Never one to be shy about his views on the current musical climate, Dennis Ferrer’s interviews always draw lots of attention.
Getting ready to play here in Chicago this Friday, this time he tackles festival culture challenges in the US, finding new music to play and the reason why his new album is taking so long to make.
I see you doing lots of festivals overseas as you always have. When I look at different music websites and news sources they have these lists citing things like “the top 20 festivals in Europe… in APRIL.” And that’s just in April! Have the number of festivals gotten out of hand?
No absolutely not, the US is way late behind all festivals and they have no idea what they’re doing. The Dutch run that world as far as being organized and the logistics of it. They basically invented it. ID&T was a Dutch company, they’re the ones who did Tomorrowland, Mysteryland, Sensation, all of that. You have to understand, Europe is a festival culture, it’s a hangout on Saturdays and Sundays. That’s where they go and they drink and they do whatever they do. It just so happens that there’s real cool acts playing at these things. It’s always been a European thing, we in the US have always been really late and behind to this festival thing.
Festivals have been on since I’ve gotten into the scene to tell you the truth. House music and EDM in the US, as soon as we lost the plot, the Europeans took it over. America is such a huge country but we’re talking about 30 different countries that are on point rocking it right now versus America. Even musically we’re so far behind.
I get probably five press releases per week of new festivals happening, you don’t think it’s oversaturated?
Well you gotta understand – how many countries are there? If you live in Belgium, there’s about ten festivals per year in Belgium. If you live in Holland say there’s ten, in Italy say they have ten. You start adding up all these countries, you might see 150-200 festivals a year. But realize that these are all in different countries and with different populations.
I do think that one of the barriers to starting a new festival in the US is the sheer cost of it. I can imagine that promoters would be in the red initially especially in smaller cities.
First of all our culture is not a festival culture. Second of all, who’s going to go see tINI, who knows her? Who knows Magda? Only the cool kids. Where is it cool here, except for the major cities?
Now say for instance you go to Italy. You’ve got Milan, Rome, Lecce, Bari, Naples, I can keep going on and on and and all of these cities are happening so you can have festivals. And the whole culture knows about all the people playing these records. Because all these people travel on a weekly basis to every city there and there are acts in those cities every weekend. In the United States, who the fuck travels to Kansas?
In LA, New York and the major metropolitan areas, yeah you’re going to have an over saturation of festivals because that’s where the cool people are. But who are you going to get to go see Seth Troxler and Jamie Jones in Albany?
And what is your theory on why this phenomenon is happening, especially since electronic dance music has been at its highest point in the last few years?
Everything leads into everything else. You’re talking about what’s on the radio. In Europe, House music is on the radio. Hip-hop might be in one or two stations here and there, but it’s normally dance music that’s on the radio. Now whether that’s commercial dance music or underground, that depends on the area and on the PG director. Here if you go 45 minutes outside of Chicago you may be talking about country music, easy listening, alternative or the rock channel.
People only know what people are exposed to. The more you’ve been exposed to say hard rock or classic rock, then what do you think that city’s population is going to be geared towards? You can throw a Metallica concert and the place will be jam packed! Now you bring some deep underground tech, it will be empty. It is what it is. So it all stems what people are exposed to, and you can’t run a festival unless your population has been exposed to that kind of music. Hence that’s why it’s very difficult to start any festivals in the United States.
“For me, the Deep House CHART on Beatport is like a joke right now. It’s so cheesy, so horrible. Beatport is a mess right now, I don’t even trust their charts.”
Moving to music, can you give us names of artists and or tracks that you would currently recommend?
Well I’ve always said that the kind of music guys that are amazing right now are Adriatique, Rampa, Re.You, there’s so many of them. For me, the Deep House chart on Beatport is like a joke right now. It’s so cheesy, so horrible. Beatport is a mess right now, I don’t even trust their charts. People tell me they don’t even shop at Beatport anymore.
So if the mainstream radio can’t really provide what’s new with dance music, what do you recommend for kids that live in more rural areas or don’t have access to newer stuff?
You kinda have to follow what DJs are charting, look around. Maybe look through Juno Records, look through WhatPeoplePlay, Decks.de, you have to take all these sources and formulate your own opinion. You also have to pay attention to what’s popping off at the clubs. There’s no one-stop shop you have to source it out from different places.
I believe you do about two to three gigs a week. How do you prepare for them, how often do you do the deep cratedig and for how long?
I’m digging this week, and then maybe I’ll look for a couple of things here and there. It’s a constant thing. Once a month I get a whole overhaul. I just move the next folder and clean the new folder for the next month. But you know there’s not enough good records to warrant changing your whole set. I mean it’s rare. Some months you get a full new set to that whole month and you go “oh shit yes!” Because it also depends on how long your set it. If you play three hours, that’s about 25 records. So you’re talking about trying to find 25 records that month that are very cool, that warrant to play out. Not just because it’s new, and it gets you from A to B, (because you need those A to B records), but good enough to play that it’s rocking. Not good enough for people to be swaying, it has to be rocking. But you can’t find 25 of those records a month, it’s impossible. You can maybe find 5 records that month that are rocking.
It’s all available. There isn’t any secret hideout spots anymore, that’s done. Everybody can get the same records.
“My records always tend to be records that people don’t get right away, but like six months later after they’ve been around for a while then they get it.”
I was reading up about your upcoming album Paranoia Aftermath. Can you tell me about that?
Well, “Paranoia Aftermath,” the title speaks for itself. It’s how I felt after the switch from soulful to techy. What happened was that it was such a big shift and big switch, I kinda got scared to make records. Playing is way different than making records. Even though I used to make these kind of records, a little harder actually (more techno), it still was scary to switch again. And so it made me paranoid, you know? I was really paranoid about releasing stuff and it’s just recently that I feel comfortable.
What time frame are we talking about?
About two years ago. It hasn’t come out, that’s what I’m working on right now. It’s taken me two and a half years to try and finish this thing. Again, because I’m paranoid [laugns]
The title is perfect for this album. It’s a bit techy, but it’s still done the DF way. I’ve got that weird kinda style. My records always tend to be records that people don’t get right away, but like six months later after they’ve been around for a while then they get it.
The slow burn.
Yeah the slow burn and then they blow up. Which I prefer. It would be nice to get a big hit right away, but I prefer the long running thing.
So it’s like your music is more marriage material as opposed to a one night stand [laughs]
I’m not a one night stand – you gotta marry my record! I’m trying new stuff, trying to be different in my own way. I don’t know what it’s going to be like, I just hope people like it. I just want to make records that people dance to.
“Everybody tends to think that it’s an easy job to just go and make a record. It’s not! It’s scary. I’ve seen too much and know too much. When you know too much it’s bad. In this business ignorance is bliss sometimes.”
Is there a projected timeline for the release of it? Any singles out from it?
No, I was doing all remixes. My remixes were kind of like practice for me, pulling up my bootstraps and getting my balance back. Everybody tends to think that it’s an easy job to just go and make a record. It’s not! It’s not when you change styles, it’s not when you’re reeducating yourself constantly. It’s scary. I’m not 20 anymore, now I’ve seen too much and know too much. When you know too much it’s bad. In this business ignorance is bliss sometimes.
That’s why you see a lot of guys who’ve done a lot of time in the music business not make records anymore. They’re scared. Or they know they sound old and they can’t keep up. How many producers do you know that are in their 50’s making dance records? Not a lot.
We have to pay attention to these kids, the kids who have no experience but are doing it out of love and everything is new to them. It’s a joy to them. So you have to figure out how to get that back.
That’s so crazy to me that you of all people doubt yourself. You’re such an innovator.
That’s human nature. It’s good that I doubt myself, I have to. That’s what keeps me humble and keeps me focused. I’m like, “no no no no no! I don’t think my shit doesn’t stink. I gotta figure out how to put the deodorant on it.” So I tell people, get cool!
Dennis Ferrer (Objektivity) will be playing at the Mid this Friday March 18th along with J. Phlip, Zebo and Czboogie (tickets). Dennis Ferrer’s remix of Booka Shade’s “Lost High” will drop in April/May 2016; look out for his next artist album, Paranoia Aftermath.