Jono Grant of Above & Beyond weighs in on the current EDM explosion in mainstream America
Never straying from its roots in pure house music, Above & Beyond has grown into one of the most sought-after acts currently touring, thanks to high quality music that evokes emotion and movement and, most important, forges a connection with the audience. The U.K.-based trio (Paavo Siljamäki, Tony McGuinness and Jono Grant) has been coming to America for a decade now, and in those ten years, they've noticed a significant change in the culture of dance music. We recently spoke with Grant, who gave us his take on the transformation and acceptance that EDM has gone through, both in America and in the U.K.
Westword:How many interviews do you have lined up today?
Jono Grant: I don't know. I think it's just the two, actually. Not that many. That sounds very self-important.
That's seems to be kind of life now, right?
When I do interviews, I like to do them all in one go because you get in a mode and you know what you're talking about. When you get caught off guard, you sometimes don't know what you're talking about.
Let's start with what you're doing, what Above & Beyond is doing and what Anjunabeats is doing. It seems you are gearing up to be one of the most sought after headlining acts. Talk to me about the pressures, the fears and the excitement with everything that's happening.
I think in terms of the pressures, there is always pressure and a little fear involved. If it wasn't there, then you probably wouldn't have the drive to carry on doing it because that little feeling of having to jump out of an airplane, it makes you excited about it. Whether that is thinking about, "we gotta play some new tracks tonight because we came here six months ago, and we gotta think about doing something different this time," that challenge is really, really, difficult for us.
I was just talking about [Ultra Music Festival] because we are doing that this year, and we are already thinking about what we are going to play there because a lot of our records are getting a little bit old now. We've got some new remixes and stuff that we are working on. It's great to have that kind of pressure to freshen up things from the public. It's in our head on the one hand, but you've got that 'you can't play the same records for two years,' ya know?
I can't speak for any countries outside of America, because I'm based here, but EDM and house music and trance have gotten a lot of mainstream coverage here. Do you feel any pressure bringing something that is people are more accustomed to in Europe to America, and showing us what you've been doing for years, and what we are finding out now and putting in car commercials?
I see that. We've been coming here since 2003, so obviously now it's hit the mainstream. We are really fortunate because we've been doing it for a while now, and we've got a really committed fan base, but I particularly feel what you mean by coming in and having a little bit of a hit, and then there is this expectation to deliver. I think you can quite easily slip into that mode of being a jobbing DJ, or you can deliver to the audience what you think they might need.
Thankfully, we don't need to dip into that area too much because we tend to play to the crowd from within our palette, without stepping too far out of that into places that we don't want to go. There is that pressure, especially if you are in the mainstream area. Playing in places like Las Vegas where you've got...well, it's not a hot audience. I mean, the people are hot -- it's Las Vegas -- but I mean it's not a prime audience in terms of the knowledge of the music versus playing somewhere like Denver, you know? It depends...I can't remember the question. Are we back at question one about pressure?
I think there is a pressure there to sort of perform, particularly for people who had big hits. The bigger the hit you have, the bigger the pressure. We've done it kind of a different way to have these sort of mainstream radio hits. Our records get played on more of the independent or specialist shows...Sirius XM, that sort of thing. We're not quite so mainstream.
I always compare it to heavy metal: If you go to a heavy metal festival in the U.K., there's a huge lineup of all these bands, half of which I've never heard of, and if I walked in to that festival, you'd see all these fans with tattoos, and all this crazy stuff, and eighty thousand people turning up. You think, "Where did they come from?" It's a bit like with elements of the dance scene. On one hand, you've got something nice about the fans that we do have. I don't know where they come from, but it's amazing.
I think because we've been doing it for a while, coming to America, we've kind of built up that fan base, rather than people coming because they think, "Ooh, I should go to that! I heard they're good!" We do get some people like that, of course, and that's great. They are introduced to our music. We've also got these hard core fans who've been coming for years and seem to really it. It's really important that we serve those people.
In your view, what do you think about how EDM is growing in America? Do you think it's a good thing, or a temporary thing? Obviously you've been in the electronic music scene for a long time. Do you see it as a good thing, or do you almost not want it to peak because it can only go down?
This is interesting question because my honest opinion about any of these sorts of things is that I could get worried about it. It's certain sounds that people are looking for. It's one sound. It's one area of dance music that people tend to congregate and chase after... producers, as well! Trying to get on the radio to make it sound a bit like someone else's record. It doesn't really bother me because we kick back and do our own thing. We let that go on without worrying about it.
I think it can be an issue for the scene. If you look at it as a scene, it is an issue for that, in a way, it becomes a little bit homogenized. That's just a phase that it's going through. It will peak at some point, because everything does. I don't think it's damning for the future of EDM or anything like that. It's just something that is happening. There are good bits about it and bad bits. The good bits are that everyone is getting into, but I do think some of the music sounds very much the same.
There are certain artists that if you put them all on in one night in the same town, it would be difficult to pick between which night to go to. They all kind of operate in the same arena. The key is to have your niche, and do your thing, and not worry too much about the wider scene. I don't think that is happening much, sadly, because I think a lot of people are kind of chasing that thing. It's been great for us because some of those people who would go to the other gigs for the artists that have the mainstream [appeal] would come check out our gig by association. So that's one of the good things.
Take someone like David Guetta: He has pop hits, but he brings people into the scene that wouldn't normally listen to dance music, which is a great thing. I'm not one of these people that wants my music to be elitist. There are people out there who don't want to share the music with other people. They want it to stay underground. I'm not interested in underground or over-ground; it's just good music or not for me. The more people that would like our music and get to hear it -- well, that's a wonderful thing. It's the good side of the explosion in dance music.