Ferry Corsten: Full On!

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As Electronic Dance Music continues to grow and its events become larger spectacles, for good or ill, it’s not just about DJs mixing two records anymore.

Nonetheless, fans—especially newer ones more accustomed to festivals than clubs—have come to expect more for their entertainment dollar. They want compelling music, sure, but they also want to see a slam-bang show with any or all of the following add-ons: dazzling lights, exclusive video, and intricate staging, plus the requisite smoke and lasers.

So, DJs—especially those not wearing LED-enhanced mouseheads—are stepping up their collective game. Look around EDM’s live landscape and you’ll see performers like Skrillex raising the bar with his “Mothership Tour,” which includes the “Skrillex Cube,” an eye-popping, video-enhanced booth. Check out one of Amon Tobin’s mind-melting “ISAM” shows—that is, if your brain can handle it. Both tours use variations of the latest 3D-mapping technology—courtesy Vello Virkhaus and V Squared Labs—so the pivot toward immersive and downright psychedelic live experiences seems complete at this point.

With all that in mind, relative old-school jocks—you know, DJs who actually did begin by spinning two slabs of vinyl—have been put on notice. Adapt or die, right?

Well, Ferry Corsten is one who has adapted just fine.

The Dutch DJ/producer has been in the game for more than two decades and his popularity, especially in the States, has only increased. Spinning trance and the more melodic flavors of EDM, Corsten continues to play major global festivals and clubs, so expanding and enhancing his stage show became a priority. In time, the “Full On” concept was born.

Working from a scalable DJ booth/stage that includes its own exclusive 3D visuals, the “Full On” shows offer a solo set from Corsten, plus back-to-back sets with guest jocks—like Gabriel & Dresden and Michael Woods in the recent New York show—and performances from live artists—like Betsie Larkin in NYC. (For playback, Corsten and friends use Pioneer’s DJM-2000 mixer and four Pioneer CDJ-2000 players.) Filling up Roseland’s massive floor for an Electric Zoo afterparty this past Aug. 31, New York’s “Full On” event carried delirious Ferry fans deep into the night and early morning.

In a year that saw him release WKND (his fourth artist album), hit massive festivals like Electric Zoo, and complete his Ibiza residency at Eden, we caught up with Ferry Corsten to discuss his hands-on approach to “Full On,” his big-stage concept.

DJ Times: Tell us about your new live-show approach.

Ferry Corsten: I have a live-show concept that’s been called “Full On Ferry,” which has been re-branded as “Full On”—“hosted by Ferry Corsten.” What I wanted to do with this “Full On” live show concept is give audiences a fully immersive experience that’s unlike the typical club fare.

DJ Times: Why the change? What does it entail?

Corsten: DJ shows have gotten incredibly more complex with today’s technology and this has allowed me to give fans an experience that’s completely unique. One important aspect of “Full On” shows is that the stage setup is fully scalable, and it’s set up in such a way as to have a much bigger—“expensive looking”—impact than it actually costs the promoter. That makes it worthwhile for the promoter to book these shows, and everybody wins in the end.

DJ Times: So, what makes these events different from the other big, technology-driven DJ tours?

Corsten: What are my “Full On” shows about? It’s a concert show, basically, where I invite guest DJs to play with me in various back-to-back sets and where everyone gets their own set time, as well. I’m sort of the host of the night. It’s not just DJs playing tracks at a festival, but a family that enjoys what it’s really all about—having fun!

DJ Times: So it seems that, for the fans, you want to create a sense of familiarity, then?

Corsten: Yes, when you go to see a Madonna or U2 concert, you see the same concept around the world. What we try to do with the “Full On” shows is to give you the same experience and the same production everywhere you go. Wherever the “Full On” logo shows up, you’ll know what to expect.

DJ Times: How are you getting the word out?

Corsten: I produce bi-weekly “WKNDR” movies on my YouTube channel, and each episode is professionally filmed at a different location around the world based on where I am every few weeks. You can search several episodes shot at “Full On” live shows to see what a “Full On” show looks like.

DJ Times: Did you do rehearsals for a show like this?

Corsten: The first “Full On” show was basically when we did a tryout show in Moscow when it was still called WKND—the title of my current studio album—in November of last 2011. It was a tryout for 13,000 people, kind of a big rehearsal. [laughs] That was the biggest it can get production-wise. What we did was make it affordable for promoters where we can have the same look, but we can resize it to suit 2,000 people to 10,000 people. We really found that to be important, because not every promoter can sell out a venue for 5,000 people.

DJ Times: Why is that important?

Corsten: When your production costs are that high, nobody will book you. Or it will be charged to the customers through the ticket price—and that’s not what I want. So, that’s basically the main idea behind the “Full On” design, which is that it should be resizable and doable in any club that has a stage. So, every club that has a normal, small stage, that’s a location where a “Full On” show can be given.

DJ Times: What’s the need for a stage?

Corsten: Well, I’m playing in a huge cube built with LEDs, so every club with a regular DJ booth—like Pacha in New York City, which has a fixed DJ booth—that’s not possible. But if you look at Ruby Skye in San Francisco, a club that has a small stage, that’s got the perfect setup.

DJ Times: Tell me about the cube.

Corsten: It’s actually a very simple “diamond-shaped cube” set-up, which allows me to stand in the middle of the video and not just have a screen behind me. The screen is behind me and in front of me at the same time. For the bigger shows, like Moscow, you can sometimes not see me onstage, but you can see me through the screen. It’s more like the video will take over the show and I’m playing from behind the screen.

DJ Times: How do you stay connected with the crowd?

Corsten: I can still see the audience through the screen because we use a see-through screen. I can also look into the camera and it projects my face onto the screen. So, the audience sees me through silhouette, like 50-percent. For the bigger shows, the top part of the screen is moving; the LED comes down and moves up above me for the bigger shows. That’s not possible for all of the venues because there are weight restrictions. We try to do that as much as possible, though. The show doesn’t suffer when the screen is not moving, but it’s a cool extra element. It’s not just the structure of the cube or the production of the show that makes the show so cool. It’s the marriage between the production and the video content projected onto it that makes it such a cool experience.

DJ Times: Tell me about your visual content—things like lights, video, lasers and pyro.

Corsten: My lighting and video tech, Bert Kelchtermans, is not standing next to me during shows. Most DJs, they have a video guy and a lighting guy. I decided in 2009 when I started working with Unlimited Productions and video director, Bart Roelen, that I wanted one guy to control everything: the lights, the visuals, lasers, pyro. This way, the whole look will be better in combination. It’s more integrated and everything fits better. Otherwise, the video would be green and the lights could be red and it would be a blurry mess. [laughs] So, I give all the non-audio controls to one person to get the most out of the show. Bert is standing in the front-of-house in the middle of the audience, facing me, controlling the lights, video, visuals, viral and whatever else is happening during the shows except the music.

DJ Times: How did the “Full On” show go from concept to reality?

Corsten: I met with Unlimited Productions and they made me a sketch after I told them my concept for the shows—I liked what I saw. From there, we got all of the video content built to fit on those screens. Nothing is “off-the-rack” generic content. Everything is really built to make the DJ booth set-up pop! It’s totally custom-made. I got the idea in February 2011 and the first “Full On Ferry” show was November 2011, before everything was finished actually. We had to fine-tune after the first tryout. It took a couple of months to get the concept just right.

DJ Times: How has the show evolved?

Corsten: Well, I’m very happy with it right now. It works out better and better because, first, we made all the video content for one size set-up, but with the software we’re using, we made it possible to resize the images to fit the screens and basically any screen, no matter the shape or size. The cube can be as large and as high as promoters want it. It’s really good for promoters because it’s very adaptable to varying locations with different specs. The smallest we can do for the screens—as we did in Jakarta and Bangkok—is 3.5-meters-high by 5-meters-wide. It can go as big as in Moscow, which was the biggest on the mainstage because we had wings and stuff on it. That set-up was 10-meters-high by 12-meters-wide. This is very unique because most DJ shows only have one size and you have to do it like that. If you change the size [of the "Full On” set-up], everything still looks in proportion. The proportions don’t get all messed up.

DJ Times: What video software are you using?

Corsten: I’m using all software that you can buy. In the beginning, we used ArKaos GrandVJ software and we combined that with MadMapper video-mapping software. In the beginning, those two software packages didn’t work together, so the company, Prismax, came up with a solution to make them work together. Now, it’s fully integrated software, but when we started trying out the show, we had to do that ourselves. It’s very experimental to get it all working correctly. Prismax made all the content with me and my visuals designers to link all of the software together.

DJ Times: Sounds like a big endeavor.

Corsten: During the show, Bert, my VJ, is busy with lights and video, and it’s a lot to do. Prismax is an indie company that Unlimited Productions works with that creates visual content. I sat down with Bert and the guys at Unlimited Productions in the beginning of the concept phase to explain what I wanted, what I envisioned. Should it be three-dimensional? Colorful? Whatever else? We agreed that I needed something basic, but something that would not look cheap—basic, but elegant. So, Bert contacted Prismax and had them make a couple of proposals. With Bert touring with me all the time, Prismax started making stuff and putting it into Dropbox so I could see it while on tour and I could tell them via Skype, “Hey, this is too nerdy; that is too complicated, etc.” For everything, we had instant communication with Prismax on Skype. They made a database for us to use with around 300 different video clips!

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