Ferry Corsten Revisits His Gouryella Past to Find His Future
In the mid-'90s, Ferry Corsten was living in Rotterdam, getting his start as a producer and hanging out in record stores to hear the sounds of the world. There was this one shop in particular he frequented most, and he met a guy working there named Tijs Verwest, who himself had a pretty good gig as a DJ going under the name Tiësto.
“We both had this gravitation towards this really melodic sort of electronic music,” Corsten says. “We were always talking about this stuff, the early form of trance, and we were both really big fans of that.”
Corsten had a hit with a song called “Out of The Blue” under the alias System F, and as he and Tiësto were talking, they thought they might try out making music in that kind of vein together, combine their talents so to speak and go for gold. Corsten couldn't know then that he was embarking on one of the most important musical journeys of his lifetime.
“We sat down in the studio and came up with this first track Gouryella “Gouryella,” Corsten says. “We didn't have a name for it yet, but I'd pick these weird names, certain words with a certain meaning of something really beautiful. In this case, I was watching something like Discovery Channel or something, and it was about Australian Aborigines. The story was about their beliefs and heaven, and their word for heaven was “gouryella.” I thought, 'that's a cool name,' so we picked that.”
“Gouryella” was a breakneck beat under sweeping melodies, and it soon became both artists biggest hits, peaking at no. 15 on the UK charts. They followed it with two more singles, “Walhalla” in 1999, and “Tenshi” in 2000, (both named after heavens and heavenly beings of the Norse and Japanese alike) all in this very synthy anthemic turn of the century sound. When it was time for Gouryella's fourth single, “Ligaya” in 2002, Tiësto found himself moving in a different sonic direction and let Corsten take the reins up on his own.
Corsten then found his own personal tastes changing. He took up his own name as a moniker and experimented with more electro sounds, became a bit more techy in his productions. He still lived in the trance world but not in those same chord progressions and topline melodies. He's become one of the biggest names in trance, but throughout the years, fans have never stopped asking about new Gouryella. If he so much as posted a picture of himself having spaghetti for dinner, someone would invariably comment “when are you going to release new Gouryella?” Corsten took it as a cute sort of madness, until the summer of 2015.
“I honestly started to feel very tired of what was going on in the music scene and also in the trance genre itself,” he remembers. “I was tired of the same old, and though I still like all of this, I started thinking 'what would I want to do again now? What excites me?'”
Reading all those comments and Tweets got him thinking, what if he did bring Gouryella back? But it wasn't that easy. Music isn't just some switch you can pull in your mind. When you've spent the last 10 years of his life going in a forward direction, you can't just climb back into old patterns of thought like stepping into an old pair of shoes. If he was going to give Gouryella a true chance at a future, he'd have to go back into the old midi files and pick apart its past.
“I went right in and analyzed just how simple those tracks really were,” he says. “Over time in your head, they start to become so different, so complicated in a way. It was just funny to see, it's almost like confrontational how simplistic the stuff back then and sometimes how much I'm overthinking music now.”
Not only was the music simpler, it was also longer. Each track was given twice the room to draw out concepts and motifs, to bring whole storylines to life in the melodies and chords.
“Nowadays, everything is so quick, snappy, and it's over before you know it,” he says. “Looking back at how it was then and now gave me good insight for my production (as Ferry Corsten) that I'm working on right now. How can you make something still tell a story with a shorter track where everything is a lot quicker and not so dragged out? That's what I took away from this.”
The first new Gouryella track was “Anahera,” a waterfall of sparkling synths that glitters its way into a pulsing bass-heavy rhythm. He followed that with “Neba,” a tune that seems to mirror even more closely the upbeat shimmer of Gouryella's past offerings. Both tracks have the characteristic warmth and lushness of the classics, but with a modern softness. It's the extension of trance's past into the new landscape, and the response has been great. He knew he was going to get a rise out of his fans on social media, but then the tracks started charting on Beatport, and then Armin van Buuren gave heavy support during his A State of Trance sets. It was more than Corsten expected, and then promoters called.
“I really had no plans to (tour), but again, the whole point in the first place was to bring this sound back to new audience,” he says. “When that argument was thrown at me I was like, 'okay, I think they're right, but how am I going to do the shows if I only have five tracks?”
As much as he loved those old Gouryella tracks, they sounded dated back-to-back with the new tunes. The production on “Gouryella” just wasn't as tight as “Anahera,” and that's no surprise given Corsten's decade of experience. He'd have to go back and, with the subtle precision of a surgeon, reproduce the old Gouryella catalog to meet his modern standards.
“As a music lover, when I hear a reproduction of a track – and especially a classic – I feel a little gutted like, 'ah, this is not the real thing that I fell in love with,'” he says. “I took all those old tracks almost like a magnifying glass like, 'okay, how did I do the filtering there?' I lost bits and pieces here and there, because over 15 years time, you lose your files. My whole archiving wasn't what it is today.”
The hard work paid off, and Corsten released the new editions in a limited edition boxset From The Heaveans, out now on iTunes. For live performances, he seamed the tracks together into a cohesive package, padded by Ferry Corsten songs that fit the sonic scope. He also reached out to Dimension, a young artist on his label Flashover Recordings with just the right sound. Dimension created an original tune specially for the Gouryella tour performances, and with that, he was in business.
It was a brilliant worldwide experience that begat another project, a documentary on the Gouryella journey from the old days at the Rotterdham record shop with Tiësto, to those first original tunes, on through the 2016 revival, the tour, and the lasting impact the project has had on fans and Corsten's peers.
“We have some of the big guys that were a part of the scene back in the day and were supportive of Gouryella tell their story about how it influenced them and what it did to their shows,” he says. “I knew that it was a special thing from the very first release. It was just always referred to as the trance of the highest shelf, you know? When you get to that point and you suddenly stop releasing, it lives on in people's imagination. The absence of Gouryella has almost made it the holy grail of trance in a way, so fragile.”
It's been a humbling year for Corsten, to see his old world become new, to be bowled over by the praise for an old project brought back to life and hear the stories of how it touched fans' lives. Now, however, it's time to pack Gouryella away for another period of rest. He returns to Ferry Corsten in 2017, but he's bringing with him all the lessons of the past.
“It's almost an extension of what I've been doing with Gouryella,” he says, “not Gouryella the next chapter, but Gouryella goes back into Ferry Corsten. You've been inspired before that way, and it's cool to go back there and find out what it was. Like I said, I'm going back to a time when I just made music without overthinking it, and that was very refreshing.”