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Interview: Above and Beyond

Hannah Davies catches up with Above and Beyond's Tony McGuinness to bring us the latest gossip from the infamous trance trio.

Above and Beyond have been a stable fixture in the dance music scene for over a decade with three multi-talented and unique individuals; Jono, Tony and Paavo forming the trance group. Here at Spotlight we find out where their inspirations stem from, what they really think of the White Isle, all the latest about their upcoming tour and what the crack is with their lighting guy Neil.

Spotlight: Hi Tony! 2011 was a great time for you, winning Radio 1's Essential Mix of the year was just one of your many accomplishments; tell us what your highlights were?

Tony: The release of our album 'Group Therapy' was a big highlight 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 prompted a good many tattoos! So that's been very exciting.

On the back of the album release our shows stepped up a gear last 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. EDC 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. And then, to cap off the year, we won the Essential Mix of the year for the second time, which was pretty special.

Tell us about the TATW400 show in Beirut...

We went to Beirut to celebrate the 400th edition of our radio show, 'Trance Around The World'. We took Mat Zo, Kyau & Albert, Jaytech and Gareth Emery with us and the whole eight hours was broadcast live. The show itself was amazing - Beirut has always been a special place for us over the years and there were 8,000 people in the hall and many thousands listening in around the world. We got so many people tuned in we even overran Twitter from about 30 minutes in until the end, they took us off the trending topics list we were so hot! There's a nice film we made to commemorate he occasion that you can check out on YouTube.

In March you are taking the Group Therapy experience to Miami with a special event at the legendary Bayfront Park Amphitheatre. How do you prepare for such a huge gig?

It really is a special place and there's a great opportunity to do something really special. Our first thought is always the production side of things, how we present our show in the best possible way in terms of lighting, set dressing and visuals and also make the most of the space itself.

We're actually looking into what we can do to make it look even more beautiful than it does at the moment. And then we'll start to think about the musical menu, the support acts, the running order and, of course, our own set. With big shows it's always nice to pull something new or unique out of the bag and that takes discipline and work.

You have the UK leg to your tour coming up in April, how is it to play on home turf? Are any particular venue's more exciting than others?

It's always nice to be at home, I'm really hoping we can do the whole tour on trains as we fly so much! We've never played Glasgow Barrowlands before, that's a really legendary venue and I can't wait to tread those hallowed boards!

Congratulations on selling out the London show in April, which due to popular demand has now become a 'Group Therapy - Easter Weekender'. How does it feel to still be in high demand over a decade after forming?

It feels great! If anything we're growing faster than ever and the size and dedication of our UK fan-base continues to amaze and delight us. When we started there was definitely a feeling that the guys from Holland and Germany were on another level, but it doesn't feel like that any more. It's always lovely to do two shows in the same town and when that town's London it has an even sweeter feel. We can't wait!

You were a regular feature on the Cream line up in Ibiza for summer 2011 with 6 dates. What are your plans for summer 2012?

We'll be back again with a similar number of shows. There are so many changes this year we've been hearing about and Ibiza is always a pretty competitive place to schedule shows, but the one constant is Cream at Amnesia on a Thursday. It's been a marquee night for so long now and they had their best year ever last year, so we're pretty confident we can make it an even better summer in 2012.

What is so special about Ibiza?

The history, the location, the weather, the culture, the island itself and its inhabitants, the beaches, the water, the restaurants - the list is endless!

Where is your favourite place to play?

The main room in Amnesia is pretty hard to beat, it's one of the most famous churches in our scene and never disappoints. We've played at Privilege, Eden and Space and years ago I danced at Manumission, El Divinos and Es Paradis so we know most of the spots really well and still rate Amnesia. I'd loved to have played on the old Space Terrace on a Sunday in the sunshine though.

Where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics? And do you write the tracks together or do you each have your own areas of expertise?

Everyone does a bit of everything, but I really enjoy getting involved in the lyrics and melodies, whether they are the ones I write myself (that Richard sings for us), or the songs we write together or with Zoë. I think it's the same for all of us, you get the inspiration from your life, from the people around you and your own reaction to what happens to you.

Writing songs is a form of therapy; you can encapsulate a painful episode in a song so that it actually ceases to hurt. It's like building something beautiful and elegant from all that negative emotion and that really helps you come to terms with it and see it for what it is - a valuable life lesson.

Your hard work and talent was awarded 5th position in DJ Mags' Top 100 DJ's poll last year, how important is this kind of recognition to you?

It was nice to hold onto 5th place with so much going on around us, so that was reassuring, but the poll is a deeply flawed measure of a ranking that doesn't mean that much in the real world. Ticket sales, record sales and other physical measures are more reliable.

You have your own record label Anjunabeats and sub-label Anjunadeep; both of which have had several releases already over the last year and many more forthcoming. What artists or tracks should we look out for in 2012?

On Anjunadeep the name on everybody's lips is Dusky. A project from the two guys in Solarity, it really seems to be creating waves out there at the moment and their album 'Stick By This' has had rave reviews. On 'beats we've recently signed Norin & Rad, two guys from California who are right at the business end of Trance 9.6.0 (or whatever iteration we're at!) Plus our regular artists are all doing great. Arty and Nitrous Oxide are sharing mix duties on the forthcoming "Anjunabeats Worldwide" CD, we're looking forward to hearing what they come up with.

Lighting is clearly an important element to your gigs and here at spotlight we have definitely noticed the presence of your very own lighting guy when you play for Cream at Amnesia, tell us about him.

Neil has been with us for a couple of years now and has really added an extra dimension to the shows we do. Because of the nature of the venue we don't get too much scope at Amnesia to allow him to really shine (sic!) but in our theatre shows the added sense of drama we get from a properly coordinated light show is really something else.

He's also recently started VJing as well, so the screen visuals and the lights can work together more, and since he knows our music so well now the whole show is really tight and very engaging.

Tell us how Above and Beyond came about? How did you meet? And what makes you work so well together?

We got together to do a remix I'd been commissioned to do while I was working at Warners, for Chakra 'Home', on the back of some fledgling productions I'd done. My brother, Liam, had met Jono on the internet whilst looking for sounds for his Yamaha sampler - Jono was designing sounds for Yamaha and had made a sample CD he was selling mail order. Paavo and he were at the same University studying music and had recently started working together as Anjunabeats and the Dirt Devils, and had done a remix of a tune my brother and I had made, called Nitromethane 'Time To Die'.

Liam and I were musicians but had very little engineering and production experience and that became very evident when we compared our own mixes to the one Jono & Paavo did. Theirs sounded more HIFI, better altogether. So when Warner's dance A&R man Jonathan Dickins (now manager of Adele) asked if I'd like to have a go at remixing what was my favourite trance record of all time, I didn't want to take any chances and asked Jono and Paavo to help. So over a couple of weeks in our spare time we did the mix which we ended up calling the "Above & Beyond' mix. Pete Tong loved it, it got to number one in the UK club charts and we started getting more work, mostly from people who knew us from Warners.

One of those contacts we mined was Madonna's manager and after she accepted our on-spec remix of 'What It Feels Like For A Girl' things took off quite quickly. I think what has worked so well for us is that without any pre-planning we ended up being a pretty complete team, with complementary skills and experience that enabled us to do so much of the writing, producing, online, tech and record company functions that comprised our made up business model between the three of us. And as our team has grown and we've gained much needed support and professional assistance in all areas, the three of us remain highly involved in every area of the Above & Beyond and Anjunabeats empire, so the original vision is still intact. Everyone has a team behind them at this level - you just see more of it in our case.

Paavo seems to enjoy writing loving poetic messages on the L.E.D screens during some of your sets, where did this idea come from?

When we were planning our live gig in Beirut a couple of years ago we started looking at lots of other bands' shows to get production ideas, on DVD and on YouTube. One my favourite bands is R.E.M. and at the start of their "Green" tour shows they did this really clever thing with writing on the screen that we borrowed wholesale for our Beirut Show. It was a brilliant way of saying hello and getting the audience involved from before we even went on. Then Paavo figured out a way of doing the text live from the DJ booth (the Beirut text was pre-programmed) and so we did that at Brixton and it grew from there.

We all do it now, but Paavo and Jono can both touch-type so it's an easy thing for them to do, and on top of that Paavo has taken it to another level. He's on this pretty spiritual plane most of the time and manages to key into a special realm of communicating. Even though our songs are poignant, even sad, I'm in party mode on stage and levity comes easier to me, I'm much more inclined to put something funny up there and make a mistake when I'm typing, so it's easier to let Paavo take control.

Above and Beyond's UK Group therapy tour kicks off on 7th April for more information visit:

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