We had a rare chance to sit down with Ferry Corsten, also known by his production monikers System F, and Gouryella (a duo with Tiesto) here at ADE 2018. Our founder Phil Morse chatted with him about his illustrious career, which saw him spearhead the trance movement of the late 90s, and continue his success with his own Flashover Recordings label since 2005.
Phil: So we’re here at ADE and I’ve managed to corner Ferry Corsten, the man himself, for a few minutes, to tell us about his long and illustrious and continuing career as one of the biggest trance producers and DJs in the world. Ferry, we’re going to move on to what you’re doing now, and we’re going to move on to the fact that you haven’t slowed down at all. I can remember back in the 90s, driving along on a wet day in Manchester where I’m from, and hearing the System F track Out Of The Blue and thinking “something new is happening here”.
You kind of were right at the front of that. How did it feel to be at the front of that first generation of what the Americans now call EDM, but we remember 20 years earlier? How did that feel, back then?
Ferry: It felt like something new was happening! That was a turning point in my life, and not just my career. I mean, I was producing music, but I was a very homey kid. I was still living with my parents in the attic – that was both my bedroom and studio, and that’s where I produced Out Of The Blue. I released it and then after two months, I was doing Trance Nation for Ministry of Sound, I was playing the biggest festivals and the biggest super clubs in the UK. All of a sudden I was just there. I didn’t really know how to DJ in front of people, but I knew how to mix two records in my bedroom.
Ferry: Especially being from Holland, where at the time the crowd wouldn’t mind you really – you were there playing music – and then coming to the UK where everyone was just looking at you, staring at you, and it was “Hands up!” and it was just a complete reality shift for me. That’s when I definitely realised something new had happened!
Phil: That’s the same experience that DJs have today when a production blows up and they’re thrown into this world.
Ferry: It’s only got bigger since then. I mean, the superheroes of those days were Sasha, Digweed, Oakenfold, Judge Jules, and Pete Tong. And new generations have come but those guys are still around and that’s why I think the scene has become so big and massive now. And the US opening up to dance music has brought a whole different mindset to music: For example if I listen back to my old stuff then, like Out of the Blue, for example, its tempo was 140 BPM. For trance, that was a normal tempo. And then when Sasha’s Xpander came out that sounded super slow.
Phil: And it sounds so fast now.
Ferry: It’s 135, it’s not even that slow. That’s actually fast compared to today’s music, because the US started below 128, and then 128 or 130, and that’s sort of like that influence. Plus all the bass stuff that’s happening right now with the half-beat, the half-tempo to 140. It’s really interesting how music has changed over the years.
Phil: So if we’re going to look back and advise say an 18-year-old kid who’s starting to get good on FruityLoops, or FL Studio as it’s now called, what would you say is the same as back then, and what would you say has changed?
Ferry: A really good record back then, what it meant to the scene, still means the same thing today. Being unique still applies, and we see less and less of that today.
Phil: So raw talent, having something to say, and having something that you know you believe in, is still right there at the top of what’s important?
Ferry: Yeah and I think another thing is that social media didn’t exist then. So it took someone a lot longer to get to the point where you call yourself “famous” compared to today. At the time it was also about hardware, not software like it is today. Nowadays, it’s like a cracked version of a DAW on your PC, you make a track and it blows up and within weeks and suddenly you have millions of followers.
And your life changes in a big way too: I thought my life changed when I first had success, but now I see kids rise to the top and their life really changes. And that’s where you have to become really smart. It’s great that things are moving so fast, but be careful because it’s a slippery slope.
Phil: You also see professional footballers having this kind of trajectory, don’t you?
Phil: They kind of work hard behind the scenes, but then very early in their life, they can get lots of success and they’re suddenly thrust into it, and I guess there’s a whole network built in football and in sport, to protect people against stuff like that.
Phil: Can you see this sort of support network happening in dance music, or is there still a way to go for this to come in?
Ferry: I’ve been hearing about it a lot at this year’s ADE because of what happened to Avicii and also with Hardwell who played his last show this week. There seems to be something going on where fatigue and burnout take their toll on DJ/producers. I’ve heard already some people say there should be some body or organisation that guides them.
Phil: To put an arm around young artists, and kind of help them and coach them.
Phil: So I mean, here at Digital DJ Tips we’re a DJ school. We teach people to DJ, we teach people the skills to DJ. We would love our students to be in a situation where this success is happening for them, but there’s a downside to it, right?
Ferry: Yes, it’s a dangerous sort of “shine”. It looks pretty but all of a sudden the world starts twisting your arm. And the peaceful life that you knew, where everything was cool with just you and your close friends, that’s no longer there. All of a sudden you’re a public personality everyone wants a piece of, and you’ve got to be levelheaded. Or at least have the right people around you to protect you when it comes to that.
Phil: So you said that when you started out you realised that DJing is not the same as producing music, and it sounds like you found that out the hard way.
What did you learn about DJing? If you could give advice to someone who has made a track that’s charting on Beatport but isn’t DJing yet, what would it be? What would you tell him or her based on what you learned in those formative years?
Ferry: I think a really important thing right now is to identify your own sound. Because what I see and hear too often is that every DJ plays the same set. It’s basically the same set, but with a different DJ. How do you stand out? So identify your own sound and try to be unique. Be patient. Play really good sets. Don’t be discouraged when you are the warm up guy.
I’ve got a really good story about a certain warm up DJ who was always warming up for me. He was doing the most amazing job getting the crowd ready – and that guy’s name is Markus Schulz. Markus is where he is right now because he played really incredible sets for people like myself, who came through, and said, this guy really played an amazing set. I want him on a show…
Phil: That’s a great story! Thanks for your time, and best of luck.
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