Above & Beyond on We Are All We Need and the "Push the Button" Ritual
Above & Beyond's Tony McGuinness, Paavo Siljamäki, and Jono Grant.
Strolling through the streets of New Orleans, Tony McGuinness can't help being charmed by the crumbling, romantic building facades as they peer through the bayou mist. He's going Insta-crazy, taking and uploading pic after pic.
"I'm a huge fan of faded grandeur," he says. Maybe that's why, as a third of celebrated progressive trance band Above & Beyond, he's dedicated his life's work to beautiful, lush, slightly melancholic songs about love and longing.
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That heartfelt appreciation for the time-worn and magnificent is also one of the reasons why A&B will not be returning to Ultra Music Festival in 2015. The band is nearing the end of an international tour in support of recent album, this year's We Are All We Need. And just as the title suggests, McGuinness and his mates think the production they're hauling around the country is as big and bold as they ought to go.
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"We wanted to do our own show there, with our own production, and make it look like the rest of the tour, rather than just slot into the Ultra Music Festival staging," he says. "We did it last year, and it can be very enjoyable. But I think, for us, the time and effort that we've been putting into this show, the lighting, the visuals, means that we're keen to make Miami part of that experience rather than us be part of the Ultra experience."
While writing and recording We Are All We Need's predecessor, the 2014 album Acoustic, the band took the greatest hits from its 15-year career, stripped them down and acoustically re-imagined them. The result was a moving and intimate new musical perspective that shows off McGuinness and his clan's dedication to the craft of songwriting.
"It's quite nice to look at the songs from a different angle," he says. "Connecting with the songs has always been important to us, but I think the acoustic thing makes it all the more evident that that's a process that's important to us and our fans as well."
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After releasing Acoustic, A&B then set to work figuring out how to perform the reworked tracks for a live audience. The band envisioned a kind of modern MTV Unplugged, but ended up doing things with a bit more "faded grandeur."
"When we were looking for a place we could film and include the audience, the last two options was a film studio," McGuinness says. "And then we found this place, the Porchester Hall, which was a place my mom used to go dancing when she first moved to London." With its hanging chandeliers, old oak dance floor, and classical columns, it was the perfect fit.
The We Are All We Need performance at Mana Wynwood in Miami won't be acoustic, but there will be remnants of that approach in the production. The band has made the Bösendorfer piano a staple of their stage show, and the refurbished 1930s Hollywood lamp lights used to make the band look dreamy will be coming along to Miami too. Devotees of A&B can also expect the group's Anjunabeat label members, from 16 Bit Lolitas to Ilan Bluestone, Lane 8, and Super8 & Tab, among others. Oh, and there will be, as always, the longtime fan-favorite ritual, Push the Button.
McGuinness laughs when he thinks of what's now become the most delirious moment of modern Above & Beyond concerts.
"We've been playing our song 'Sun and Moon' for a long time," he says. "It still probably will never go away. It's our 'Everybody Hurts.' You have to play it."
So one day, to spice up the track's live performance, the trio created a cue point that allowed the drop to be delayed, forcing the crowd to wait and ratcheting up anticipation. It was never the group's intention to turn the moment into an interactive gimmick. But sometimes, moments take on a life of their own.
"I don't know how many times we actually got to do it ourselves," McGuinness says. "Maybe it was the first time we'd ever done it, but there was a guy with a video camera on the stage. I pulled his finger out in front of the lens, so he was filming his own finger, and pushed play at that moment. He videoed it, with everybody jumping up and down. And at the next gig, lo and behold, there were signs saying, 'Please let me push the button.'"
It's become tradition for the band to choose a lucky fan to push that button, and McGuinness says people fall all over themselves for the chance. He offers a piece of advice to those who seek the opportunity.
"We're not looking for a sign maker, we're looking for a scene maker," he says. "We pick people who look like they're going to absolutely wet themselves."
Some may scratch their heads over the practice, but that kind of giddy emotion not only enhances the show, it brings Above & Beyond back to reality.
"It's a great moment for us to remind ourselves of what a fantastic job we have and how exciting it is to be there," McGuinness points out. "When you're on a six-week tour, it's work, mostly, and while it's still great fun, it's a job you're doing. But that open window into how exciting it is for people who don't do what we do for a living, to be on stage in front of all those people, is a lovely reminder of how lucky we are."
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Above & Beyond's We Are All We Need Miami. With 16 Bit Lolitas, Ilan Bluestone, Lane 8, Super8 & Tab, and others. Thursday, March 26. Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $65 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Visit aboveandbeyond.nu/miami-2015.
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