry about Electronic Family, his new track with Kristian Nairn, and much more.
With a strong vision of uniting the trance community for a bigger cause, the Dutchman launched the UNITY project in 2018, partnering with VH1’s Save The Music Foundation, an organization formed to reinstate music programs for children. Through the release of collaborations with stellar names like Paul Oakenfold, DIM3NSION, Jordan Suckley, Saad Ayub and most recently ‘We’re Not Going Home’ with Ilan Bluestone, the artist aims to unite the whole spectrum of trance, and donate a part of the benefits to the NGO.
This project follows on from Ferry’s 2017 sci-fi concept album ‘Blueprint’, for which Ferry worked with House Of Cards screenwriter David H. Miller, and which includes narration from Amazing Spider-Man and Exorcism Of Emily Rose actor Campbell Scott. 2018 also saw Ferry place in DJ Mag’s Top100 DJs for the 8th consecutive year, rising 15 places and extending his ranking as the longest-serving Dutch DJ in the poll.
Ferry has been consistently at the top of his game since his sophomore album under the System F. alias ‘Out Of The Blue’ in 1999, with the title track charting in the UK Top 20 singles chart, and the rapid rise during the early stages of his blossoming career continued with numerous remix requests, including remixes for U2, Moby, Faithless, Duran Duran and Public Enemy.
He also partnered with Tiësto around this time for the now legendary Gouryella handle, a project Ferry relaunched in 2016 with the hugely popular ‘Anahera’ single, that became ‘Tune of the Year’, voted for thousands of fans around the world. Ferry recently completed his first film score for the mystery/thriller ‘Don’t Let Go’, directed by David Gleeson and featuring Blade actor Stephen Dorff and Grey’s Anatomy’s Melissa George, which saw the soundtrack released in January 2019. Continuing his desire of pursuing new sounds, the DJ and Producer has also created a new sub-label named Stillpoint, dedicated to neoclassical and cinematic music.
It looks like Ferry Corsten will keep us surprising for more years more to come…
We are here at Electronic family with Ferry Corsten. Hi Ferry, how are you?
I’m great, thanks.
During the years you have performed at several editions of this festival, what makes Electronic Family different?
It’s in the name, it really feels like a family. You know, everyone here is definitely coming to enjoy this more intimate festival. Instead of having the crazy huge festivals that you see around the world. This is a smaller one and I always get the feeling that everyone knows each other here, which is great. I love that.
EF is one of the bigger festivals of the summer season in the Netherlands, how does it feel to play at home and how is it different from playing abroad?
Uh, no flights. A car ride home. Just an hour away from where I live, which is great. Since I always play abroad, being in my own country feels strange. Honestly, you know, I’m not used to it, as I play in The Netherlands only four to five times a year, so it’s always special when I’m here. It’s so much easier and more comfortable, I really enjoy it.
Some time ago you started a project called UNITY, with the idea to unite the trance community for a bigger cause. You are collaborating with Save the music foundation, in which specific way is the project helping and what have you achieved so far?
A portion of proceeds from the shows and singles is going to “Save the Music Foundation”. We’ve been doing that for a year, and it’s pretty successful in a way, there’s quite a bit of a hype about the Unity project in a sense that it’s always cool to have two artists that have their own fanbase and combining that with their own reach. It goes for a bigger idea than “Oh yeah, let’s party”. But also, we are uniting the trance community, and It sounds really dramatic, like, wow, what’s going on?
There’s a reason why I explain it in such a way like “uniting the trance community”. When you look at a more bass kind of music, techno or other styles, it feels like all these DJs are supporting each other. They are also dealing with almost one group of BPMs, so it’s easy to play for everyone. But trance, it has multiple personalities if you know what I mean. There’s 140 BPM stuff, at the same time there’s 128-130 vocal stuff like Above and Beyond’s kind of sound. Everyone says “Oh yeah, this is trance”, but none of those two groups will play each other’s music because BPM wise it’s too far apart. I’m trying to just team up with people from both sides and say, let’s find a bpm that’s in the middle where Above and Beyond can play that track, as well as Aly & Fila for example. I feel that if we stay in these little islands, the trance community will not be as strong as the rest of dance music. It’s harder to evolve if we don’t get together and find a common ground. Everyone’s going their own way it’s not helping the genre, it takes one united block to get bigger and stronger.
Can you reveal any future collaborations under Unity?
The next one is with Gabriel Dresden, so that’s gonna be a fun release.
You are performing your System F show for the third time, after Dreamstate SoCal and EDC, did you make any changes in the show?
Well, in the meantime, since the first Dreamstate SoCal, I released a new Gouryella track. It would feel a little bit of a waste if I couldn’t play it, so I embedded it into this System F show.
What are the main differences between the Gouryella show and the System F shows?
It’s mainly the sound. But also, in the Gouryella shows there’s way more storytelling, there’s more depth in the music, more visuals that are ethereal and epic. System F is just more party trance, you know, more straight forward and so are the visuals as well as the music.
Has your family already been to one of your System F shows?
Today is the first time. It’s fun because of course my parents have been following me with much interest ever since my early System F days of course. And now my son is with me as well, he’s five years old and it’s his first time seeing me doing this.
You have recently worked with Kristian Nairn for the rework of ‘Galaxia‘. Where did the idea of working with him on that project come from?
It’s funny I guess. He bootlegged another track of mine and I played in my radio show. He contacted me via Twitter DMs saying “Hey man thank you for playing that. I’ve always been a big fan of yours, especially the early stuff. My biggest favourite is ‘Galaxia’. How about if I give it a go and make a new version.” This is really cool because ‘Galaxia’ is a beautiful track. So, I sent him all the parts, he went to work, sent something back, I tweaked it a little bit and then we had the release.
As an artist, your music has a huge impact on people’s lives. For some, your songs are powerfully linked to specific memorable moments, or maybe they have helped to overcome extremely hard moments, as some sort of therapy. How much are you aware of that and how does it make you feel?
I’m somehow aware of it. I’m in my own bubble in the studio and I’m making something that gives me goosebumps and stuff, and I know that once I delivered the package to the world and it leaves my studio it starts having its own life. Of course, I see the social media posts like “I went through tough times and your music helped me through this”. I am purposely looking for that sentimental tone because that is what defines my music in a way. But it’s not working while thinking I’m just going to help somebody; I’m not making music for that reason. It just feels amazing to know that there is a bigger thing attached to what I created in my studio.
When millennials were growing up and the older generations, it was common to learn music and play instruments to become the drummer, bass player, or singer of a band. In order to do that studying music was necessary in most cases. Due to the massive expansion of Electronic music, nowadays kids want to become DJs or producers like Martin Garrix for example, in most cases without specific education in music itself and only in production or audio engineering skills. Do you think this can negatively affect the general music education and knowledge in the society of this century? Or do you think that general access to knowledge online can overcome and balance that?
Yeah. A lot of the kids now, they get like a complete puzzle piece and they put all the pieces together into a track. Me and many people like me, had to create the first puzzle piece out of nothing, And then put that together. Nowadays kids have that sort of advantage. The danger is that because of this advantage, they lose their sense of exploration, and they won’t go out and ask how is this done? So they think, yeah this is great and I’ll put it together and it sounds great. I think that as you grow in your art, your creativity, in your career over the years, you will eventually start craving that knowledge, because you can only do so much with pre-produced stuff. At some point you want something that is really tailor made for you. And if you don’t have the skills to get there, you have a problem. So, I think that there is definitely a balance.
During the ‘analogue’ days of music, the difference between DJ and Producer was bigger. Maybe it didn’t happen for the top DJs, but in the middle table range, someone could be only a producer and earn enough money to make a living with it by selling records, and a DJ could tour and play, and make a living without specifically having to release music. There are some people that are both, but usually a producer was someone more introverted who didn’t specifically need people skills, opposite to a DJ who needed to have the extroverted nature to put themselves in front of a mass crowd, as well as people skills and the ability to read the crowd. Due to the music market nowadays being found on the internet, as well as the streaming services, a DJ is now obliged to release music, and a producers need to go out and tour to make money without specifically liking it, nor having the necessary skills to do it. Do you agree with that? What is your opinion about it and, is there a way around it?
Nowadays indeed if you want to earn a living out of the music, my first answer would be yes, nowadays you have to be both, because the real earnings are in your performances. On the other hand, if you can make so many millions of streams through Spotify, you can have a good living out of it too, but it has to be big, big volumes. So just being a producer and being faceless, it’s the toughest thing, you know, unless you are a superstar on social media but you’re not performing.
Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of people in this industry now that are just doing it for social media. They don’t ever really have any feeling for music whatsoever. They just have a great marketing sense, and my question is, is that benefiting music and progressing the scene, or are we just dumbing ourselves down because of that? I think it’s the latter, but it’s time to move on, adjust and keep it real where you can.
The amount of music being released these days is huge, and it is complicated to find original tracks, do you think everything has been invented?
You would almost think so. But I’ve been here many times over the years, like, oh, it’s all been done now. And then someone comes up with some crazy new thing, sometimes even to the point where I was like, why didn’t I think of it? And then the scene moves into a whole new direction again. So, I don’t think it’s all black and white, like it’s all done and nothing new will come of it. Sometimes looking back at the past also creates progress. That’s why I’m also always flirting with my old stuff, with the sound from 20 years ago and see what was there and how can we bring that back into today’s age with today’s technology and today’s sounds. I think that the most important thing is to just have fun with music, because I think the worst thing that could happen to the music scene right now is basically people staying within their own little bubble. Like that’s techno, or that’s not true, that’s a trance record because it’s not techno enough. So, you just want to hear techno, and you learn from techno how to make other techno, it’s going to go downhill from there. It happens with any genre that sticks only within its own genre. And maybe some trance fans won’t like what I’m going to say but I think it’s happening with trance. A lot of producers are just making trance, listening to trance and getting inspiration from trance. How can that sound move forward?
As Ferry Corsten you have played with different styles and sounds over the years even if people haven’t always liked those changes…
You have to accept that people don’t like it. Maybe some people don’t like it now but get used to it over time. I can’t make the same record over and over and over again. I get bored. I want to just do something else and explore what’s in that genre that people like so much, take those elements and put them together and see what they would do to trance or my own sound.
You recently completed your first film score for the mystery/thriller ‘Don’t Let Go’, are you going to pursue that in the near future?
Hopefully, I am putting a lot of effort into a small sub-label that we’ve just started called Still Point, and it’s all neoclassical and cinematic stuff. We have also created a playlist called Stillpoint by Ferry Corsten.