The torrid propulsion of Above & Beyond's festival-filling live shows belies a notable trait of the trance titans: consistency. In 2011, the trio of Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paava Siljamäki celebrated the 10th anniversary of Anjunabeats, their label known for relentlessly skyward and decidedly unsubtle tunes. In March came the 200th single release on the label, and now the release of 'Anjunabeats Volume 9,' made up of exclusive tracks from label, spread over two CDs.
This Saturday, Above & Beyond will broadcast the 400th episode of 'Trance Around The World,' their radio show on Sirius/XM, with an eight hour live broadcast from Lebanon. Ahead of yet another milestone, Above & Beyond member Jono Grant spoke to Mixmag about competitive friction within Anjunabeats, geeking out over the Roland TR-909, and the dilution of creativity in modern dance music.
How did you decide which tracks to include on the new 'Anjunabeats Volume 9?' Do the choices ever cause competitive friction within the label?
Every time we put together a "volume" mix, we contact all of our artists asking for new material. Then we'll often develop the material with the artist as we/they see fit. Obviously you have to consider which tracks are going to work well together, so this influences the decisions as to what makes it into the final mix. I'm not sure if there is competitive friction or not - I know that the artists are obviously keen to be on the CD, and so it's always tough when we can't include certain tracks. A bit of competition is healthy I think, as long as it's in the right way - i.e. to better oneself! Otherwise I think competitiveness is best left to sport and not the arts as it can encourage a bad working atmosphere that isn't right to be creative in.
Can you pinpoint a particular high point of the mix you hope listeners latch on to?
I suppose one of my favorite moments is the new track from Norin & Rad called 'Bloom'. They’re two Californians who we think are going to be massive next year. CD1 is perhaps the one that will be more familiar to regular listeners, and CD2 is much more eclectic as a mix and will certainly be more challenging for some!
Currently, how much time do you spend on your own music versus running Anjunabeats?
Well it's not only Anjunabeats and being in the studio that occupies our time - there are so many aspects to what we do, from deciding how the visuals in our show should be through to taking part in this interview. Let's put it this way, I wish I had more free time in the studio to experiment, that's what I originally signed up for. It's all a labor of love though, and we are fortunate to work with such great artists on our label.
The 400th Trance Around the World show is coming up on Sirius/XM radio. What opportunities have arisen from that show that you don't think would have occurred otherwise?
I think that TATW has helped us reach a global audience. You can see it at the gigs these days - the show's out on a Friday and sometimes by Saturday we're doing a gig and sometimes the audience knows the words to the songs already. I feel happy to have seen this change in the music industry, I caught the end of the pre-internet era of the music industry where radio was controlled by a handful of radio stations that you needed on your side for your career to happen. I would say this has been the biggest opportunity for everyone. You are now easily able to be global rather than just local, and you are normally in control of your own output.
What's your current favorite non-dance music act? Do you ever foresee Anjunabeats trying to leverage its influence outside of the dance world?
At the moment I'm really enjoying the Washed Out album, which is still electronic, but in terms of my favorite non-dance artist, I would probably have to say Air. I love the fact their music is timeless; a kind of collage of sounds from vintage synthesizers and sources over the years, and technically as recordings they always have such depth yet it's very simple at the same time. It's that seamless marriage of acoustic and electronic sources that they do so well. I tend to love elegant simplicity in music these days - a lot of tricky modern dance music often sounds like showing off to me. That said, there are exceptions such as Andrew Bayer and Matt Lange who manage to do both great musical themes dressed in delicate and clever production. These guys write both technically exciting and musical music I think. Andrew Bayer's album 'It's Artifical' is incredible.
What do you think are the major issues affecting dance music culture today, if any? There has been uproar recently on an article regarding misogyny in dance music, for example. What kind of prejudices do you think persist on the dance floor, musical or otherwise?
There are lots actually, as there certainly were in any given era of dance music. I think one of the major issues that I am seeing at the moment is as a result of the boom in dance music in the USA, and the rest of the world too.
It's a question of identity. I've noticed that many smaller producers are seemingly feeling a bit lost in where to go with their direction, and are perhaps seeing artists like David Guetta having mainstream commercial success and saying, "I want a piece of that!" They are then diverting from their chosen flight path and heading towards that, which is of course fine if it's where they genuinely want to be, as some do. But for a lot of producers, they dilute what they are about because they are not David Guetta and don't do what he does best. That's not experimenting in my eyes, it's panic!
For example, over the last two years I've noticed Beatport has been littered with tracks trying to directly mimic the riff from Swedish House Mafia's 'One', including some of the bigger names. Now the instrumental of 'One' was a great groundbreaking track when it came out, but it just feels very weak, perhaps even cynical, for so many producers to try and copy this, and in 95 percent of cases creating very weak imitations. In the process of doing something like this you dilute your own identity. Dance music has always been about borrowing ideas, but at the same time it's also been about moving the sound forward. I've always felt the key is to draw influences from multiple sources in order to make something fresh sounding. Fair enough if you take influences from the SHM, but throw something new in there.
In terms of misogyny in dance music, I'm sure it goes on in some places just as it goes on in many industries sadly. At Anjunabeats we have some great female staff that we couldn't live without. I think women often have great skills that men don't, and I think it should be acceptable to recognise that fact. We only employ someone based on their own merit and not their sex.
I'm not sure I could answer why there aren't many female DJ/Producers, but what I would say is that it seems that proportionally there perhaps aren't so many women wanting to become DJ/Producers compared to men? That's the bit that needs to be tackled from an early age, just to give everyone equal opportunity and encourage to pursue a career in music if they so wish. Ultimately true talent will come through in my opinion, you only have to look at the artist Imogen Heap for evidence of that. In a sense focusing on "misogyny in dance music" is exactly the kind of thing that is unhelpful to resolve any issues there might genuinely be.
You are throwing a party for your fans every time you perform. How do you like to party and have a good time when not onstage?
When I was younger I used to drink to get into the mood. These days I find I don't need to drink to have a good time as there is a lot of other pleasure in life. When at a gig there's something about absorbing the moment and the people around you that provides all the feelings you need. When off stage, that's the time that I enjoy some nice red wine and a decent meal. I'm not really a party animal, but it's great to go for it once in a while. Good company is the most important thing to me, and I'm fortunate to have some great friends.
If you could around for one seminal moment in dance music history, what would it be?
If I can be a bit geeky here, I would have loved to have had some of the Roland synths when they were first launched. In fact, let's say the Roland TR909 drum machine. I'd have loved to have been the first person to ever have one off the production line. The amount of influence Roland has had on dance music is incredible. Of course the operators of these machines created the music, but Roland have made some incredible synths and drum machines over the years that sound great and have inspired us all, so put me down for any Roland product launch in the 80s or 90s.