CONNECTION. If one word sums up the phenomenon of Above & Beyond then that is surely it. Whether it's the thousands of fans singing their lyrics back at shows around the world, from Bangalore to Beirut to Brixton, or the millions that tune in for their weekly Group Therapy (ABGT) radio show, connection, real human connection - is at the heart of all things that define this multitalented trio.
Above & Beyond is Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness and Paavo Siljamaki, and their story is one of constant movement over a 14-year history. From their early days as hotly-tipped producers remixing Radiohead and Madonna, to their current global standing, Jono, Tony and Paavo have remained as down-to-earth and determined as ever, always focused on the next goal.
The only dance act in history to win the Essential Mix Of The Year award twice (for their 2004 and 2011 efforts), the London-based trio have played to one million people on the Barra Beach in Rio de Janeiro (New Year's Eve in 2007), sold out the Hollywood Palladium faster than anyone in history, and even had their track "Buzz" chosen to soundtrack the launch of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo in the Mojave desert. As these landmarks rack up, the non-stop pulse of their global touring keeps them connected to their growing international fan base. Each week brings another crowd, another country and often another continent, and an ABGT radio broadcast heard by over 25 million people.
A band first and foremost, Above & Beyond are songwriters as much as they are DJs. Their latest project, 'Above & Beyond Acoustic,' showcases their deeply rooted musicianship and classical training. Slated for release as a movie and album at the beginning of 2014, the trio has performed the project live both at London's intimate Porchester Hall, and in two sold-out performances at LA's renowned, 6,000-capacity Greek Theatre. Working with three singers, a string quartet, harpist, drummer and bassist, Tony sings and plays guitar, mandolin and ukulele, Paavo hits the grand piano, and Jono plays the Rhodes piano, guitar and vibraphone. The resulting product is unlike any undertaking by a dance music act in history. As Billboard noted: "Above & Beyond created one of the finest and more memorable shows in EDM history."
Before the acoustic project, their second album Group Therapy took their sound to great new heights in 2011. The follow-up to 2006's widely acclaimed debut Tri-State, the album draws on musical reference points as diverse as French cosmic pop heroes Air, American singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley and soundtrack master Hans Zimmer. "We are always looking to explore new territory, but try to operate in our own way rather than just trying to follow trends," explains Jono. The combined result on Group Therapy was unmistakably Above & Beyond, a cohesive album that was described by Mixmag as "the artist album of the year."
At the heart of the album's allure, of course, were songs of loves lost, confused and found; sung by the distinctive Richard Bedford and former Faithless singer/songwriter Zo√´ Johnston. "Songs have an impact which is quite unparalleled in art," believes Tony. "Poetry can be powerful, great literature is another great informer and educator, but few of us can remember any significant words from the great books or poems we read. But something amazing happens when you put words to music."
Featuring two BBC Radio 1 playlisted singles ("Sun & Moon" and "Thing Called Love") and a Sirius BPM Chart #1, the album's many songs have connected in a way that so few dance tracks, vocal or otherwise, ever manage. "Since releasing our Group Therapy Album it's brought us even closer to our audience around the world," explains Paavo. "The one thing I didn't expect to happen on the scale it has, is how people from around the world have shared their stories with us as they go through amazingly positive or incredibly difficult times in their lives. It's really touched us all and feels like a driving force for new creativity."
The intense atmosphere at Above & Beyond's increasingly ambitious live performances has redrawn the parameters of the DJ set. While so many superstar DJs place themselves at the heart of their performance, Above & Beyond's focus is always on getting closer to their crowd and making them part of the action. Whether that's by bringing fans up on stage to press the play button on their CDJs, or communicating with the crowd via visual screens and messages typed out on the spot, the effect is to make everyone in the room feel like they are part of an experience that is at once epic, immersive and interactive. "Some time ago we realized that on the best nights we have it's always a three way thing: us, the music and the people, and we see improving the communication between all three as helping a good party turn incredible," explains Paavo. "The soundsystem, lights and visuals are all there to help people connect to the music, with each other and with us better. A Group Therapy experience, ideally, is positive, uniting and life-affirming for all involved."
Throughout this process, Above & Beyond has continued to release forward-thinking instrumental club music, such as their latest single "Mariana Trench" on their renowned Anjunabeats label. An essential part of their story, the label is now in its 13th year and has helped to nurture artists like the London-based innovator Mat Zo, the eclectic genius Andrew Bayer and Russian star Arty. Independently spirited but run with ambitious vision, the label has grown like a family. "Dance music tends to be very short term, but we aim to release records that will leave a lasting impression on people and are listened to in years to come‚" explains Jono. "We try to operate in our own way rather than trying to follow trends."