The coronavirus outbreak has humbled the dance music industry.
That’s the unvarnished assessment by one of its veterans, trance music producer and DJ Ferry Corsten.
Speaking from his native Holland where he is isolating with his family at home, Corsten says the time away from the road confirmed some of the misgivings he harboured regarding the intensity of the scene.
“With all that traveling and performing there was the growing sense that we were all invincible. But looking at it now, with some distance, you understand that what is happening at the moment is a reality check,” he says. “That’s very important because for many of us who are constantly working you become part of this big bubble and when something like this virus happens and everyone is staying home, you realise that entertainment is not the first priority.”
An album made for these times
What matters, Corsten says, is family. And for someone who is on the road constantly to perform, he has been enjoying his new found domesticity.
It has its creative benefits too. Corsten is using the time off to bunker down in his home studio to put the final touches on his debut ambient music album As Above So Below.
Released over the weekend under the side project, Ferr, the album is as personal as it is evocative, with Corsten slowing the beats to explore orchestral and cinematic sounds to create soothing tunes for these harried times.
Ironically, that was partly the point behind the project. Corsten recalls the songs began as a creative break from the rigours of the road.
“That’s the thing about it that’s kind of funny. It was an album I was working on whenever I was home. I wanted to create music that calms me down. And the fact that it is out now, when everyone is home, is perfect timing,” he says.
“But, jokes aside, ambient music is always something that I had an interest in because it is challenging also. When you are creating a normal dance record there is a clear structure to it and if you are doing it for a long time you can fall into auto-pilot. While with ambient music there is no rules and structure. You simply go with the flow.”
Ambient music is the forefather of EDM
Corsten’s foray into ambient music is not a complete left turn, as the genre is one of the earliest forms of electronic music.
The term was coined in 1978 by one of its chief originators, the UK avant garde composer Brian Eno, when releasing his seminal album Ambient I: Music for Airports. Eno went on to describe the sound as "as ignorable as it was interesting."
It is that balance Corsten plays with throughout As Above So Below, with songs both gently demanding as well as transporting. When it comes to the former, there is one of the album's standout tracks, Sehnsucht. It begins with the forlorn and processed notes of synthesisers and it gains steam gently with muted beats and pensive strings, before it all tapers off in the end.
It’s a track, Corsten notes, made to give you the feels.
“We humans have a certain gravitation for melancholy,” he says. “It is something we welcome, although it may result in us reliving painful moments. With this song I wanted to, perhaps, allow that to happen.”
And when you don't want to go down memory lane, When Thoughts Become You, is the go to track. It is as sparse as it is elegant, with Corsten on a piano playing a dreamy melody with various shades of reverb.
It might all sound abstract to the listener, but Corsten says there is a clear thought process when it comes to the compositions.
“With dance music I know where I am going and I direct the track,” he says. “But with ambient music it is very organic. You create something, you get an idea and you follow it to where that idea takes you to. That’s why with ambient music, if you pay a little bit more attention, you will always notice an evolution within a song.”
Will the virus result in more quality dance?
Corsten hopes that sense of adventurism permeates throughout the EDM industry. With all of his peers grounded, so to speak, he expects more sophisticated dance music to emerge in the coming months ahead.
“Everyone has more uninterrupted time to work in their own studios,” he says. “We can now create music based on what we are feeling and not simply for how it will sound at a festival. This is the reason why the music that has been coming out lately has been way too commercial. Perhaps now that we have all this time on our hands, we can create something with a bit more substance.”
However, don’t expect Corsten to play any of these tunes soon on a live stream. While appreciating the need to connect with his fan base, Corsten says he is viewing the unexpected break as a chance to reset.
“I feel that there should be a certain level of longing that fans should have,” he says. “We shouldn’t take anything for granted. While I will continue to do my online radio show and maybe some vlogging, I am also happy just being away at home with family.”