Ferry Corsten: ‘People are Done with the Simple Beats’
The Dutch trance artist on his full-length concept album,
and why it’s time for audiences to move over EDM and
explore new genres
It’s a Monday morning when Ferry Corsten is back home in Rotterdam and already in his studio, adding finishing touches on his album Blueprint. Among the world’s most popular DJs and producers in trance, Corsten understandably had a busy weekend—“I was in England Sunday and Estonia on Saturday,” he says over the phone.
Plenty of DJs have the jet-set life, but how many of them are about to drop a concept album? And he feels that trance does lend itself to story-telling, both sonically as well as with a narrative. He says with a laugh, “So basically, long story short, what I wanted to do, was to create a whole movie without the actual motion picture.”
His new album, Blueprint which releases today features a sci-fi story, topline vocalists from across the world and was born out of Corsten’s need to tell break out of the clutter of what he calls “Spotify Culture,” the short, easy-to-consume tracks that are dished out week on week for instant approval. He says, “Release the tracks, make it as short as possible and move on to the next one. There’s no more adventure behind it, it’s gone. And that’s such a waste, because I think there are so many amazing producers who can do a lot more than what they’re showing right now because of this Spotify culture.”
As much as he’s irritated by it, Corsten is still diplomatic about the idea of releasing songs regularly as opposed to releasing fulllength albums. Even his most recent collection of songs, Hello World, was released as a threepart EP across 2015. “But this is so different. There’s no way you can do a narrative concept or story with two-minute tracks. Our whole approach of Hello World, was something I definitely agree with but there’s no way I could do a story with that.”
Excerpts from the exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, Corsten talks about what has gone into making Blueprint, from finding a scriptwriter for the concept to vocalists and voice actors, to the revival culture in electronic music and his busy year.
What is it like crafting a concept album in electronic music?
It’s a very different approach. There are different ways of doing a concept, but this story has been written specifically for this album. I teamed up with a scriptwriter, David Miller, he does a lot of stuff for TV shows. Based on the story that came out, I wanted that to be the scenario for my music.
First of all, working in that, wasn’t really easy. You launch yourself into a frame of mind which can work in your favor – for inspiration. After that, you have to develop certain emotions for certain parts of the story in the music, which is really interesting. Trance works really well for that, because it’s kind of storytelling music in the first place.
And it’s a sci-fi concept. What made you go with that?
I love that stuff, the mystery of the unknown. At the same time, it’s the unknown, but in a second, everything can be possible. It’s not [about] aliens from another world. It’s a very realistic sci-fi [story] that could happen today. It’s a love story with a sci-fi twist.
“I think there are so many amazing producers who can do a lot more than what they’re showing right now because of this Spotify culture.”
Usually when they say sci-fi, it’s one of those dystopian worlds, a bleak future. But yours seems to be a positive story?
It has certain dark moments, because it has a cool sort of a timeline that you’d see in movies. It starts hopeful, gets intriguing, then shit hits the fan and it gets all dark (laughs) and then a happy ending.
What can you tell me about this concept?
It’s about a signal beam that’s received from somewhere and initially everyone thinks it’s from outer space and no one can decipher it. Until this loner kid, in the middle of nowhere, is able to do it. He finds out it’s a blueprint to build something. That’s where I’ll leave it.
So how did you get David Miller (screenwriter from American TV show House of Cards) on board? And then (voice actor) Campbell Scott as well.
A lot of it was coincidentally, almost. For David Miller, I came up with the idea to do a story album. I told my management and they said, ‘This is amazing! Let’s look for someone (to write it)’. Then my manager was actually out the same night for a drink in L.A., he met an old friend of his, who happened to be David Miller. He hadn’t seen him in a long time. While they were catching up, he mentioned the project.
Looking for people like this is really hard. So most of it came to me, in a way, by accident. Campbell Scott, I stumbled upon—it was the last piece in the whole process. The album was pretty much there and we had to find a guy to do the voices. We reached out to a few voice actor agencies and got Campbell. He did a Chevron commercial that I’d seen and I remember thinking, ‘This is the voice I want’. Not like a Morgan Freeman super-Hollywood, but yet there’s a certain honesty in his voice where you want to believe him and that’s what I wanted.
Something like this tells me that you know your fans – and EDM fans – are definitely an intelligent lot. Is that a misconception?
I don’t know, it could be a misconception, but if I look at the general music listenership right now, I agree with you. That’s not to say that the people listening to the music are a bunch of dumbasses (laughs). No, not at all. For a lot of people, they live in a complicated world and they just want to have something simple. I can imagine that. My own interpretation of it is that there’s something lacking. Music in general, not just dance music or any genre.
I just felt like I should go against the stream here, when everyone else was saying, ‘Yeah, albums are done. Why would you make your tracks longer than five minutes? No one cares.’ But I think a lot of people do care. They want to have that journey… It’s also something I wanted to do since the beginning of my career. To do something like this, so it’s also a personal endeavor.
You were saying in an interview how there’s a revivalist tendency in electronic music – fans want the old stuff back, DJs are playing old-school tunes. But you’re fusing both of them. Do you think trance and house music will never get old?
Yeah, I do agree. They have ups and downs, waves and it comes and goes—it gets bigger and smaller, but that’s the strength of it. It stands the test of time, if you will. Trance was always popular, but it lost a bit in numbers when the EDM numbers came up, but now it’s coming up again now. Even house—and I’m not talking about big-room house—I’m talking about the real groovy house, the real stuff. Same thing with techno. I think that’s where we are right now. A lot of people are done with the simple beats and ‘Put your hands up’, they want to explore other genres again. It’s good that EDM came up and became so big, because it brought a lot of new people into it and now they can explore other genres.
What else is coming up for you all through 2017?
Right now, nothing beyond Blueprint. We’re still in the final stages of the album, but once the album is done, doesn’t mean I’m finished with Blueprint. Then we have to make all the edits for my live shows, radio shows. That’s just the first bit. There are a couple of tracks that are not necessarily dance-floor related, but I have to release them to make them fit that space.
Stream Blueprint on SoundCloud below.