Cornerstone Tracks
Dennis Ferrer’s NYC roots

For the last two decades, Dennis Ferrer’s career has been shaped by his flexibility. In the mid-90s he made music under the alias Morph, releasing techno for imprints like Damon Wild’s Synewave and New Electronica. He’s embraced the soulful side, from gospel-influenced house records like So Beautiful through to the Sfere label he launched with Kerri Chandler in 1998. There’s also Objektivity, the label he founded that’s committed to putting out classic deep house with a modern twist from the likes of André Hommen and Henrik Schwarz.

While this evolution might be expected for such a lengthy career, Ferrer’s broad tastes can probably be explained by his upbringing. Before he knew of house music, Ferrer had an obsession for hip-hop, a product of growing up in the Bronx throughout the 80s. He started song writing after hearing funk for the first time, before New York’s club scene piqued an early interest in dance music. Ahead of his debut appearance in Farringdon this weekend, Ferrer explained all of this to us in detail for our latest 'Cornerstone Tracks' feature.

Take Your Time (Do It Right) – The S.O.S. Band [Tabu]

This song brings me back to summers in the Bronx, aged 14, riding our bikes to Orchard Beach to check out all of the girls. Those summers were ridiculous. There were block parties and rap battles with hundreds of kids dancing to breakbeats. If you were wearing the wrong colour bead necklace in the wrong neighbourhood, you could end up in a shootout or gang fight. Summer madness. This song is an everlasting connection to my ghetto paradise. I was more into hip-hop at the time, and this made me appreciate songs.

Rap and hip-hop are frequently associated with life in The Bronx. When was your earliest memory of hearing this music growing up?

My earliest and fondest memory was when I was 10 years old, walking past a record shop and my way home from school and hearing Sugarhill Gang’s Rappers Delight blaring from inside. Up to that point in my life I’d never heard any kind of MCing, and I found it completely mind blowing. To be honest, it’s never been known or accepted as a real rap record for ‘purists’. But it did expose me to the beginnings of the genre, and made me want to dig for more of it. I spent the next 14 years of my life on the hunt for it like a madman!

Outstanding (12” Version) – The Gap Band [Total Experience]

The second hottest song to roller-skate to when I was a kid. Yep, I said roller skate!! The lyrics are so simple but so effective, and that’s really hard to do in a song without making it cheesy. That outstanding lyrical hook is fantastic. It’s kind of a model for me when it comes to keeping it simple. The bass line in the song is actually the hook… it keeps you locked in and the vocals kind of move you around the groove until that chorus slams in. Perfect. It was the beginning of wanting to write songs for me.

You can see how soulful house took inspiration from classic funk like this. What was the first song you wrote?

My first attempt at any type of song writing was a moment that’s not worth remembering! It was completely cheesy and simplistic, but everyone needs a starting point. I was 15 years old and had lots to learn. It took a while for me to learn the art of song writing and develop enough of a broad vocabulary, along with the experience of feeling comfortable enough to let a song out into the world. I do have to say that these classics had a huge influence on me at the time.

Play At Your Own Risk – Planet Patrol [Tommy Boy]

Jon Robie and Arthur Baker… ‘nuff said. B Boys meets techno meets 80s dance. It was the seminal New York record at the time. You couldn’t walk two blocks without hearing this record on every box or car system for the whole year it came out. It was like the dancers’ anthem, and it never failed to get the party started HARD. This completely changed my view of how I wanted to make music. I was all about hip-hop at the time, but I realised I could meld styles without being afraid… if you pulled it off, you had the potential to define a new genre.

How were your earliest experiences of New York’s club scene? Would you expect to hear this kind of thing?

What people at this time have forgotten or have not been told was that in any club you could here a dance record in one moment being segued into a hip hop record. It was pretty normal for the time. So you could possibly hear Tanaa Gardner’s Heartbeat followed by something on Arthur Baker’s Partytime label right into Play At Your Own Risk, and then into Information Society’s Running. No one would bat an eyelid. My earliest experiences of this were at the old La Mirage in the Bronx – they had these amazing Klipsch sub bins that were supposedly servo driven. There was also The Devil’s Nest in the Bronx, The Palladium in NYC, and finally Red Zone, where I’d see David Morales play.

Rej – Âme [Innervisions]

People don’t give this record enough due in my opinion. This record changed many a life. Including mine. It allowed me at the time to not be afraid of being different. When this came out …soulful house was still popular and it signified to me that a change was coming. It was time to embrace it. It was cool to be melodic…techno…and bold. Tell your story, make sure it was anthemic, lose yourself in its creation, and let the chips fall where they may.

In a way, this set a foundation for what became (and remains) a hugely popular sound on Innervisions. How did your direction changed after hearing it?

It gave me the confidence to believe that I wasn’t crazy. That a change was coming. That I wasn’t too far off by making Sandcastles. It allowed me to believe in the next part of my musical journey.

Around – Noir & Haze [Noir Music]

This record is on this list because it signified a change in my life with regards to song writing. Gone were the gospel-tinged tunes with screaming diva vocals, and in were these quirky new cool and expressive vocals. When I first played this out, I got lost in it. I threw my hands up, and thought “Wow… just wow.”

How much of the music you play is made up of newer stuff like this?

I would say that at the moment I play 90% newer records, with 10% older tunes. I like to mix up a bit.

Things Happen – Dawes [HUB]

This is a bit of a leftfield one. I find this band’s song writing incredible. I mean… some of the lines in this song are really great. “Like an honest signature on a fake ID…” or “…a guilty conscience with an innocent plea…”, then the straight up chorus: “Things happen.” I’m always awed whenever I hear what these guys have written. So many good songs. I had this song tied with ‘Most People’, but in the end this won. It’s my guilty pleasure song… sue me!

Many DJs describe listening to other genres in their own free time. Do you dedicate a lot of time for non-electronic stuff like this outside of when you’re DJing?

Yes… I mean… I hear our music ALL THE TIME. I need a brain break. So this type of music gives me that. It also gives me inspiration. Saying that, I make sure that I check out all types of genres, because you never know what you’ll find. You just may hear a chord progression that you find incredible and decide to learn from it, or maybe a verse that changes the way you think about your own song writing.

King of Pain – The Police [A&M]

A songwriting masterpiece, with Stewart ‘The Human Clock’ Copeland on the drums… pfff. Ridiculous song, they should NEVER have broken up… NEVER. Sting was never the same… I was only really into R&B and dance music at the time, and when I heard this I was like “Wwwwwhoooaaa.” This made me decide to delve further into exposing myself to bands that my friends passed on or never bothered to check out. I’m still like that today and I love it when I find something I was “late” to.

The 80s was an extremely fertile period for British bands like The Police, Clapton, Duran Duran. What was your favourite LP that came out in this decade?

Awwwww damn. The 80s were super ROCKING. So much good music and experimentation. Nothing like the past 20 years of music, in my humble opinion. I can’t really say I have a favourite, but I can’t lie… anything made back then was probably a favourite. Damn… showing my age here! ;)

Saturday 10th February

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