Paavo Siljamäki. Jono Grant. Tony McGuinness. The English trio of producers collectively known as Above & Beyond has some of the most dedicated—and enthusiastic—fans in all of electronic dance music. Each gig is a sing-along to their melodic anthems, such as “Sun & Moon,” “Thing Called Love” and “On My Way to Heaven,” as well as their side project Oceanlab hits “Lonely Girl” and “On a Good Day.” Their connection with the audience deepens when they “live chat” via laptop and big screen—a staple feature of their gigs. The guys kick off their new Wynn Resorts residency, Group Therapy Vegas, with an “Above & Beyond Weekender” at XS on May 17 and Encore Beach Club on May 18. Siljamäki gives us the details.
Your residency has you playing at XS, Surrender and Encore Beach Club. How will the parties differ?
What we’ve been doing around the world for the last couple of years is just building a better and better show, playing all kinds of venues. But we haven’t been able to give people a really good version of our show in Vegas. We were at the Wynn filming a promo and spent quite a lot of time there fine-tuning what were going to do with each of the venues. Obviously at [Encore] Beach Club we can do a beach show; at Surrender it’s almost like an underground club kind of thing, and XS is a very high-end clubbing experience. It’s a variety of shows, for example at XS we’re putting in quite a lot of our touring rig. It’s going to look pretty cool.
Can you hint as to some specifics of the production?
Production-wise in Vegas we’re doing the most planned, most rehearsed, most fine-tuned version of our show. There’s more of a theatrical element; we’re working with a couple of other people from Le Rêve—you can talk about them, but you really have to experience them. That’s what we’re really going for here—a proper Group Therapy experience.
Any chance all three of you will play a few of the gigs?
We almost always try to avoid that, because whenever three people are on the road it means that nothing happens in the studio. Especially this year, it’s a big album-writing year for us, and we’re trying to write as much music as we can and still be able to do the shows. In the 13 years that we’ve played together there’s only been a couple of gigs where we had all three—we feel that three people in the DJ booth is one too many. When we play back-to-back with three guys, we end up clapping around for 15 minutes waiting for our turn to mix, and it’s never quite as cool.
Regarding the album you’re currently working on, what is the sound going to be like, since it’s still evolving?
We’re at the stage where we’ve been doing a lot of songwriting and we’re just starting to produce them, so how it’s going to sound sonically we’re not actually quite sure yet. But our whole focus with the new album—as it was with Group Therapy—is in the songwriting, and we feel like we have good enough songs and we can always remix them in all kinds of ways. Right now we’ve got about 25 half-finished songs and we’re starting to drill down which ones of them make a good album. We’re still writing more, but we’re hoping to have too much and then hone in on the ones that get everyone excited. But also, who is singing on all of the songs—it’s a little bit of a question mark still.
Until the new album drops, what should people check out from your Anjunabeats label?
We just had our new compilation, Anjunabeats Volume 10, come out. Once a year we release a 2-CD compilation of our future material. It’s the kind of sound we play in the clubs and that’s well worth checking out. And there’s this amazing prodigy Andrew Bayer—his album is coming out right now. He’s such an incredibly talented producer.
Any new Oceanlab productions on the horizon?
Our conversations have really been focused on working together; we’re not planning on doing another Oceanlab album.
How do you feel your previous radio show Trance Around The World and now Group Therapy compare, and what was the reason behind the switch-up?
For quite a long time, we were starting to feel a little bit like, “Is it good to have a genre label on our radio show?” But we didn’t really know what to do with it. We were playing such a broad thing on Trance Around the World already. Once Group Therapy the album came out, people starting talking about the show as their weekly “group therapy” even though we didn’t call the radio show that. Once we started seeing that it started making more sense and really that’s what the show is—it’s a lot of people around the world coming together to listen to the same music and talk about it. We were gonna do our 450th TATW show in India; we really felt like if we’re going to change the name, let’s do it in India at our big [event], and it went much better than we could have ever imagined. The level of excitement and interest in the show since the name change has really enhanced, and everything is becoming bigger. There have been more and more listeners, and the show is reaching more people; we’ve been able to get really cool guest mixers—we had Sasha the other week—it’s been all around a really cool thing for us and I can’t remember us being quite as excited about the show as we are right now.
Who has been your favorite guest mix thus far—or most unexpected?
I have to say I couldn’t have imagined Sasha doing a guest mix for our radio show. We’re big fans of his Involver series, and we’ve always been fans of his stuff even before we started working together. He’s always been changing and evolving his sound, and now that we are sort of leading under the same umbrella so to speak is just a really fantastic thing.
You’ve done some creative music videos like with Shakespearean actor Steven Berkoff for “On My Way to Heaven.” Why do you think it’s still important to have these kinds of videos now—is it just because of online, or is there any hope to get them on TV since MTV is starting to get into dance music in the late night/early morning hours?
It obviously depends on the kind of band. We’ve always sort of felt that when you put a song together with moving pictures, it adds something. Sometimes you could really add a lot of meaning or explain the song better when you make a music video. What we’ve always tried to do with our music video is help people connect better with what the song is about with the music video. “On My Way to Heaven” is quite a surreal little video. But also we’ve done other things like we did a video called “Small Moments,” which is a music video of our touring lives. When you put it together with the music, it all sort of makes more sense than just the pictures would by themselves or the song would by itself. We’re just excited about music videos as a tool of adding even more impact for music.