In the late ’80s, a pioneering generation of trance producers crafted a psychedelic new sound for pill-fueled ravers on the beaches of Goa, India and in the British countryside. A decade later, these unwashed acidheads were followed by a more sophisticated set of artists who ushered trance into the commercial arena. Among these is UK trio Above & Beyond, formed by music students Jono Grant and Paavo Siljamäk with then Warner Music Group A&R man Tony McGuinness in the year 2000.
Metropolis caught up with McGuinness ahead of their headlining night at bayside superclub Ageha to talk a decade of trance and their latest record Group Therapy.
Tell us about your first rave and how it changed your life.
It was at the Ministry of Sound in London in 1995 and it totally changed my life. My brother Liam dragged me along. He’d been out a few times since dance music had been reborn and kept telling me how great it was. At the time I was into rock music, playing guitar in a band and working for a record company. Within a few years I’d become a regular clubber, was doing dance A&R for Warner Music, had signed Hysteric Ego whose “Want Love” was a hit in 19 countries, started making dance music with Liam, met Jono and Paavo and started Above & Beyond, remixed Madonna and Ayumi Hamasaki and made our DJ debut in Tokyo. And now look at us!
What are some highlights and lowlights of Above & Beyond’s career?
There are so many highlights, remixing Madonna (twice), remixing Ayumi Hamasaki, playing in Rio de Janiero, Brazil in front of 1 million people, winning Essential Mix of the Year, the amazing reaction to our three albums and our songs and, of course, the continued success of our labels Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep. I think the only lowlight is our long absence from Japan, something we worked hard to correct this year.
Tell us about your new album Group Therapy.
It’s an album of emotional songs and music—”sad core” you might call it—written about our lives and loves and losses and set to the groove and rhythm of progressive electronic dance music as it sounds to us in 2011. The idea of Group Therapy is trying to put a name to the process we see every time we play, where we witness the effect our songs have on our fans and the effect they have on us, and each other, at the gigs. It is real group therapy.
Who does what in Above & Beyond?
We all do a bit of everything, both in the studio and in our office. Jono and Paavo come up with most of the music these days, but not all, and I spend a lot of time on lyrics and melodies and a bit of singing, but not all of it. And of course Paavo has always been our technical genius and has done most of the work in designing our new show, with the visuals and the on-screen text which has been a big change for us these last twelve months.
Vinyl, CDs or laptop: which and why?
None of them! We play off SD cards now, using the CDJ2000s. We still love to mix live, so using the CD players gives us that hands on experience, but the SD card is small and light and allows you to make last minute changes to what you play without having to burn CDs. We’re not a fan of laptop DJing, we’d rather interact with the audience than a PC.
How has trance evolved since the early Goa days?
It has become a beautiful family of interconnected musical styles encompassing uplifting progressive house music like Jaytech and 16 Bit Lolitas and all the Anjunadeep family, chunky mid tempo big room tracks like Sun & Moon as well as old style trance, psy-trance and more. We really believe genres are becoming harder to keep separate, like it was at the start. That’s bad news for trainspotters, journalists and online shops, but great news for DJs, producers and the vast majority of the audience.
Tell us about your relationship with Japan.
It’s a very special one, with a long and quite needless gap that we are going to put an end to very soon! As a result of remixing Ayumi Hamasaki our world changed forever. During the production, Paavo asked for some translation help from a Japanese girl who is now his wife. We started our DJ career in Tokyo in front of 8,000 hugely appreciative locals and played there many times with Avex who were very good to us. But as our DJ career took off in other parts of the world, we never managed to get back there for lots of complicated, practical reasons. But our Japanese audience has always been really loyal, and we’re glad to be finally returning for what hopefully will be the start of a new phase of closeness.
What kind of set can we expect at Ageha?
We’ve always been quite openminded about music. Our first DJ set in Japan at the height of the Cyber Trance movement included tracks from Max Graham and Brothers in Rhythm. Depending on how long we get to play we’ll include progressive house right up to banging trance, as long as there is emotion and meaning in the music. But what’s certain is that there will be lots of tracks from Group Therapy, Anjunabeats and our favorite producers, some unique bootlegs and lots of singing!
Magnificent feat. Above & Beyond @ Ageha, Oct 22 (listing).