To say that Ferry Corsten is a familiar name in the electronic dance music scene is a gross understatement. Also known as System F, I first encountered his music when his single Out of The Blue became a global hit, and the song became a staple in the dance music scene in Manila in the 90s. I distinctly recall, sneaking out of the house going to clubs with my cousin to worship DJs. I’m actually quite thankful that I was able to experience the last stretch of Consortium days, despite not being able to remember the people I met, when or where it was exactly, having been inebriated most of the time.
Trance music was the first kind of electronic dance music that I encountered. As the name suggests, trance music leaves you with a feeling of being high, and masterfully crafted beats and melody builds it all up to that. I personally would describe that apex as the perfect music place and because of that I’ve always had a soft spot for electronic dance music — I believe this genre is underrated when the definition of songwriting is brought up, since contains the best hooks and melodies that cuts across completely on the most primal level.
Ferry Corsten is one of the best in the world. He’s done remixes for U2, Duran Duran, The Killers, Faithless, and Moby among others. He has been in the electronica scene for 20 years and recently released his 4th record called WKND.
I interviewed him when he was in Manila recently and we discussed his beginnings as an artist, his influences as a DJ, views on the Philippine music scene and insightful advice on aspiring DJs.
Read the interview below
In his home country Holland, at 17, Ferry Corsten started washing cars and selling mixtapes so he could buy his first keyboard. According to him these mixtapes contain the latest import dance music that was out at the time. “I was still a clubber myself,” he said. “I was stuck in record stores buying the latest new records because I was a hobby DJ and it was just for fun.”
At some point he and his friend Robert Smit, whom he met while clubbing came up with the idea of gathering a circle of friends and selling their remixes.
When Corsten finally got his keyboard, it never crossed his mind to be in a band. “I’ve always looked at it from a different sort of perspective. I was growing up listening to that kind (Electronica) of music.”
“It was not a band, I knew that, it was all electronic. So I quickly realized that I had to look for the more electronic stuff.”
With Rob and some other friends, they had a little studio ready. “We had a drum sequencer, sampler, so I knew I didn’t need a band for me to make that music. I never had the ambition to be a part of the band. I just wanted to do my own thing. Initially it was just a hobby, I never really thought of making it my career, it just happened. “
One of his influences as a DJ was a radio show in Holland called the Soul Show; it was the 80s and dance remixes were growing in popularity. “There was like a 15 minute mix where listeners would send in their mixes”, Corsten recounts, “the challenge basically was to put as many records as possible in those 15 minutes. Not like a normal DJ mix but a produced mix.” To which he explains, “That’s why I started buying those records and then eventually I started getting this interest on ‘how do they make this record?’“
In the creation of his remixes, Corsten doesn’t pinpoint specific artists as influences. ”For me it was more like an era. The 80s. The music from the 80s”, Corsten adds, “I got my inspiration out of classical music, sometimes out of jazz even. I can listen to a jazz record and hear a certain drum fill and I think, “wow that’s cool”, I’ll use that in an electronic way. So I take my inspiration from all kinds of things, not just dance music.”
With the onset of social media, the copyright laws have been stricter in the last several years; Corsten says this doesn’t at all affect how he chooses the music he plays. “Remixing is still with the permission of the artist. Very often the artist would come to you and ask you to remix and sometimes it would be the other way around. I can ask the artist for their parts and I would remix that just to play that in my set.”
Yet he adds that there have been many changes, “The way I produce, in the whole mindset of selling music has changed into the mindset of this (Electronica) music is to make me the artist that I am for my live shows.I can play a track now a days that I haven’t sold and it’s a huge hit on the dance floor. In relations to back then when I used to sell a lot of it ‘cos it’s all out there on the net via Youtube or SoundCloud.”
Corsten named his new album ’WKND’ and explains, “I’m on to big stuff again. I live for the weekend. I work in the weekend. The kid at school and the guy from the tax office is looking forward to the weekend to let go of all the stress. That’s why I call it weekend because we all live for it one way or another.”
Corsten says that the wildest thing he’s ever done when he was ‘living for the weekend’ was finding himself awake for 36 hours. “Things that are sort of what everybody has done”, being awake in some vague Roman club, “not knowing if you’re alive or so”. He usually experiences these in his favorite hotspots, Tokyo and Buenos Aires.
“I love Tokyo, really. Absolutely one of my favorite cities, just because it’s so in your face crazy and fast, maybe followed by Argentina Buenos Aires, it has that lifestyle where you end up being up for almost 48 hours or 36 hours. The clubs over there they just don’t stop until whenever it’s empty. If there’s still enough people in the club they keep it open so it’s out of control there.”
Having played in front of a massive crowd, it’s not surprising that Corsten has already experienced his dream gig, and it’s right here in Asia, “I would say a beach party is something that I really love.” He has played in Boracay, Indonesia, and ZoukOut among others. “There’s nothing cooler than being on the sand.” Having no dresscode where people can just wear whatever they want, say shorts and bikinis, frees up the audience. “By doing that all the pretentiousness is right out the window. So it’s just pure down to the person who goes here to party….. you don’t have to be scared that you’re sweating. You can just let go, if you want to jump in the sea. A beach party for me is the ultimate!”
Being one of the Top 10 DJs in the world, he has observed different scenes and has his say too about the Philippine music scene. For aspiring DJs in Manila, he says, “Nowadays, you’re not playing anymore in Manila, you’re playing for the world. With that mindset you have to start approaching things, so you can put your sound up on Soundcloud.” He is also very aware of how the Philippines is one of the biggest twitter countries in the world and encourages everyone to tap into the social media service.
Corsten, married to a Filipina, has been going back and forth with his family to the Philippines for a decade. In a very astute observation of the Philippine music scene he notices is that, “The only thing is that the infrastructure is not really here yet. I had a question today about “what have you seen in the manila scene over the past 10 years?”
“I said well when I just started coming here it was a very lively club scene. Big events, a lot of clubs playing dance music and stuff… then it went into a bar scene for like 7-8 years with hiphop and R&B being played. Now in the last 2-3 years maybe it’s been coming up again… So it’s changing but I’ve also noticed that the Filipino nightlife culture has always looked at what happens in the States a lot.”
In Manila, Corsten tell us of his experience with the bar scene, he was out somewhere and they were playing hip hop and R&B, “This is the Manila I know,” and adds, “but in fact you should be playing (Electronic) Dance music because in the States, you go to the most random clothing store and bar and they’re playing dance music.”
“I think it’s just a matter of time before that starts happening here, based on what’s happening there.” A change of mindset by club owners, booking agencies or record labels to promote electronic dance music culture may help, “That may bring forth talent from here.”
Being very familiar with the talent that the Philippines has, Corsten mentions that despite getting so much music from different kinds of labels, he has never seen anything Electronic really come out of the Philippines, it’s always been elsewhere. He knows some of the DJs here in Manila, but majority of the sound caters to the local crowd. “Maybe with the change of scenery, it will change. At least I hope”, he says.
It’s not everyday we get an electronic superstar that of Ferry Corsten’s magnitude who recognizes the untapped talent in the Philippines wherever he goes, ”Everywhere you go around the world. You go to a hotel casino or wherever, you see a band play and there’s a Filipino vocalist. It’s like that. Why not in electronic music?”
It was the morning of the MYX Awards that we found out that Karl Roy had passed away. The sadness was overwhelming that we had to actually think twice about going to the event, but by not going we wouldn’t give justice to the music [...]
I was interviewed by Ika Alegado a University of Sto. Tomas Fine Arts Student recently about my photography and OPM for her thesis. She plans to come up with a coffee table book on the music scene with her photos. Below is the transcript of the interview.