Sci-fi and trance: not two genres from separate art forms you might imagine would go together so well. But there’s one man who disagrees — Rotterdam’s very own legend of trance, Ferry Corsten. He’s taken on the brave task of accompanying his latest album, Blueprint, with an epic sci-fi storyline.
“It’s a mix between an audiobook and an album,” Ferry reveals. “I teamed up with D. Harrington Miller, a scriptwriter from the States, who’s also written on House Of Cards. We came up with the story together, which I used to write songs to as a conceptual piece.”
It’s a real coup for Ferry, to have got such a big name Hollywood writer involved in the project. Not to say that Ferry hasn’t more than earned the right to undertake such a daring idea — 10 albums deep, he’s firmly established himself as one of the best known and loved names in the trance genre. And particularly being from the Netherlands, that’s no mean feat with the likes of Armin van Buuren already occupying a significant amount of space.
“I call it this with all respect, because I love the platform,” Ferry says. “But we’re very much in a Spotify culture. If it doesn’t have that instant gratification, then people skip through the next track. We’re losing the art of listening to an album, like we used to back in the day.”
This is actually something I bring up with musicians quite often, how they feel about the fact consumers are often instantly skipping tracks due to our streaming culture. Ferry brings it up unprompted.
“That’s why I was so keen to work on the physical version of this album. There are 17 tracks on this album, and each track has its own artwork. Beautiful, minimal sci-fi artwork. It’s way more of a package than some of the disposable tracks that are out there for a week and then gone!”
Not to say that the music of Blueprint is something you’d ever want to skip. A huge album highlight is Venera (Vee’s Theme), a huge track which essentially translates film music into the world of trance as Ferry develops a beautiful musical theme throughout. If you listen on YouTube, you also get the phenomenal artwork Ferry mentioned.
“It’s an Artificial Intelligence kind of story”, Ferry tells me. “It became a love story with a sci-fi twist!”
I mention that it actually does make total sense to marry sci-fi with trance: both have a very otherworldly character.
“I mean, the arrangement of trance music often feels like storytelling in itself; it’s very melodic, and takes you on a journey; all these different parts in each track.”
I ask how Ferry sees trance’s standing in the world currently, particularly considering the genre was never entirely chewed up and spat out by EDM, the way dubstep and house music were.
“Trance was sucked in a little bit,” Ferry says. “And I’m a little guilty of it myself. I’ve always been of the opinion that to push a genre forward, it needs to evolve and stay ahead of the curve. So I always try to bring in elements from other genres to to make it stay relevant. I was intrigued by EDM, the new sounds and all the drum programming. I tried to bring some of that into my trance sound. But eventually EDM went way too far for me, when every song just became ‘1, 2, 3, jump’ and, ‘put your fucking hands up.’ I then went back to the old style of trance that I love — I really think trance, real house music, and techno are coming back full circle now, from the mid-'90s sound.”
With Blueprint being such an ambitious project, I feel it’s important to ask about the technology behind the scenes.
“I work in Cubase,” Ferry says. “For some of the vocals, I’ve been using the Slate Virtual Microphone System, which I really like. It’s really cool — it’s like a really neutral mic with a very neutral preamp, and you can basically emulate a preamp in your software, and some of the famous microphone sounds. So rather than changing mic every time, you record the vocals neutral, and then colour it afterwards. I’ve deliberately been stepping away from the typical trance plugins, to give this album a different texture.”
So, any more crazy ideas for your next album, Ferry?
“Not yet! To be honest, I don’t know if I can go back to just releasing music [without a storyline] after this! It’s been such a rewarding process to do it this way,” Ferry admits. And what about five years down the line? “Do I still see myself touring the world? That’s a really tough question... [pauses] If that’s not the case, I really see myself more in production, maybe film scoring, if that’s permitted for me.”
So has this album been almost a trial for those film scoring ambitions?
“Yeah — I guess it’s a movie without the motion picture [laughs]!”
With Blueprint clearly showing Ferry can expertly weave narrative and character themes within music, I certainly wouldn’t be the first person betting against him achieving that dream.
Words Adam Protz