Above & Beyond Acoustic: Giving Up the Day Job

In the middle of a very successful career and global renown as Electronic Dance Music (EDM) superstars UK’s Above & Beyond surprised their fans by releasing non-electronic arrangements of their songs, which did very well. In 2014 they released Acoustic, and then in 2017 Acoustic II.  They took the acoustic arrangements on tour with strings, brass, and vocalists. The sound is lush and sophisticated.

Directors Myles Desenberg and Paul Dugdale filmed their performances since 2010 and have added concert footage to backstage time with the members of the group as they prepared for the crowning achievement of the Acoustic II tour : playing at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. The resulting concert doc is Above & Beyond Acoustic: Giving Up the Day Job.  

Above & Beyond are beloved stars to fans of EDM. Their style dips into “progressive trance” and several electronic dance genres. Typically featured at trippy electronic festivals like Imagine Music fest, the Electric Daisy Carnival, Tomorrowland, etc they create beat-driven oceans of musical experience under soaring synthesizer waves and immersive light shows. Pieces are arranged less like songs and more like 20-minute shared emotional voyages surfing on the catharsis of the audience. Party drugs like MDMA (“Molly” if you’re more hip than I am) are common.

Above & Beyond are beloved stars to fans of Electronic Dance Music…

Taking this in as a non-fan (now new fan) was strange knowing the long-time fans are hearing the songs as variations of EDM pieces they know well. To me, the songs were new in their acoustic form (“acoustic” here meaning no computers) and come across retro-pop in style. I played the acoustic version of Satellite (Above & Beyond remix of Oceanlab) for a friend who knew the band from EDM shows in her college days in Ireland. While she was delighted with the variation, she preferred the original.

The film is agreeable and light. The three members, Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäk are understated and seem to be enjoying the touring life. Normally concert films feature dramatic displays of either what superlative meta-humans (Beyonce) our idols are or behind-the-scenes peeks of them revealed as repugnant train-wrecks (Oasis). Witness Gaga: Five Foot Two on Netflix. Lady Gaga (who I deeply respect) comes off as one of the more sane stars and yet she still swings between mercurial diva and emotionally fragile personality. Above & Beyond seem shockingly well adjusted. They are humble and wide-eyed at their own crazy success.

At a bar before one of their shows Tony talks about his new apartment back home he hasn’t had time to unpack and he seems sanguine, saying his life on the road with his mates is as much home as anywhere.

“…filmed their performances since 2010 and have added concert footage to backstage time with the members of the group…

The ramp-up to the Hollywood Bowl is nerve-wracking as they work with their support crew to ensure it comes together, which it does beautifully. The last people going onstage before the three band members are their vocalists and the band stops them to warmly wish them a good show.

If you, like me, had never heard of Above & Beyond before this, you’re in for a treat. This film will work best with a good sound system turned up loud. Come for the stylish brit-pop, stay for the EDM experience.

Above & Beyond Acoustic: Giving Up the Day Job (2018). Directed by Myles Desenberg, Paul Dugdale. Starring Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, Paavo Siljamäki.

8 out of 10

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