Sitting down with the three-piece production juggernaut...

Above & Beyond set up a label in order to escape them. The production trio have their roots in a series of studio sessions around the Millennium, a time when club culture was in a state of flux. Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki formed the Anjunabeats imprint as a means of getting their music out there, using a variety of monikers to escape being pigeon-holed.

Eventually the name Above & Beyond stuff, but that open-ended ethos has remained throughout their entire career. “I find that genre tags can be quite limiting sometimes,” Paavo explains. “We always try never to think of music in that way when we’re in the studio. It almost feels like genres are ways to describe music to other people, but I find it quite difficult to label our work just because those genre names always refer to something that has been out there before”.

The last thing Above & Beyond want to do is repeat themselves, and that’s partly what keeps them surging upwards. Perhaps the most commercial successful production team to emerge from UK club culture, they headlined Madison Square Gardens not too long ago, packed out London’s O2 Arena, and can tour enormous spaces on virtually every continent. Yet speaking to Finnish-born, South London-based Paavo Siljamäki, it’s clear that the three-piece remain resolutely committed to the music.

“Well, I would say one of the things that separates Above & Beyond from a lot of the other electronic artists is really the set up where we do have quite a bit of time at home,” he explains. “So on one hand we’re able to have the normal family life and then on the other we get to spend a lot of time on tour, working on the show. So I feel like there’s always this very deep connection on how we do our shows through to the studio and our homes.”

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New album ‘Common Ground’ makes this connection clear, with the three-piece utilising ideas collected on and inspired by the touring experience. It’s a heady mix, with the closing title track actually owing a debt to India.

“India was fantastic!” he beams. “The first time we went there was maybe 12 years ago, and the electronic music scene there was in its early stages. And then every time we’ve been going there things have been getting bigger and better – production has been getting better, the scene overall has been growing at a really good pace.”

“It’s almost like every time we go to India it surprises us just by how good the gigs are, and how good the vibe is there. There’s so much enthusiasm for electronic music there but it hasn’t been – yet! - an absolutely huge thing there… Not like the UK or now in America. In India it feels like there’s a very bright future for electronic music.”

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I feel like there’s always this very deep connection...

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Marked by their global travels, ‘Common Ground’ also boasts a diverse cast, including a total of four guest vocalists. Ultimately, though, what comes through is the voice of Above & Beyond, collecting and collating ideas in their central base, a studio in South London.

“Often I still feel like the best stuff we’ve done happens when there’s three of us in the room,” the producer muses. “We’re bouncing stuff from each other. It’s funny because the album sleeve of this is kind of like a Venn diagram, which is pretty indicative of how we’re working. Some things on the album we’ve done almost alone, some things we’ve done all three of us together, and sometimes one person might start something and another might finish. And then in that way there’s a lot of going left and right.”

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There’s a continual play off, he argues, between what the individual wants and the group needs, what the album requires and what an individual song might demand. “That was something we were also thinking of when writing these songs,” he says. “And quite often there’s a point in the album writing process where it starts making sense, once you have enough songs. But what we did this time around – and we’ve done it in the past – we’ve written quite a few more songs than what are on this album. And then we looked at the pile of songs that we had, and thought: what would make a good album? And chose the tracks finished based on what we felt helped each other.”

“Sometimes if the album is missing something we can even go and write a song in that style, and sometimes that’s what we do… We remix songs that we already have in a specific style, to give the album a little bit of what it is missing. In that way I’m really happy with how it turned out.”

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There’s a point in the album writing process where it starts making sense...

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Out shortly, ‘Common Ground’ is set to be followed by a typically exhaustive series of international shows, matching club DJ sets to some lavish live concerts. Coming to the end of our conversation, Paavo mentions that he is currently focussing on club material, on turning their honed, disciplined songwriting into system cuts.

“The tour kicks off next week,” he says. “We’ve got this crazy big tour in North America and we really want to be able to play all of these tracks, but some of them are maybe not in club form on the album. So we’re making club mixes of those ones, and the things that are most like club tracks we’re extending them so we can play them in our DJ sets.”

It must be a great feeling, Clash offers, to have such transferable material; to switch between the intimacy of songwriting and the club environment.

“It is. It’s really nice to be able to do that,” he smiles. “I remember in our early days I’d be thinking ‘oh is this too sad?’ For example, ‘Thing Called Love’ is such a sad song, and people are going to these parties and having a good time, having fun… would anybody want to listen to something this sad?” “But there’s something really uplifting when you get thousands of people singing together in a euphoric club atmosphere. That’s really what our band do a lot and I’m really happy to be part of it.”

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'Common Ground' is set to be released on January 26th.

Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

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