It’s difficult to imagine how trance music evolved from an underground German pastime into a culture all of its own, but it’s even more difficult to imagine that evolution happening without Ferry Corsten. After nearly 15 years spent helping trance finds its feet, the Dutch knob-tweaker is still turning out tracks with the same essential uplifting quality of trance, but learning to combine influences from different dance genres like electro, house, and techno. He has also climbed his way to being one of top 10 DJs in the world, according to the DJ Magazine Top 100 list. Not bad.
In July 2007, the DJ took to the Internet with Corsten’s Countdown, a one-hour weekly radio show that lets listeners vote on his website for their favorite songs to hear in the countdown show that airs at the end of each month. May 2006 saw the release of his fifth full-length album, L.E.F., as in Loud, Electronic, Ferocious, three adjectives that perfectly describe the new direction he is taking dance music.
Though trance enjoyed booming popularity in the late ’90s, the recent decline of trance influence on electronic music has led many people to declare the genre is on its way out in favor of harsher, more aggressive electro songs. Not one to hop on the bandwagon, Corsten believes the two genres can coexist, and sees exciting potential to be found in crossing over genres.
From the beaches of Ibiza to the festivals of England to the clubs of his native Netherlands, Corsten has played records the world over, and on April 8, he will prove just how alive trance is to a fortunate crowd at the new Statemynt Lounge.
To make some sense of the politics of trance, I took a call from the man behind the turntables to talk about the past, present, and future of the genre he helped invent. This time around, the Dutchman schools me in the exciting future of trance, ignoring the critics, and how to follow your heart as a DJ.
In the past few years, DJ Magazine has consistently voted you the world’s 8th best DJ. Is climbing the ladder a concern for you at all?
Not really. I just do what I do, and I love it. I’m a producer more than a DJ, so it takes a back seat to what I love doing the most, which is producing music. That’s my first goal – to make people go crazy with my music. The list is just an extra perk, but it’s not something I would go out of my way for.
What are you using to produce your tracks these days? Do you prefer hardware or software?
I’m doing both. Some bits and pieces I do with Cubase and other software, but I still have quite a bit of hardware back in the studio. It’s very easy to create a fat sound with hardware, but software has a lot of advantages as well, because you just save it and you can come back to it at any time.
What’s your creative process like? How do you start a song?
Usually I start off looking for a melody. It’s very important to have a strong hook line in your track that is recognizable on the floor. It’s sort of like the face of a track. I’m always looking for that hook.
What can we expect from your forthcoming album?
Well, if you look at my previous album, L.E.F., it was very diverse from song to song. I think this album is also going to be really diverse in the sense that every track will have flavors of different genres within the same song. It will come together a lot more in the middle. Of course, it will again be more on the trancey side of things.
As a pioneer of the genre, what do you have to say those who claim “trance is dead”?
Wake up and smell the coffee. The biggest crowds follow trance in European festivals like Global Gathering and Green Fields. Look at the top 10 alone in the DJ list, most of them are trance guys. The recent popularity of housey, radio-friendly songs may sort of give people the idea that trance is gone, but if you go to the main festivals like Ultra in Miami, the trance line-up is huge.
If trance isn’t dead, where is it going? What does the future look like?
It’s really hard to say. If you look at it now, it’s one big mesh-up of everything. The influence of electro is especially prevalent in recent trance tracks, and the essence of house is also coming into trance, as well as the techno stuff, and even minimal. Deadmau5 is a good example. It’s really an interesting sound because it’s so wide but still under the category of trance, so you can go anywhere with it. It’s exciting.
Who are you listening to right now? Are there any up-and-coming DJs or producers in the scene right now that you’ve had your eye on?
Usually when I’m relaxing I like chill-out music, like Norah Jones. But when it comes to dance music, Deadmau5 has really set the bar for himself. One of the other guys I’m supporting is Breakfast, a 19-year-old producer from Boston who is on my label. He’ll be with me for lots of dates this tour.
What’s it like to be up there behind the decks, spinning your favorite tracks for thousands of people?
It’s cool. It’s big energy. When you’re tired and you feel like saying “not now,” you just go up there, and the tired feeling is gone in a split second. It’s really nice to play a track and have everyone sing a long to it. It’s a great feeling.
Any advice for the aspiring DJs and producers out there?
I would say, believe in what you like and what you do. You can only be good at what you like. If you try to play music that you really don’t feel, then you won’t get anywhere. If people say trance is dead, and you like trance, spinning house won’t get you anywhere. You will never have that confidence if you are not doing what you love.