Moonrise Festival headliners Above & Beyond seek 'sustainable fame'

For British trance trio Above & Beyond, the Sunday headliners at this weekend's two-day Moonrise Festival at Pimlico Race Course, the blurred genre lines of today's music is so exciting

Electronic dance music can be a beast to define. Subgenres of it constantly interact, creating new styles and sounds.

But for British trance trio Above & Beyond, the Sunday headliners at this weekend's two-day Moonrise Festival at Pimlico Race Course, it's what makes the state of today's music so exciting.


"We like to go wandering; that's in the nature of human beings. We like to be at home, but we like to go and visit," said Tony McGuinness, who called from the group's recording studio in East London. "I think we're quite easy with our genre affections."

McGuinness, along with Jono Grant and Paavo Siljamaki, have become mainstays in EDM, with the release of five albums (and one side project under the name OceanLab), including January's "We Are All We Need," in their 15-year career.

The group has earned consecutive appearances on DJ Magazine's Top 100 poll, as well as numerous International Dance Music Award nominations and wins. Along the way, they racked up more than 2 million "Likes" on Facebook.

Above & Beyond is most known for trance, a style of EDM characterized by repetitive melodic vocals and its emphasis on a build-up, as opposed to a beat drop. That doesn't mean the genre is something they rigidly adhere to.

For their most recent album, they borrowed sounds and concepts from expected sources like techno, house and dubstep.

But McGuinness also cited folk and classical music as influences.

It's what keeps their music fresh, he said, and it's seen throughout the electronic music industry.

"I think genres are … a bit of a pain for musicians because they attempt to put a fence around what you do, and as any old human being does, when you look past a fence, the grass is always greener," he said. "There are always things happening in other genres that you would like to borrow."

Throughout their stylistic experimentation, the group keeps their message consistent, he said, focusing on lyrics that portray realistic human experiences, not unequivocal emotions.

"You have at least one voice in your head at any one time," McGuinness said, "and normally it's two or more. … That kind of indecision, that kind of feeling that you don't know which way you want to go, that's something we like to explore a lot in songs."

Moonrise Festival, now in its second year, drew ire and calls for cancellation last year amid national attention on drug use at EDM concerts, particularly the party drug MDMA, or "Molly."

The issue forcefully came home last summer following two deaths at Merriweather Post Pavilion's daylong Mad Decent Block Party concert in August — just days before Moonrise.

McGuinness downplayed any link between concerts and drug use, and questioned whether organizers and hosts ought to be blamed for individual decisions.

"I don't want anybody to die at one of our shows. I don't want anybody to die at a festival that we go to," McGuinness said. "But to kind of point the finger, when somebody does [die], at the people standing around? I don't know."


Bassnectar, Saturday's headliners, appeared at Moonrise last year, but this will be the first appearance for Above & Beyond, who most recently played the Baltimore area in 2012.

The trio has purposefully avoided the traditional pop-star trajectory, McGuinness said, by seeking instead to achieve "sustainable fame" by catering to existing fans.

"We leave everything at the feet of people who love us already, and talk almost exclusively to them," he said. "You know what it's like when someone has an incredible night and they go and tell all their friends about it?

"We're trying to enable that process, that feels like the right kind of 'marketing' to do."

During their show, members dance on stage "like 21-year-olds," McGuinness said, and write messages to the audience that appear on screen behind them.

And, of course, they call someone on stage to "push the button."

At June's Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, the lucky fan was actor Bryan Cranston, who revived his famous "Breaking Bad" character and pushed the button to start the aptly named Above & Beyond song "Walter White." Typically an audience member is plucked at random.

The movement "happened accidentally," McGuinness said.

At one show, the trio invited a cameraman to push the button and when the video went online, people began bringing signs to their shows, begging to be chosen.

It's something both the group and fans have grown to love.

"No matter how big the show, that moment [allows] us to at least reach our hand into the audience and pull somebody … to make them part of the show," McGuinness said.