Where My Head’s At: Above & Beyond
“There are only a few things you never forget: falling in love for the first time, losing your virginity, the birth of your first child, and sharing a night like this with the one you love…”
– Paavo and Tony of Above & Beyond, via video message at EDC Vegas 2011.
Truly great art stands the test of time. Take the world’s most famous painting, for example. Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa 500 years ago, and we’re still talking about her today, fascinated by the mystery behind her sublime smile. From an artistic perspective, music is no different from painting. Music connects people across cultures and generations, telling the story of human history with beats, not images or words.
As an aspiring music writer, I’m constantly searching for the words to capture the energy of an artist’s live performance. But no matter how hard I try, I still can’t find the words to communicate what it’s like to see and hear and feel Above & Beyond do their thing. Standing in the crowd as Tony and Jono and Paavo perform defies explanation, because their art carries an emotional resonance beyond anything I’ve ever felt at a musical performance. It’s like having sex with the universe. It’s awesome.
I think that what all people want, above else, is to connect with other people — in any way, on any level. The magic of Above & Beyond is that it’s just as much about every member of the audience as it is the DJs themselves. “When we thought about it,” said Tony in an interview for the July 2011 issue of Mixmag, “we decided that the communication between us and the audience — celebrating the joint experience, interaction — was the most important thing.” The group is famous for its use of video screens to display customized messages to the crowd during the show. That’s not something you see any other act do regularly, but it’s indicative of A&B’s commitment to creating a unique experience.
My most cherished Above & Beyond memory comes from this year’s Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. Midway through an incredible set, Tony and Paavo cued up the epic club mix of “Sun & Moon,” my favorite track from their second album, Group Therapy. Around me, thousands of people began to sing — nervously at first, but then more confidently as we realized we weren’t alone. As the song built, the energy inside the motor speedway began to change. The massive Vegas crowd was anxiously awaiting the song’s climax — the signature aching synth line.
Then, just as the synth should have dropped, Tony and Paavo turned the music off, and pulled a lucky fan out of the crowd and onto the stage.
As the crowd roared its excitement, she stood between them, her index finger pointed to the heavens, and then brought the synth crashing down. Around me, people broke out into tears. It was beautiful. I’m pretty sure Above & Beyond literally made this girl’s dream come true. I won’t forget that moment for the rest of my life, and neither will anyone else who was there. You can watch a video of it here (the moment I’m talking about comes around 3:20). For a peek of what it looked like from back stage, click here.
Will people still be listening to Above & Beyond 500 years from now? There’s no way for me to know. Today’s music marketplace is fickle and constantly changing; artists and genres come and go. Yesterday it was dubstep, today it’s electro, tomorrow it’ll probably be moombahton. But to me, there’s something timeless and transcendent about sad trance music — music that sounds as good whether it’s blasting from massive speakers or trickling out of tiny iPod earphones, whether you’re alone or surrounded by thousands. Music that takes you above and beyond anything you thought would ever be possible.