S1-E10: Above & Beyond

Above & Beyond are an English electronic music group consisting of Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki. Formed in 2000, they are the owners of London-based electronic dance music labels Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep, and also host a weekly radio show titled Group Therapy Radio. The trio has been consistently ranked among DJ Magazine’s Top 100 DJs Poll, having placed at No. 6 in 2007,[ No. 4 in 2008 & 2009, No. 5 in 2010 & 2011, No. 51 in 2018, No. 22 in 2019 and most recently No. 19 in 2020.

Dylan:
In this episode, you’ll learn about how Above & Beyond started, whose idea it was to go unplugged, and what Paavo’s parents think of this whole thing.

Above & Beyond:
The acoustic idea was originally, I think, Tony’s sort of idea because he thought, like, well hey, what if we could kind of be an MTV unplugged style thing like Eric Clapton and Nirvana did back in the day? And that idea sort of stuck with us. And then, when a guy called, Bob Bradley, who’s a very old friend of Tony’s and an incredible producer, did a couple of versions of our songs in a kind of loungey style, that was like, okay, hang on, maybe there’s something in here.

Above & Beyond:
And then, we had an acoustic version of On a Good Day. A track we’d done with Justine Suissa and we started playing this acoustic On a Good Day track at the end of our DJ set. Tony really dropped, like hang on, we were in theater with thousands of people singing together to this song and it feels amazing. Hey, what if we actually did this live? And that was the point that, at least for me, felt like, okay, we can do acoustic, maybe our fans would even get it.

Dylan:
Right.

Dylan:
You guys, it’s been since 2000 that you’ve been together. Can you talk about how you formed back in 2000?

Above & Beyond:
So initially, when I met Jono at the end of ’99, we were both making electronic music at a studio. And back then, the more gear you had, the more awesome your studio was pretty much. So basically, musically, we wanted to do the same sort of thing. We felt like, yeah, we wanted to set up a trance label, let’s do it. And we pulled the studios together. So, we ended up with this kind of mega studio. But then, in about a couple of months of us doing, we met Tony through his brother. Tony back then was working at Warner Records. He was the marketing director of Warner UK. He was working with people like Seal, and Madonna, and the massive, massive band, R.E.M.

Above & Beyond:
And for us back then, being niche university students, it was really interesting for us that we had found ourselves in the studio with the head of marketing, one of Warner UK. But, it didn’t take as many studio sessions that kind of all [inaudible 00:02:50]. And we sort of felt like maybe we had a really good combo because we were all approaching this from a slightly different angle. And I, at least, felt like the stuff that we were making as a group was better than the stuff I could come up with on my own. So very quickly, we formed Above & Beyond. And we spent first, maybe a year and a half, doing remixes because through Tony’s contacts we could get the opportunity to remix people like Madonna. So, we were doing those remixes first.

Luis:
Yeah. And it’s kind of crazy. You mentioned you had ties to the record label business, yet you guys have been tagged like the biggest band you’ve never heard of. But yet, you’re shows sell out everywhere you perform. You’ve grown your audience pretty much organically without being on the radio. I mean, how do you keep that up without slipping into the mainstream and trying to tailor to what your fans might ask you for some times?

Above & Beyond:
Well, I think it’s also that more it’s being in our own label. So, we haven’t really had that sort of record label telling us what to do, which has given us absolutely complete creative control of everything we do, everything we start. So, we’ve never, ever been signed to a major. That’s kind of kept this, in a way, underground because we haven’t had access to that major label machine and that kind of thing. Maybe it meant that things had happened a little bit slower, but we’re not in a rush. And we find [inaudible 00:04:32] pace as a team where what we do, we enjoy. So, we’ve just been doing that for 15 years. And maybe we’ve been doing it for such a long time that little by little… We’ve done shows for five people. Those people go home and tell their friends.

Dylan:
Hey, Paavo. When you look back at… You just said 15 years. I mean, my goodness. When you look back at 15 years and all that you guys have done with Above & Beyond, what’s a special memory or a moment for you that you’re like, yeah. Oh my God.

Above & Beyond:
From the really early days, it was probably this cab driver. Practically. And this was way before internet was really happening like it’s right now. But we had a [inaudible 00:05:11] waiting in a car outside of our studio in London. And, yeah. I just remember being like this is absolutely surreal. Like, we’re in a student flat and we got Madonna on the phone and that cab driver sleeping in the car, waiting for us to finish these things so it can be shipped to America. And that was a totally surreal thing. You know? That’s a long time ago. And more recently, I found myself on the main stage at EDC in Vegas with Bryan Cranston and [inaudible 00:05:41]. And it’s those sorts of thing that I just can’t believe. I couldn’t really plan it like that. But, yeah. It’s been quite a ride so far.

Luis:
And I can imagine too, with the internet now, the amounts of people that you’re reaching. I know you guys are broadcasting. You’re broadcasting your group therapy show live on Facebook as well. That’s getting millions of views. How’s that been working out for you guys?

Above & Beyond:
The radio show’s been a really kind of essential thing. And what we use for is also for ourselves to be very connected with the music that’s out there. Also connects with our fans around the world as we speak.

Above & Beyond:
So melting those clouds away, the acoustic version of our track, Blue Sky Action, signals the start of a brand new on the road edition of Group Therapy with yours truly. So, we’re on the East coast at the moment following a truly wonderful couple of nights in Toronto and Chicago.

Announcer:
This is Group Therapy.

Above & Beyond:
It’s been a fantastic thing. And the internet is sort of evolving as the show [inaudible 00:06:46] on. So, the show, you can tell, hasn’t changed much. Now, we’re able to [inaudible 00:06:50] freedom like Facebook Live. And we have it on YouTube and have it on the streaming platform.

Luis:
Now, usually only two of you go to perform. Is that different? Is the case different this time around with the acoustic tour? Are all three of you in the house?

Above & Beyond:
Well obviously, when we’re playing acoustically, we need Tony because he’s playing guitar and singing and Jono for his Rhodes and piano skills. And when I’m playing piano and [inaudible 00:07:16] a Rhodes, and bang a drum a few times. So, in acoustic, we’re all needed on this stage, but with the one we’re DJing, we found like three people, for us, it’s one too many in a DJ booth.

Dylan:
Okay. So, another reason for everybody to check out the acoustic tour, they can see all three of you.

Above & Beyond:
Yeah. Yeah. It’s a bit of a rare thing. You know? I was having lunch the other day with Jono and Tony here in Chicago. And I was just thinking when did we last do this? You know? Be abroad, just the three of us to have lunch together. And there was no agenda for a meeting or anything. There was absolutely no reason other than we were hungry. And how it happened to be in one of the great food capitals of the world.

Dylan:
Oh, we love the [inaudible 00:08:03]. Have you seen anything else in Chicago? Is there anything else as we’re talking about Chicago that you guys appreciate?

Above & Beyond:
Well, I’ll say, it’s a big, big hub for live music, Chicago. I know there’s been a talk of H.E.R. letting her hair down in some of the jazz clubs tonight.

Dylan:
Yes. All right.

Above & Beyond:
We’ll see if that has come to fruition. I’ve been to a couple here in Chicago. I really… It’s like there’s a relaxed enjoyment of music vibe that’s related. Chicago is a great place for music.

Dylan:
Is this something that started as a little kid for you? That you were musically inclined?

Above & Beyond:
Well, I’m from a very musical family. And ever since I was four, I was kind of talking about music. And I think when stuff like Miami Vice and Blade Runner soundtrack, and what Vangelis was doing at the time. And I started hearing this kind of thing since pop by then, since music. Being a classically trained guy that just sort of sparked my interest and everything. As little kid, I’ve been interested in using computers to make music and it’s almost come full circle.

Above & Beyond:
When I was four, I started with the piano. Then, spent the next, I don’t know, 25 years or whatever, really honing in on computers and coding. And Tony used technology doing something really interesting. And now, I’m finding myself in front of a piano on stage. So, it’s kind of a cool thing. This whole acoustic thing feels almost like coming full circle. You know? We have Justine here, we got Zoe here. Our drummer is a guy that was there when I first met Jono. So, there’s a lot of opportunity for looking back here.

Dylan:
You talk about growing up in a musical family. What do your parents think of it? Do they understand? And do they get it? I mean, when you talk to your mom and dad, do they understand everything that’s going on with Above & Beyond?

Above & Beyond:
I think they sort of do, but I remember a phone call. Yeah. I was calling my parents saying like, “Look, look, mom, we’re going to go and play Madison Square Garden. Look, Madison Square Garden in New York. I’ll get you flights, I’ll put you up in a nice hotel. We’ll have an opportunity to look around. You’ve never been to New York. Come.” And my mom was saying like, “When are you doing that acoustic thing in London next? I think we’ll come to that one instead.”

Luis:
That’s a little more up our alley. That’s funny.

Above & Beyond:
And then, we did. We did actually. Then, I called her and I said, “Look, mom. We’re going to play at the Royal Albert Hall in London. This is the acoustic one. I’ll book you flights.” It was kind of fun. They came to that and really loved it. I mean, the Royal Albert Hall gig in London was really quite spectacular. It’s such an incredible venue as well. I’m really honored to be able to play [inaudible 00:11:07] like that.

Luis:
Not to mention all the venues that you’re playing at so unique, not your average Above & Beyond setting. You got the Chicago Theatre, you were in Canada, different opera houses. How does that feel like? Just that environment.

Above & Beyond:
It’s almost an adventure going to these places because these buildings. They’re just incredible buildings with a real sort of feeling of history and glamor. And I was just walking backstage at the Chicago Theatre, just looking at all the scribblings on the wall and all the people that played there over the years. It really feels quite amazing. And I think this acoustic thing has just sort of somehow enabled to me through the doors of these places. And for me, I’m very, very happy to be able to just be at these venues.

Luis:
And we’re happy to have you guys here in Chicago. You’re actually going to be making another visit pretty soon for the Spring Awakening Festival.

Above & Beyond:
Yep. Yeah, absolutely. So, it’s actually neat. It’s the first electronic gig after the acoustic. So, we’re going to come from Sydney to Chicago. From the Opera house in Sydney was the last gig up of the acoustic. And straight to Chicago for the Spring Awakening. So, it’s almost like the Above & Beyond Awakening for us because… I know last time when we did the acoustic project, little by little, we get more and more each kind of get back into the electronic thing. And Spring Awakening is such an epic way for us to get back on to the electronic after it. It’s just-

Luis:
Yeah, yeah.

Above & Beyond:
It’s so cool having this chance to do both here.

Above & Beyond:
Real EDM is a product of Media Happy. And other use of the podcast, Real EDM, its audio content, or logo without express written consent from Media Happy LLC is prohibited.

Advertisement
Scroll to top