Up, Up & Away
Above & Beyond talk about their success, the DJ Magazine polls and their India trip
They run a successful music label, a popular radio show and a world famous act and their omnipresence in the cluttered trance music industry is matched by very few other artists. But trance act Above & Beyond – Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäk – will tell you they never thought they’d reach this level of mammoth success in their career. The British trio is known for their uplifting trance and nonpareil collaborations with varied vocalists across genres that’s have helped them create chartbusters round the year, every year. In fact, Madonna loved A&B’s remix of her single ‘What It Feels Like for a Girl’ so much, it was eventually used in her controversial hot rod rampage video that was directed by her ex-husband Guy Ritchie. They also founded Anjunabeats, arguably the biggest trance label in the world today, and together with its subsidiary Anjunadeep, has cornered a significant part of the electronic music market.
From ranking fourth on the 2009 DJ Magazine polls to playing live for a record-breaking crowd of over 1 million on Barra beach in Rio de Janeiro, the trio seems to have cracked the mantra to instant stardom. A&B headlined the Burn Ultimate DJ Championship organised by MTV and Submerge recently, and they took some time off to talk shop.
Starting with the inevitable cliché, how did A&b happen?
Tony McGuinness: Jono and Paavo met at the University of Westminster. But I met Jono through my brother, who’d bought Jono’s sample CD. I arranged to meet Jono one night out when I was clubbing with [trance-house music producer] Matt Darey. Then I met Paavo for the first time at my flat. Jono and he came round to help me finish the original ‘Time To Die’ Nitromethane mix. Of course, we had no idea it would lead to this!
A&B seems adept at multi-tasking. How do you juggle between live gigs, creating radio shows and managing your label?
Jono Grant: We do A&R for the label, which in itself is a time-consuming thing. But there are a lot of people in our office, doing a lot of work on our behalf. They even help us collect all the promos for the radio show, etc. As it’s got bigger we’ve got more and more people helping us.
A&B were ranked fourth in last year’s DJ Magazine polls. What do you predict for this year’s polls?
TM: We are not expecting too much. We feel we should not be focussing on charts or polls and should concentrate on our music, on producing some great music. We are producers first and then DJs. We don’t care for rankings more than we do for the music.
Your 2006 debut artist album Tri-State skyrocketed you into the big league and anticipation is really high for your second album, Group Therapy, scheduled to release this year. How is it coming along?
JG: We have been working on Group Therapy for some years now. The last few months we have made some good progress. It should be out soon.
As artists you have produced and performed music under varied stage names – OceanLab, Rollerball and Tranquility Base being among the more prominent ones. Are they all still active?
TM: All three are aliases we have been working with: OceanLab is Above & Beyond with singer Justine Suissa, Rollerball was an alias we used when we made a new version of Albinoni’s ‘Adagio in G Minor,’ and Tranquility Base is a name we used for our instrumental, more club-oriented tracks. We are nowadays releasing most of our material as Above & Beyond.
You have performed also live sets under the Ocean Lab banner. Should we expect more live sets in the near future?
JG: We experimented a lot last year, yes. It went very well. For now we do not have any plans on doing live sets with A&B. A lot of times it is just two of us doing gigs while a lot of production work is done back in the studio. It enables us to keep the production going, which is very important. We prefer doing DJ sets for now and may plan on something in the future.
Do you plan on doing any solo projects in the future?
TM: We don’t currently plan to release any tracks individually, everything’s under the Above & Beyond name these days.
Has trance music witnessed a significant change since your inception? What gets the masses foot-tapping and hooked today?
JG: Over the years trance music has changed a lot. The sounds are better, richer. Globally, people prefer more house over trance. There is a great demand for house music. But there are still many modern artists playing great trance music today. Even the audiences are ever growing.
Indian influences are evident in your music and videos and, in fact, your record label AnjunaBeats appears to be an homage to India’s famed party destinations…
TM: I was introduced to Indian sounds in high school. In fact I see a lot of similarity in Indian music and modern electronic music. We continue to experiment with newer sounds and India is rich with them.
This is your second time in India. How has the response to your music been here?
TM: The Indian people are very warm, welcoming. They always welcome you with a smile. I was really, really surprised with the crowds in India. I was surprised that the people knew the lyrics. I was expecting it to be really different. It’s been a whole new experience for us. And it’s been really good.
JG: We would like to say a big thank you to India. The people in your country are warm. The Hyderabad gig was real fun. The crowd is evolved and accepting, very rich in their taste. We thank all our fans for turning up for the gig and we will be back for more.
What equipment do you use to record and play live?
TM: It’s a long list. We work mainly using Apple’s Logic Pro, various Macs. We love our Apogee AD/DA converters, are fans of our Neumann U87 microphone with the Aurora Audio GTQ-2 preamp. We also have nice synths like Sequential Circuits Pro One, Moog Prodigy, Roland SH-101, Roland Juno-106, Roland TR-909, Moog Voyager, Yamaha AN-1x, but we work a lot with software synths these days. We also currently have two studios… ooh I miss our studio now thinking about all this.