Above & Beyond master the digital era and deliver sublime Sydney Opera House performance

Sydney Opera House, Sydney Australia

Normally, the electronic dance music group known as Above & Beyond can be heard and experienced on a dancefloor or on the many social media internet platforms such as Facebook, You Tube, Spotify or Soundcloud. Their fast paced tunes and trance-like music are much loved in nightclubs around the world.

The group comprises of three gentleman by the names of Jono Grant, Paavo Siljamäki and Tony McGuinness. They have collaborated since 2000 and have undertaken various musical projects such as the creation of the record label known as Anjunabeats. They have created hugely successful weekly podcasts in Trance Around the World (2004 – 2012) and their current guise of Group Therapy which is listened to by a huge global audience in their thousands. The podcasts showcase their label’s newest releases, pay a visit back to EDM music of years gone by and invite DJ’s to guest mix on the program. There even is a “Push The Button” segment where a lucky fan can “virtually” push the cue button of a track.

Above & Beyond like observing anniversaries and create special events centered around the episode number of their podcasts. For their 150th show they held a sell-out Group Therapy live show in Sydney last September of 2015. On episode day of 200, they are having a live show in Amsterdam and you guessed it, this event is totally sold out. If there ever was an example of a musical group making a success out of the current modern musical landscape then Above & Beyond’s model is something many groups and musical organizations should aspire to.

With the advent of the digital age and amid cries the music industry would be decimated via pirating, illegal downloads and loss of revenues. Above & Beyond have shown how to adapt to today’s modern environment using an imaginative, successful marketing strategy in the digital environment.

They have built a loyal and devout following by providing quality music and experiences which are quickly snapped up in an instant whenever sales of impending shows or milestone events are announced. Tickets can disappear in a matter of minutes. For the ticket sales of the Above & Beyond Acoustic II Sydney Opera House Shows (one matinee and one evening show), the official Sydney Opera House website completely melted down in January 2016 due to the incredible demand for tickets. And it’s not just fans from the local towns where the events are playing who are attending, many of their audience base travel from all parts of the globe to experience an Above & Beyond musical experience. The fan-base loyalty they have cultivated is truly remarkable.

Vocalists (L-R) Cobi, Justine Suissa, Natalie Holmes & Zoë Johnston await Paavo, Jono & Tony to return for an encore at the Sydney Opera House Acoustic II evening show Photo: Jodie Newell

Yet the key component to Above & Beyond success despite all of the snazzy social media and digital marketing is that they create fantastic music which like most, represents the times of the day. In a world constantly told of stories of terror or political corruption or of another unpleasant cause, Above and Beyond have shied away from the lecture podium and instead focus on writing and singing about the joys and perils of love and to the challenges the modern world has provided to people of all ages. It’s a theme of which it’s audience can deeply relate to.

In 2014, the lads from Above & Beyond decided to apply an “unplugged” format to their techno compositions. It would be fair to compare this approach to that of say grunge metal legends in Nirvana who captivated audiences with their infamous MTV Unplugged show of 1993. The hard rocking noise was replaced by a joyful coherence and their songs took on a whole different feel and meaning.

Likewise with Above and Beyond who first tried this approach in January 2014 with the Acoustic I LP. The release saw previous techno productions stripped down and performed via a small chamber orchestra, harp, brass, percussion, guitars, upright bass, pianos, keyboards and stunning vocal performances from Anjunabeats stalwarts in Justine Suissa, Andy Moor, Carrie Skipper, Ashley Tomberlin, Zoë Johnston, and Richard Bedford. Above & Beyond founding member Tony McGuinness even tried his hand at vocal work with remarkable results.

Such was the overwhelming response from fans, Above & Beyond announced a series of shows to be performed at some of the worlds most prestigious concert venues to promote their sequel LP Above & Beyond Acoustic II. This time the new batch of songs would be performed in places such as the legendary Royal Albert Hall in London, The Old Greek Theater in Berkeley, California, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The tour would conclude in one of the world’s most iconic buildings in the Sydney Opera House of Australia.

During the Sydney Opera House shows, all of the band members made mention of the privilege of playing in such spaces and Paavo Siljamäki spoke of the legendary artists who have played those venues in the past and who are no longer with us. One thought of The Beatles who played a famous live concert at the Hollywood Bowl, as did The Doors. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Cream performed at the Royal Albert Hall, whilst the very much alive Neil Diamond performed his classic, multi-million selling Hot August Night Live LP at the Old Greek Theater. The one thing that strikes one about Above and Beyond is their knowledge and understanding of music history. The lads recorded Acoustic II at the renowned Abbey Road studios where many a classic has been recorded. The Beatles again come to mind as does Pink Floyd. And whilst Acoustic II sounds nothing like those two groups there are very tiny elements on Acoustic II that would not be out of place on those artists music. The ticking clock in the beautifully crafted “Another Chance” sung brilliantly by Justine Suissa, is a subtle reminder of the clocks on Dark Side of the Moon. Later in the same song there is a mellotron phrase that reminds one of The Beatles Strawberry Fields.

Tony McGuinness spoke to the Sydney audience of how in his opinion their music wouldn’t be out of place on a James Bond film. We have to agree strongly on that point. The infamous opening credits of Saul Bass would be a perfect accompaniment to any Above & Beyond Acoustic performance! The other plus of the Sydney show was the superb vocals of Zoë Johnston and Justine Suissa. Suissa is known for her work with Oceanlab and to be able to hear her in person was an absolute treat. She sung Another Chance perfectly and with sincere presence. She also nailed On A Good Day which was another highlight of the Sydney Opera House set. Guest male vocalist Cobi stole the show with the song Sun & Moon. The crowd stood as one as they joined Cobi with a rousing, roaring, heartfelt rendition that rocked the concert hall. It was truly an uplifting performance and thoroughly entertaining. The lads of Above & Beyond weren’t giving any clues as to whether there would be another version to the Acoustic series. Regardless of their decision, both LP’s and subsequent live performances have captivated audiences around the world and simply confirm that Above & Beyond be it techno or acoustic are one of the most talented musical acts in 2016.


Above and Beyond Acoustic II can be purchased at the following sources : I-Tunes, Anjuna Store, Spotify, Amazon, Beatport, Google Play, Deezer. 


About the Author

Jodie Newell
Love reporting on sports, politics, history and music