Above & Beyond Acoustic

It may surprise some people when I say that I’m a fan of electronic dance music, more commonly known as EDM. Now when I say EDM, I don’t mean the mainstream songs playing on constant rotation on Top 40 radio where DJs are simply featured on peoples’ songs. I mean something completely different, people who write and produce their music and often feature vocalists who provide a backstory to the track. The tracks that take you on a journey and oftentimes, above and beyond.

It began back in middle school, I can’t even recount the exact moment or which song. I do remember listening to Z103.5 on Saturday nights as they’d play dance music and listening to dance mix tapes that I’d buy with my dad. Anyone remember those Dance Mix cassettes? I still have a box of them in my room. And who can forget 90’s classics like Haddaway’s “What Is Love“, Corona’s “Rhythm of the Night” and Whigfield’s “Saturday Night”??

A lot of the mainstream EDM that is being played on the radio is catchy yet on the verge of being classed as noise, as my fiance Sean would say haha. Take for example, the song “Timber” which, as catchy as that melody is (I now know the words to the chorus after listening to it twice, which scares me), makes no sense if you listen closely to the lyrics. Postmodern Jukebox does a seriously awesome job of transforming this song into some listenable (is that a word? If not, I just made it up) and also makes listeners realize how silly and nonsense the lyrics are. Don’t get me wrong, I love dancing along to catchy songs like this, but it’s not something I can take seriously musically, or sit and listen to.

When it comes down to it, music derives from something very simple and the layers are added piece by piece to create a musical piece. I’m a music lover and band geek at heart and I remember in band, that feeling I’d get listening to the whole band play together.  My friends and I loved songs like “Where The Black Hawk Soars” and “Africa: Ceremony, Song and Ritual” All songs are built upon this. Musicians like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga started out as singer-songwriters before evolving into pop icons. Take metal music. While I don’t listen to metal music, I can appreciate the musicality found in metal music. I remember in my Pop Music class back in fourth year learning about a range of musical genres. When we covered metal music,  we learned about the influence of classical music and classical composers like Bach and Mozart on bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. It’d be easy to dismiss metal music as noise, truly, but if you listen closely to the guitar runs, the notes, the bass, it’s there.

Back to the subject at hand though. A lot of questions swirl around EDM as a musical genre, a lot of it having to do with how organic it is. People perceive EDM as being all about synthesizers, horns and that big “drop” that just makes the song so awesome *sarcasm* Seriously, that’s what kids these days listen to songs for. Sadly, in our society, our attention span has reduced significantly, especially for the latest generation who jump from song to song within minutes. Within EDM are so many genres; trance, house, dubstep, psy-trance (which is the rage these days), to name a few and so many types of artists, among the ones I listen to are Armin van Buuren, Above & Beyond, Tritonal, tyDi (his latest song “Stay” is unlike anything I’ve ever heard) , Cosmic Gate, BT, Kerry Leva, Protoculture and Aruna, to name a few. These artists don’t just turn out high tempo tracks, but also chill, mellow instrumental tunes that have you nodding along to the beat.

What people don’t consider is the musicality within EDM and Above and Beyond Acoustic is a perfect example of the tremendous amount of musicality to be found in electronic music.

I first discovered Above & Beyond through Armin van Buuren’s A State of Trance (ASOT) weekly radio show and was captivated by tracks off their album “Tri-State.” I then listened to their own show, Trance Around The World, now called Group Therapy. At that stage in my life, I was going through a lot personally, with my family and of course, normal teenager stuff. These songs resonated with me for so many reasons- the musicality, the lyrics, how I felt listening to these songs: calm, certain, in control and most of all, alive.

Above & Beyond Acoustic is something special and I love the concept. From the first song, I was drawn in and instantly had goosebumps. The performance features a full orchestra and vocalists Zoë Johnston, Richard Redford and Annie Drury. Hearing songs, some of which I was familiar with and a few that were new to me, really gave me an appreciation for the amount of work, thought that goes into creating an acoustic production like this. The performance opens with “Small Moments” and moves into their song “Miracle” performed by Annie Drury. Then, a neat collaboration between Richard and Annie on “Satellite/Stealing  Time” which is one of my fave performances.

“Sun & Moon” was a huge track, once that deeply resonated with fans and hearing the stripped down version really pulls at your heartstrings, speaking to that inevitable feeling when you’re looking back on a relationship, to someone who was that other half. This feeling resonates in Richard Redford’s vocals which, along with the full orchestra, are truly haunting. A&B also perform classics like “Good For Me” and newer tracks like “Thing Called Love” “You’ve Got To Go” (dream on, little dreamer…) featuring the lush vocals of Zoe and the lovely saxophone.

Interspersed throughout the film are clips of Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki of A&B speaking about their musical backgrounds and the process of creating this acoustic experience for their fans. It’s fascinating to listen to them speak about their music, their desire to do this stripped down performance, all the preparations that went into making it possible. Again, they speak of how their songs start very organically, from writing the lyrics, to developing a melody on the piano and guitar. It’s a fascinating project and in the end, just goes to show the amount of appreciation listeners have not only for the original uptempo trance/dance versions of these songs, but also hearing them with strings, bass, wind instruments, the works.

So whatever it is you listen to, take the time to appreciate different genres, no matter how much you like or don’t like them. There are small moments within each one that make you realize the role that music plays in our lives. People relate to music in different ways, but if for just a small moment, if you can stop and really listen to a song, to the beat, the melody, the notes and most of all, the feeling, it’s magical.

Watch the full performance of Above & Beyond Acoustic 


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