They look like a team of middle-aged accountants on their way to a conference. But tomorrow night their suits will be shed and pounding trance will take over when Above & Beyond become the first British DJs to headline at the legendary Madison Square Garden.
The biggest UK musical export you are least likely to have heard of, Above & Beyond will finally shed their anonymity when they whip an adoring crowd of 18,000 New Yorkers into a frenzy, after selling out the landmark venue. Tickets are being offered for $700 on the secondary market for the one-off, late night event.
For Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki, who set up their own record label 15 years ago as an outlet for their mutual interest in electronic music, Saturday’s rare exposure to the spotlight is vindication for a group which has maintained a fierce independence from the mainstream music industry.
“It’s really exciting to play at such an iconic venue,” said Grant, who first met the Finnish-born Siljamäki at a University of Westminster business course. “I went down to the Garden to see if our names were up on the massive screens but we weren’t up in lights yet.”
The duo began putting out singles and remixes under a number of aliases on their Anjunabeats label before becoming Above & Beyond with the arrival of McGuinness, 45, a music marketing executive.
Their DJ sets, favouring the anthemic “trance” genre, became renowned, entrancing an audience of 8,000 at their first full show in Beirut. One million fans attended a New Year’s rave in Rio de Janeiro in 2007.
Their profile exploded in the US, which has fallen under the spell of Electronic Dance Music (EDM), after they began webcasting a weekly club mix radio show, called Group Therapy.
“It got syndicated on satellite radio networks including Sirius XM and it became really big here,” said Grant. “We tend to operate outside the mainstream television and radio stations.” The New York gig celebrates their 100th Group Therapy show and will be webstreamed to a global audience.
Working from their Bermondsey studio complex, the group produce their own material - their third album We Are All We Need is released next January. But instead of targeting chart success with star collaborators like Rihanna, a path pioneered by Calvin Harris, the world’s top-earning DJ, they chose trusted vocalists, like Richard Bedford, a singer-songwriter from Halifax.
The DJs will have to up their game on Saturday. “It’s a step-up,” said McGuinness. “We’re a couple of guys playing records so there’s not much stagecraft for people to look at. We’re putting a lot of effort into the visuals and the light show.”
Their new songs explore “human relationships”, helping Above & Beyond build a communal bond with their growing audience. A highpoint of their live shows, set to be repeated on Saturday, is the selection of a fan who will be invited to press the “play” button, launching one of their showstopping tracks.
Their latest video is being premiered on a huge screen in Times Square on Friday night and the trio are getting used to a rising profile. “I’ve been recognised twice since I’ve been here,” admitted Grant.
An approach from the Universal Music giant has been politely rebuffed. “We’re not sure what they could do for us. We don’t want to be put through the same hoops as pop artists,” Grant said.
Their next stop is Singapore and then a huge New Year’s Eve show in Sydney, which sold out in 30 seconds. Now the likes of Coldplay need to be worried as Above & Beyond plot a complete swerve from their club root. Grant said: “We’ve arranged our songs for an entirely acoustic performance. It worked really well and it’s something we’d like to explore.”Reuse content