Above & Beyond Go Acoustic Again
The English progressive trance trio prove they can hold their own even as part of an 18-member orchestra; release new acoustic album
How many electronic music fans bring their parents and kids along to a concert? That is the question that got Jono Grant, Paavo Siljamäki and Tony McGuinness of Above & Beyond thinking two years ago. Trance producers are not particularly known for employing string orchestras to record material or touring with them, but Above & Beyond, like always, decided to be futuristic and give it a try. “You go acoustic, and all of a sudden you see old people and children at your concerts; it becomes open to everyone,” says Siljamäki triumphantly.
Having tasted success with their maiden acoustic attempt in 2014 – an album titled Acoustic – the English trio are back with a second offering, Acoustic II. Like the first album, Acoustic II is a collection of their greatest hits, many of them from their 2015 album We’re All We Need. If the original “Peace Of Mind” caused compulsive head shakes courtesy its glitch-trance thumps, the acoustic version eases you into the composition with restful strings and piano. “We Are All We Need” made for a perfect party-starter in 2015 but its newborn orchestral cousin could compete with Lana Del Rey for curing break-up blues. But the one track that takes on wholly new acoustic makeover is their 2011 track “Sun & Moon”[from the sellout album Group Therapy]. The original might have been significantly melancholic for a dance track already but the acoustic opus manages to sink your heart. Imagine British-Irish singer Chris de Burgh’s splendidly soaring “Snows Of New York” but only more contemporary in arrangement. Says Siljamäki, “These versions of the songs are timeless. And if people connect with them better, it’s great.”
The continuation of the Acoustic series is not only a testament to the Above & Beyond’s ace musicianship but it also puts them in privileged position among their peers. And at a time when every electronic act is looking to further develop its USP, going acoustic could also be seen as a strategic move by the trio. “It’s a turbulent time,” admits Siljamäki, “Electronic music scene is about to change a lot… From our perspective, it’s been important for us to do this.”
Like for Acoustic, the trio worked closely with British composer and producer Bob Bradley on this album. Bradley, who is known for his works with pop acts like Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia, English pop group Sugababes among others, selected 13 songs from the trio’s catalogue for the reimagined album. And this time, the trio added to their already explored strings-piano-guitars sound in Acoustic by going big on brass. Says Siljamäki, “If the first project was a proof of concept, with this second one, we had to show that we can do it again and differently.” The strings and brass sections were recorded at Abbey Road and the album was mastered there as well.
An expansive acoustic project also calls for an extensive tour. Last two months, the trio traveled quite a territory playing at some of the world’s most iconic venues such as London’s Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House and Hollywood Bowl. “We never thought we’d play at those legendary places and reach the kind of audience that comes there,” says Siljamäki, adding that although going acoustic worked out very well once they set about doing it, it was serendipitous to begin with back in 2014. “It started out as an unplanned thing. We were just having fun with our songs, making new versions of them. It was wonderful.”
Currently, Above & Beyond are looking forward to their summer tours which will take them to the US, Canada, Estonia, Croatia and Russia this month. In August, they will head to Spain and also play shows across the UK. An India stopover isn’t on the horizon yet but they’d love to play here. “We’re thrilled to have so much support from India,” says Siljamäki. Apart from the touring, the usual recording work is in progress. “We’re also working on our new electronic album and the Anjunabeats compilation,” he says. There’s another big project the trance titans are working on about which they’d rather not share details except that “it’s a remix of a legendary American artist.”
Watch Above & Beyond performing Acoustic at Porchester Hall, London