Classic album: Ferry Corsten on L.E.F.

Ferry Corsten doesn’t like to keep still. Like some kind of Dutch trance shark, he has to keep moving else he’ll cark it. Constantly releasing, constantly reinventing himself, he’s one producer that can’t be pinned down. Case in point: His second album, L.E.F. He says the title stands for “Loud. Electronic. Ferocious.” 

Apt, as the energy levels throughout are through the roof. It’s also close to the word ‘lef’ in his native tongue, which roughly translated, means ‘daring’ or ‘gutsy’, and boy, is it that. 

Corsten could have made a straight-up trance album. He could have followed the successful blueprint of his previous bangers, like Rock Your Body Rock from his debut album Right of Way. Instead, he plundered the ’80s both for vibes and for vocalists, repurposing the voice of Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon for the track Fire. 

“It was a time when I was getting out of the whole trance thing,” says Corsten. “I was getting motivated by a lot of stuff I was hearing around me at the time - in particular, the whole electro clash thing and the whole ’80s electro sound.” 

Holed up in his attic studio, Corsten worked every hour in the day for well over a year with this sound, crafting beats in Cubase and tweaking his V-Synth. He was drawing on his dance music upbringing, and started to bring a grainy, vintage touch to his production, as well as broaden his palette with more electro and house tinges. It had attitude. It was distorted. 

L.E.F. was more than, well… trance. It was the perfect balance between old and new. Tracks like Beautiful leaped forward in years, while Cubikated shuddered with nostalgia for a bygone era. 

“I’ve always been playing with that balance,” says Corsten. “But for this album I really brought that sound into what I was doing at the time: it was trance, but with sidesteps to the left and right. It was important to challenge myself to try and do something different.” 

As you’d expect, Ferry Corsten continues to push the envelope today. Here, he takes, track by track, though the tour de force that is L.E.F..

1. Intro

“This starts the album with some Morse code. It was just me really feeling out just how engaged the listeners would be. I was wondering if there would be any nutcases around the world who would take the time out to decode the hidden message. 

“What was it? Oh, it spells out ‘Ferry Corsten’, and the name of the album, ‘L-E-F’ [laughs]. I hope someone made the effort.”

2. Are You Ready

“This was the first track proper, and it was put here to really open the album. It really sets the tone of what’s to come. I imagine most of my fans would have been expecting a trance album. This track was a bit more housey, with more of an electro vibe to it, and that sound would get explored more as you go along. 

“It was me saying, ‘OK. This isn’t going to be the one thing you expected straight away’. They would get more of my classic sound later on, but for now I wanted to shake things up a little. It’s a diverse album. I’ve always been that way with my albums.” 

3. Fire

“This features Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran. I was listening to one of their albums [1990’s Liberty] and I came across a track that I wasn’t too familiar with called Serious. The first line of that song is the one that I use here [‘Oh, woman you make me feel like I’m on fire’]. 

“My management in the US were also the people who managed Duran Duran. I made a demo with the sample of theirs in, then sent it to them. The band just loved it, and loved the idea. I got the go-ahead, and after that I recreated some of the instrumentation, and it was done. It was also more of a housey track, but also the kind of track that works really well in a trance mix, which is what I made for some of my live shows at the time.” 

4. L.E.F.

“Yeah, this is a club banger. I’ve always had a soft spot for vocoder voices as well, so I use that through here to go, ‘Loud. Electronic. Ferocious’. That’s me doing that. Just like when I did Rock Your Body Rock - that was me as well [laughs]. I like to mess with vocals sometimes.

“It was a good track to put at this point in the album to keep the energy up. It was important to sequence the album like that, with lots of builds and drops - like a DJ set.”

5. Into the Dark

“This track features another ’80s musical icon: Howard Jones. I ran into him at the Amsterdam Dance Event. We were just talking about music and hit it off. 

“Yeah, he’s a legend, and just the type of person I was looking for when I was putting this album together, so it made perfect sense to try and work with him. He was great. He dug my music and, of course, I was into what he did back in the day, so we decided to give it a go. 

“I made a simple demo for him and he wrote this really cool song over the demo, which pretty much became the song. If you listen to it, it’s very ’80s. It has that [Roland] 606 drum sound and a very analogue vibe. It gave the whole album an attitude.” 

6. Galaxia

“This is an update of one of my biggest trance tracks from back in the day. The original Galaxia was a B2 track on an EP I released in ’96 under name Moonman. The A track was Don’t be Afraid. I was just going through all this old Moonman stuff and found Galaxia again. I thought it could do with an update. 

“The original was super, super basic. I thought I could breathe some new life into it for the album.”

The original was super, super basic. I thought I could breathe some new life into it for the album.

7. Beautiful

“This started out as the house track, Forever. It was actually written by Ben Cullum [Jamie Cullum’s brother] and features Debra Andrews on vocals. I’m not sure how I got hold of the acappella. I think it was through my publisher.

“I’d just picked up the Roland V-Synth, too. The V-Synth had this great feature where you could sample something and make it ‘elastic’, if you will. Then you could spread it out all over your keyboard, or do robotics. It was almost like a vocoder, but with a different effect. It did something really cool, like what you’d do with Melodyne now, but live on the keys, which was really cool. I just loaded in the chords of Forever, and as I started playing around with this robotic voice on the keyboard, I struck trance gold [laughs].” 

8. Possession

“I really just wanted to make this song a lush, lower-tempo trance track. It came out really cool and definitely has this magic kind of feel to it. It features Denise Stahlie on vocals. I was working a lot with two guys from Holland at the time, called Adrian Broekhuyse and Raz Nitzan. They were songwriters over here. They introduced me to Denise, and she was perfect for this track.” 

9. On My Mind

“Denise is on this track, too. I had a completely different vocalist on this track to start, but it didn’t really work. And as I was working with Denise already, I ran it by her to see if it was something she’d be interested in being on. She loved it and gave a great performance. 

“It’s really mellow, and on an album like this, it’s important to have that. I’ve always wanted to show range; what I’m capable of as an artist.”

10. Down On Love

“This had a bit more of a poppy vibe to it. I do remember that my publisher came up with a lot of vocalists to work with, so [Down On Love vocalist] Oz came from them. 

“Sometimes tracks just happen. Sometimes, I feel the more you just go with the flow, good stuff happens. If you look for something too hard, often it doesn’t really come out. This was one of those tracks that just came out.”

11. Forever

“This is the original house track for the song that Ben Cullum wrote for Debra Andrews that I turned into Beautiful from earlier in this album. If you listen to Forever, you’ll notice that the B-section of the chorus is actually the part that I used in there.”

12. Watch Out

“I felt that I wanted to make an answer record to my track, Rock Your Body Rock. I felt that this new album was a great place for that. It wasn’t too much of a successful outcome, but oh well [laughs].

“The album format gives you chance to explore more tempos and moods. What I don’t like about today’s... Spotify industry, if you will, is that everything is so disposable, and it’s all singles-based. So everyone is just doing what people expect from them. There’s little room for fresh sounds and doing other stuff.” 

The album format gives you chance to explore more tempos and moods. What I don’t like about today’s... Spotify industry, if you will, is that everything is so disposable.

13. Junk

“This features the rapper Guru [from hip-hop legends Gang Starr]. I remember playing around with [Ferry’s 2002 single] Punk and thinking that I’d like to do a new version. Then someone from the label in the states - Patrick Moxey, I believe - said, ‘Maybe it’s cool to have a rapper over this? I’m in touch with Guru; want me to ask him?’ It sounded like a long-shot, but he was in.    

“Well, to start with, he gave me one verse [laughs]. I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s great. How about a second verse?’ Finally, he delivered and it was great.

“It turned out great. And it gave a whole different idea to how Punk could be used as a melody.”

13. Cubitaked

“This was like an ode to the old Cubik track by 808 State. That was definitely a track that sort of put me into electronic music at the time, alongside A Homeboy, A Hippy & A Funki Dredd’s Total Confusion. 

“This was an easy one. I made it just so I could put it in my sets. It also fits in with the whole ’80s vibe I was bringing into the album as well. The whole mid-'80s electro stuff was a huge influence, but I don’t want to call it a tribute album to the ’80s because, at the same time, it was really looking ahead and forward with tracks like Beautiful, which was the next step in trance, if you will. But tracks like Cubikated were an ode to a previous era that I grew up in.”

14. Freefalling

“This track was inspired, in a way, by Leftfield. It was really one of those types of dubby, chilled tracks. But at the same time, I wanted it to feel trancey and melodic. 

“I never want to get known for just doing the same thing, which is why I do this left-and-right stuff - to keep challenging myself and what people expect of me. It was nice to put more chillout-type tracks on here to show that.”

Ferry Corsten's new high-concept sci-fi album, Blueprint, is out now. For tour details, check his website.

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