Paavo Siljamaki, Jono Grant, and Tony McGuinness have had quite a year. As British trance act Above & Beyond, they saw their most recent album, Group Therapy, get tagged by Mixmag as “artist album of the year” for 2011, broadcast their milestone 400th episode of their “Trance Around The World” radio program, and collected 4 International Dance Music Award nominations, including Best Trance Record (for “Sun & Moon”) and Best Artist/Group. Not content to sit on their laurels, they also launched the Group Therapy Sessions tour, which emotively integrates visual and song to create DJ-set-as-theater.
Longtime fans and newcomers alike are in for a treat tonight when Above & Beyond load into the Bluebird and present their Group Therapy Sessions, as the tour swings through Bloomington on its inevitable trek to Miami for Winter Music Conference in late March. We got a few minutes to chat with Paavo Siljamaki ahead of tonight’s show to talk about the album, the creative process and the effort at bringing the Group Therapy Sessions to the stage.
Rudy: Congrats on the success of “Group Therapy”. Mixmag gave it 5-stars and called it “artist album of the year” for 2011. It peaked at #49 on the UK album charts. What was your first indication that you were working on something special with “Group Therapy”?
Paavo: There was a moment a month or so before finishing the album that it suddenly started making sense, but really it was when we started hearing how the music had become part of people’s lives around the world that it really sank in.
Rudy: You worked with some fantastic vocalists – Richard Bedford (Sun &Moon), Zoe Johnston (Love Is Not Enough), Miguel Bose (Sea Lo Que Sea Sera). Is it black magic, or did you try to surround yourself with talented people for this project?
Paavo: Vocals have always been so important in our music that we want them tosound not only good but distinctive, and people like Richard, Zoe, Miguel as well as Justine Suissa all have truly magnificent voices andsing with so much emotion.
Rudy: Your label, Anjunabeats, has been really busy lately. Talk a little about the label’s recent releases.
Paavo: It’s been a really interesting year at Anjunabeats as the sound of themusic we release keeps evolving and more and more of our artists are working on albums which gives them more freedom for expression.
Rudy: Any new material (remix or otherwise) forthcoming from Above & Beyond?
Paavo: We’re going to continue releasing artist albums and compilations inthroughout 2012: look out for an artist album from Mat Zo, Anjunadeep 04, and the club mixes of the songs from Group Therapy.
Rudy: You’re back at Marquee Dayclub in Las Vegas with a monthly residency in 2012. How was that first show on the 29th?
Paavo: We were really happy we managed to bring our show to Vegas and the Marquee Club is really starting to feel like home now.We’re looking forward to coming back for some more Group Therapy at the Cosmopolitan that just the right amount of wrong to make it special.
Rudy: The Group Therapy Tour is being described as “concert theater”, due to the pairing of song and visuals to tell a story. Who did you work with to bring this experience to the stage? Any particular technology issues that have proven challenging?
Paavo: We quite quickly realized that we wanted the visual side of the show to feel like extension of the music and help the impact of the music.Having formed a clear idea of what we wanted we found a video production team to help visualise our show for us. At the same time we were working with our lighting and production designers to improve our stage designs and light show so it would be as effective as possible.
We wanted a show that would help people connect with the music and us better, and are thrilled with the result, but are still continuing improving it every time we play a gig. Technologically our biggest challenge was to find a way we could synchronize our visuals with a set that keeps changing without having to produce bespoke visuals foreach track. We ended up using a highly customized setup that’s now able to do this for us as well from small venues to stadiums.
Rudy: You’re on the road with the first leg of the “Group Therapy” tour. It stops at the Bluebird in Bloomington on Feb. 7. How does the new show translate from big stage to small?
Paavo: We’ve worked really hard with our show to make sure that regardless of the size of the venue we can still give people a show that touches them in some way. The bloomington show will be one of the smaller productions but we’re coming with a trailer full of toys to make the night as special as possible.
Rudy: You may have some first-timers at that show – do your best to sum up the Above & Beyond live experience in a handful of words.
Paavo: A Group Therapy Session is all about sharing our love for the same music with likeminded people.
Rudy: The Group Therapy Tour stops in Bloomington on Tuesday and continues through March and WMC. Congrats on your 4 IMDA nominations, including Best Artist. Hope to see you down in Miami.
Paavo: Thanks, see you in Miami!
Above & Beyond are at the Bluebird tonight. Tickets available through Ticketmaster or the Bluebird Box Office.
Rudy Kizer is the host and producer of “Hit The Decks” on X103, Sundays from 10-midnight.