Since the trio's formation 20 years ago, Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki have brilliantly harnessed the emotional weight of trance and transcended genre boundaries, expanding their trademark sound beyond the confines of clubland.
As COVID began to show signs it would kneecap the industry in March 2020, the group took one last gig. Above & Beyond's set at Omnia on a warm rainy day in Bali was a proper sendoff before the music industry went dark. It was also a stark signal that COVID was a real threat. Siljamäki discovered he had contracted the virus upon his return to the U.K. and faced a harrowing three weeks of quarantine and sickness.
The industry may have dimmed the lights, but Above & Beyond didn't go dark. The trio released two editions of its Flow State yoga and meditation series and celebrated 20 years of the label Anjunabeats with a massive 24-track remix compilation that included work from label mates like Dosem and Nox Vahn.
Still, Above & Beyond hesitated to put out new work during the lockdown.
"We've sort of resisted the temptation to put out stuff during lockdown because without the gigs it doesn't feel like it had all of the wheels on the vehicle," McGuinness tells New Times. "New music from Above & Beyond has been happening in a live environment for 20 years, and without that, it feels a bit weird."
So with the return of in-person gigs comes fresh music from the group.
In September, Above & Beyond released the aptly titled "Almost Home," featuring vocals from Justine Suissa. It was the trio's first club track of 2021 and the first collaboration with Suissa since 2017's "Alright Now."
The track was a long time coming. According to McGuinness, the initial idea was recorded nearly seven years ago.
"There are between 50 and 100 tracks that Above & Beyond started with all manner of people that have never got finished or got half-finished, and they're just waiting for that moment of inspiration," he says. "I think Jonno had that inspiration with this track."
Suissa rewrote the lyrics for "Almost Home" earlier this year and everything fell into place.
“The way she writes lyrics humbles me,” McGuiness says. “She's very, very eloquent — very quick. It's lovely to hear, and it's been going really well. I think there's been an amazing reaction, especially when you sort of think about how long it's been in a hard drive not getting any love.”
Quarantine proved a boon for many producers. And while Above & Beyond stayed busy — four more new tunes are on the way — using that time to create a larger body of work didn't seem necessary.
"I wish we could have got a crack on with an album during lockdown, but I think in some ways, it was good for us not to do that —to take a step back," McGuinness says. "For me, the whole deep odyssey that I've been on, it's been an enormously illuminating experience. One that I've kind of grown into and thoroughly enjoy."
"I wish we could have got a crack on with an album during lockdown, but I think in some ways, it was good for us not to do that."
Shortly before the Bali gig, McGuinness was in Argentina, where he saw British DJ/producer Nick Warren play melodic techno in front of a massive crowd. After the set, McGuinness considered expanding his sonic palette.
"I don't know what happened. The sort of penny dropped with me," he says. "I've sort of thought that maybe I should get to know a bit of techno or get to know a bit of this or that. And that's something else used to grow into something new."
"I thought that that world would [think that] this lumbering trance artist would be seen as a little bit awkwardly embarrassing to be playing that kind of music," McGuinness admits.
He found that there is far more interconnectivity within dance music subgenres than he thought.
"As it turns out, 'Tony from Above & Beyond' would have been the best thing to do," he says about the moniker choice. "But it's because people like what we do, and they respect what we do. I think it's been, for me, maybe the most unexpected and humbling thing, just to realize how much love there is for us outside of the scene that we're in. I really didn't expect that."
McGuinness says some of his thinking is part of a "20-year hangover for when trance wasn't cool." Still, dance music is cyclical, and trance has fully entered the main stage again, albeit under the guise of "melodic techno."
He gets noticeably excited when pointing out how similar melodic techno is to trance from the late 1990s.
"Yes, there has been this sort of wholesale adoption of trance," McGuinness adds. "I think what's happened actually [is] they're playing to bigger and bigger spaces, and they need some of what trance can provide in those spaces, which is maybe a little bit more contrast between the loud bits and the quiet bits. They've started to realize the power of some of the stuff we've been playing with for the last 30 years. It's like we've infected everything."
McGuinness also admits that it does make him feel a bit cooler.
"I don't care, to be honest about that. It's not been something I've ever worried about too much. Because I actually think, Above & Beyond is fucking cool. But I think as a genre, trance has not been cool, but it is now."
Above & Beyond. 7 p.m. Friday, October 1, and Saturday, October 2, at Oasis Wynwood, 2335 N. Miami Ave., Miami; oasiswynwood.com. Tickets cost $75 to $85 via tixr.com.