Clubplanet Interviews Above & Beyond

by Marcos Colón
12.29.2011


Thousands of dance music lovers have tried their hand at producing a great track. Hundreds are able to get it released, and even fewer get it ranked among the elite on Beatport. Just when they think that their steady climb to stardom is around the corner, the one-hit-wonder bug bites them in the ass, and they're never heard from again. There's no formula for success in dance music, only the promise that hard work and talent could potentially create a name for yourself. In a genre that's teeming with talent and endless releases on a yearly basis, longevity is the biggest hurdle. For Above & Beyond, they've managed to overcome the obstacle over time, and stake their claim as one of the most successful and sought after acts in EDM to date. The road to success wasn't an easy one for the English trance act, and even though they've seemed to reach the pinnacle of opulence in the genre, it's not over yet.

Clubplanet recently caught up with Above & Beyond's Tony McGuinness for an in-depth interview on a year that's been good for the group.

Clubplanet: The end of the year is quickly approaching. What are some 2011 highlights for you?

Tony McGuinness: The revolution in Egypt has to go down as the most memorable event of the year. Even amongst the changes in other countries in the area it stands out as a shining example that individuals acting together can bring about enormous change and it is a much needed antidote to the idea that such change can only be brought about by invasion, by well-meaning but big-footed foreigners. On a more personal level, the release of our album Group Therapy was a big milestone for us, the songs from which have connected on a level we've not experienced before. "Sun & Moon" and "Thing Called Love" both went on the BBC Radio 1 playlist, the first time they've played Above & Beyond's singles during daytime (although OceanLab "Satellite" was also playlisted a while back) and "You Got To Go" has prompted a good many tattoos! So that's been very exciting. On the back of the album release our shows stepped up a gear this year, not just in size but also in terms of the production we've put together. 2011 was the year we finally got to say we know what our show is, how to do it and how to make it better. Electric Daisy in Las Vegas and TATW400 in Beirut were probably the most memorable shows we did, both very different but both very crazy and very humbling.

Group Therapy received immense praise from your audience, as well as an array of news outlets. It has been described as "stadium dance with an incredibly personal feel." That seems like it's something incredibly difficult to produce. Did you go into for this album intentionally shooting for that vibe?

Tony McGuinness: I think there's a pretty strong hint in the title that that's our aim! It is what we've been trying to do ever since "Far From In Love" in 2002. We write songs about our lives, our loves and our hopes and we hope they ring true for other people. In the process we've stumbled upon the most unlikely club anthems.
 
Your latest work on Anjunabeats Volume 9 features tracks from prominent Anjunabeasts (sic) like Arty and Mat Zo. Is there any direction given to artists that are featured on your series as far as the sound and audial journey you're looking to produce for the audience? Or do you let them roam free?

Tony McGuinness: A bit of both, in fairness. We give our artists completely free reign to do what they want and encourage them to do so, but the process of signing a track to Anjunabeats involves a lot of time consuming, often frustrating, old fashioned A&R. We have two very simple principles regarding Anjunabeats. The first is that the track must be something we'd want to play out in a club. The second is that it must be as good, if not better, than the last thing the artist put out. Regarding what we play, that is a moveable feast led by the individual steps made out in front of where we are at the moment by the thousands of producers and artists making music today. We can't possibly control that or predict it and that's where the encouragement to roam free comes in. But the second criteria, the quality control, that's more complicated as it is mostly subjective and involves an awful lot of trying, and failing, to put music into words. It can be a painful process at times but we think the label is worth it in the long run and ensuring our artists are always improving is good for everyone. As far as the Volume Series goes, we simply collect together all the new and unreleased tracks from everyone on the label, so the journey is pretty much down to them.

Two new A&B tracks are featured on Volume 9, "Tokyo" and "Formula Rossa." Was there any source of inspiration going into the studio for these particular tracks? They each encompass an ethereal vibe that seems to carry a lot of emotion. 

Tony McGuinness: Paavo was in Japan a few years ago and had just bought a shiny new minidisc player. He was walking in Shibuya crossing listening to chilled movie soundtracks and the stark contrast between the hectic city life around him (Shibuya is one of the busiest street corners in the world) and the calm music playing in his headphones was the thought that inspired “Tokyo.” "Formula Rossa" was genetically engineered to be a club track that would blow the roof off, made with a breakdown as beautiful as we could make it, going on as long as we could possibly stretch it and a drop that hits you like a rollercoaster. Hence the name.

You've played countries all over the world, and continue to do so. The popularity of dance music is reaching an all-time high in the U.S. What's your perspective on this, observing from the outside in?

Tony McGuinness: I think what's happened is that the stranglehold that mainstream radio has held over American music for decades has been broken in spectacular fashion by Satellite radio and the internet. Coming from the UK and being quite widely travelled I've always found American radio's enduring loyalty to Adult Rock, R&B, Hip Hop and Country music rather quaint. And that's been their undoing. Given access for the first time since the 1950s to music that their parents don't know has had a similarly revolutionary effect on young Americans and they've embraced EDM in the same way their grandparents embraced Rock & Roll, with unbridled enthusiasm and passion. We're the new Elvis.

You've managed to create a unique and distinct sound for Anjunabeats. In your opinion, what's the most difficult part of continuously trying to produce music that fits the Anjunabeats mold?

Tony McGuinness: I guess if you keep the same gatekeepers then their music tastes are going to put a slant on what gets through. I think our tastes are for really well produced, emotionally uplifting music and within EDM that is what Anjunabeats has become known for. Hopefully!

If there was one Above & Beyond track that symbolizes who you are as artists, which would it be and why?

Tony McGuinness: That's a very tough question since each track is episodic and so no one song covers all the nuances of who we are. "Stealing Time" (from Tri-State) is a letter from the non-stop rocket ship that is our touring life, so that has some very general points to make about what it is like being us at work, but then again so much of what we put out is about more personal things, so it's as limited as it is illuminating.

You guys seemed to have tackled one of the biggest obstacles in dance music - longevity. How do you intend to keep producing music that stays fresh in a genre that's constantly evolving?

Tony McGuinness: We try to remain anchored to the song at all times, and that's an idea that's been around for centuries so it never dates. Tempos may change, bass lines may change, production ideas may change but we're lucky enough to work in a field where we are able to change all that at the touch of a button. We don't have to fire all our band members to get a new sound, just use different samples and synths and arrangement ideas. What remains constant is the songs.

You recently broadcasted your 400th episode of Trance Around the World. How important would you say it is for up and coming DJ-producers to personally connect with an audience via radio?

Tony McGuinness: People turn on the radio to feel connected to the outside world, even if its a lone voice policing a crazy late night phone in. So being on the radio puts you in an incredibly privileged position, particularly in the modern world where people decide so much of what they consume now, with iTunes playlists and 200 channels on TV. Listening to a radio broadcast is as close to giving up control as many people get and so being a radio voice, figuratively I mean, is immensely powerful. So it's pretty important.

Where will you guys be ringing in the New Year? Any resolutions in store?

Tony McGuinness: We're playing at the Sunburn Festival in Goa and then in Dubai for New Year's Eve, and from there we head to Thailand and then will be in the USA for January and February tour dates. Personally my New Year's Resolution is to write more songs.


Britain's most popular DJ/producer collective,  Above & Beyond are embarking on an epic 21 date bus tour from mid-January,  the first of two legs of their 2012 Group Therapy North America Tour.





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