Above & Beyond

Text by Caitlin Clarke
Photography by Ameila Troubridge

above-and-beyond-photo-for-print

Above & Beyond could easily be called one of the brightest stars in the galaxy of dance music. Named “the biggest DJ/production collective the UK has ever produced” by DJ Magazine, London-based Jono Grant, Paavo Siljamäki and Tony McGuinness have built an extensive and renowned body of work. Above & Beyond made their DJ debut alongside Tiësto performing for 8,000 Tokyo club-goers. Since then, they’ve founded their own label (Anjunabeats) and started Group Therapy Radio, a weekly trance podcast that reaches an audience of 25 million.

The mixes, remixes and original tracks in Above & Beyond’s broad discography share driving beats, pitch-perfect vocals and emotionally resonant lyrics that cut straight to the core of what it’s like to experience new and lost love. Their newest album, Above & Beyond Acoustic, reinterprets their biggest hits with a 24-piece orchestra—a project that speaks to the trio’s impressive musicianship and has never been done by another DJ or dance artist. SOMA spoke with Paavo from Above & Beyond’s studio in London.

Describe the vision behind Above & Beyond Acoustic. Why did you decide to do an acoustic album?
The three of us have always thought of ourselves as a band, and we wanted to find a way to play together as a band. We did a tiny acoustic gig in a hot air balloon years ago where we stripped down our songs to the bare basics, and suddenly it just made sense. Then Tony’s friend [producer] Bob Bradley started doing acoustic remixes of our tracks, and we had the beginnings of Above & Beyond Acoustic.

The three of you are classically trained musicians in piano, guitar, and cello. What was it like to recreate your electronic music with a live orchestra?
It felt really natural to us, because we write a lot of our songs sitting down next to a piano or guitar. So making them in that form was closer to how many of them start. Hearing the orchestra playing the chords, and when the performance actually started happening…. There’s such a vibe to the whole thing, I can’t begin to describe how incredible it felt.

Who or what inspires you in your songwriting process?
I think life is what we draw most of our inspiration from—our own lives and what happens in people’s lives around us. And we [collaborate with] incredible people like vocalists Zoë Johnston and Justine Suissa, who bring in their side of the story as well. Often we might start with a long conversation, just chatting, and then the language evolves. It’s an interactive process. You never quite know what you’re going to end up with when you start making music, that’s what is really fascinating.

What qualities do you look for when you’re searching for a vocalist?
For me, some singers have this incredible ability to sound like they really mean it when they sing. I can’t quite put my finger on what that quality is—it’s a certain uniqueness and honesty. We’ve had the real privilege to work with incredible singers.

What’s next for Above & Beyond?
We just moved to a new studio in London and we’re about halfway through writing our new artist album. Our record label is going strong and there’s a new Anjunabeats Volume 11 coming out this spring that highlights more of the electronic/club end of what we do. We’re hoping to release the artist album in early autumn, so we’ll see how it all goes.

THE OBSESSION ISSUE

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