On the record: Above & beyond
Time Out Chicago: You recently received the best underground dance track award at the International Dance Music Awards. Was it a surprise?
Jono Grant of Above & Beyond: It was a big surprise, actually. It was a real honor to get that prize because it’s voted for by the people; it’s not just some industry thing. That means a bit more when it’s just your average person going to a website and voting for their favorite track.
TOC: In the U.S., trance is dismissed by a lot of critics but yet it’s extremely popular and the quality varies wildly.
JG: Absolutely—that’s the reason it gets criticized so much. It seems to be a genre that’s open for abuse more than other genres, somehow. The records that go in the charts tend to be, well, slightly cheesy—let’s put it that way. I understand why the critics criticize trance. We obviously try to stick to more high-quality stuff, generally.
TOC: On tracks like “Good for Me,” it seems that you pay a lot of attention to vocals.
JG: The thing is, a lot of dance comes out of Europe and English isn’t their native language. I guess we, being English, have an instant advantage there because when it comes to songwriting, we’re a bit more capable by default. [Producer] Tony [McGuinness] is more the lyrics guy in the band: He has a really creative mind. If there’s no need for a vocal to begin a track, then why put one in? What will happen in trance records is that you’ll have an instrumental record which is perfectly good…and people will like it on the dance floor and people put a vocal on it to get it into the charts…and end up ruining a record by cheapening it. There are very few cases where we will write an instrumental track and stick a vocal on it.
TOC: Did you all play in bands earlier in your career?
JG: Yeah, Tony played in a band called Sad Lovers and the Giants, a kind of ’80s new-wave type of band. I was in bands at school but was always into sort of electronic stuff like Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys and Jean Michel Jarre. Paavo [Siljamäki] likes Vangelis and stuff like that. We draw our influences mainly from outside dance music. It’s more interesting for us to work with a band, rather than work with other DJs or producers. Why would you do that?
TOC: Did the remix you did for a track from Madonna’s Music help you get your name out there?
JG: We sent a show reel of stuff across and she really liked it, and her people said, “You can have a go at remixing one of the tracks off the album; we’ve got nothing to lose.” We cheekily asked to remix “What It Feels Like for a Girl” and it just worked really well with our sound. The best thing about it was that she ended up deciding to use it on the video, which wasn’t expected at all. I don’t know when else that has happened—for such a major artist to use the dance remix in the video. It was brilliant. From the record company point of view, it completely messed up the release: The video was banned because it was violent and had all these car crashes in it. It was an absolute nightmare for the marketing guy, but a great opportunity for us.—John Dugan
Above & Beyond spins at Vision Saturday 13.