Above & Beyond: Two’s company, three’s a crowded DJ booth

Above & Beyond
Above & Beyond

Sad songs, they say so much. “Song writing—and rather sad songs at that, for the most part—is really at the core of what we do,” says Tony McGuinness of trance trio Above & Beyond. Along with Jonathan “Jono” Grant and Paavo Siljamäki, McGuinness feels the group’s primary focus of their music is on the message. “For us, we’re a kind of band that’s operating in the dance music area.”

Above & Beyond will be bringing their award-winning music, along with a few of their critically acclaimed remixes to Las Vegas on July 2 for Godskitchen Wednesdays at Body English. “We’re primarily producers that DJ,” explains McGuinness of the British team. He believes an advantage of having three members in the group is the freedom it affords when it comes to not only producing new music, but touring more frequently. In most cases, two members of the group play club dates almost every weekend; one stays home to run Above & Beyond’s weekly radio show and keep productions moving forward.

“[We] still produce all of our own music all by ourselves,” says McGuinness. “That’s something I think if I was just one person—for example a single DJ—it seems to be impossible to do. Most of the big guys farm out some of their production because there simply isn’t the time to do it.” Currently, Above & Beyond is on a West Coast tour and mixing live in support of their CD/DVD release “Anjunabeats 100.” “When we come to Vegas, we’re on a bus tour. Paavo and I are taking the first chunk and then Paavo will go home,” McGuinness explains. “Jono comes out to join me, so it’ll be Jono and I in Vegas.”

“Occasionally, at very big festivals when everybody really wants to see the three of us jumping about, then we’ll turn up with three, but we’ve found that two people is best for the performance,” says McGuinness. “When you get three people, you get a little bit too much time to stand around and drink or smoke fags or whatever you want to do. While it may be good to see all three of us up there, I think the show is better when there’s two people.”

Another unique aspect of Above & Beyond is their willingness to push the boundaries and established norms of electronic music and trance. “I’ve certainly noticed a lot more male vocals in trance music certainly since we started using a lot of male vocals,” McGuinness says. “I think in some respects maybe people feel for [trance] music, female vocals works better.” He believes Above & Beyond’s compositions are able to convey an element that reflects the viewpoint of the crowd. However, McGuinness adds that with female vocals, “there’s something quite nice when you’re in a dark club, four sheets to the wind (or whatever state you’re in…) and you have this wonderful angelic voice calmingly speaking to you. I think in some ways that has quite a theatrical effect.”

The group doesn’t discount the importance of female vocals in the genre and carefully includes the element in select tracks. “We have used female vocalists; we’re very proud of the ones that we’ve worked with,” says McGuinness, and cites their collaboration with singer/songwriter Justine Suissa for their productions under their moniker OceanLab.

McGuinness reiterates the core of Above & Beyond is their emphasis on songs. “We end up stretching the tempo of a lot of the tracks that were dance tempo and turning them into merely ambient tracks.” On their first release, the songs “Good for Me” and “Home” originally existed in ambient form and club mixes were created later. In fact, two years after its original release, “Home” won for Best Underground Track at the Winter Music Conference. “We waited until last to do club mixes of that particular track,” says McGuinness. “Because we hadn’t done dance mixes of it before, it wasn’t really worn out in clubland.”

“If you make them all club tracks—and a lot of our contemporaries do that—the effect is as soon as your album comes out, if there’s 12-inch mixes on every single thing,” McGuinness believes, “DJs will pick their one or two favorites and after a couple of months, in some respect, they feel the album is past them.”

For their appearance at Body English, McGuinness and Grant will provide fans with a taste of Anjunabeats’ catalog (Above & Beyond’s record label). McGuinness feels the tracks “are an important part of our DJ sets and have been for quite a while, there’s so many of them.” He adds: “I’ve always been fond of playing a few oldies from our own catalog or from other people’s ‘cause I just like hearing them in clubs.” In a town and an industry that routinely worships The New, we agree oldies can definitely still be goodies.

(Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly and at LasVegasWeekly.com.)

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