“Group Therapy captures the relationship between us, our music and you, our audience, and the magic that happens when those three things interact. It’s something you’ve all taken into your hearts and it lies at the centre of everything that we do – the community, the connection, the interaction. Our radio show is our weekly Group Therapy with all of you.”
Above & Beyond attract a cult-like following, one that I’m not sure I fully understood until last Saturday. I’m not a member of the “trance family,” it isn’t my favorite subgenre of electronic music, and I’ve only seen Above & Beyond twice before — neither time from start to finish — but I recognize their legacy. When I was offered a one way ticket to Trancelandia I eagerly accepted. Although the controversy currently surrounding dance music events didn’t effect my experience, it did give me the opportunity to critically examine why I was there.
With the popularity of “raves” growing, their value, safety, and purpose have come under scrutiny causing debate amongst dance music’s most vocal critics and supporters. A recent article published by The LA Times reduced festivals and similar events to nothing more than cash-fueled death traps. Anyone who has spent time squished between strangers just to hear a DJ play for three hours knows that’s simply not the case.
San Bernardino city attorney, James Penman says in the aforementioned article, “a rave without drugs is like a rodeo without horses. They don’t happen.” This focus on irresponsible behavior is a running theme throughout the article but it misses the point. I don’t imagine people often engage in illicit activities while listening to music in the comfort of their own homes, but yet they still press play time and time again. Why? Because, as I’ve said before, music is about a feeling. When that same music is enjoyed amongst a large crowd of fans connecting over a shared interest, that feeling is enhanced tenfold.
When I first started attending dance music events several years ago, my mom, who grew up with performers like Madonna, was curious about the appeal of shows whose headliners are DJs. “Where’s the stage presence?” she asked. I didn’t have an answer then, but I do now. Good DJs (emphasis on good) are experience curators. Instead of focusing on choreographed dance moves like a more traditional performance, attendees are given the freedom to get lost in the moment, and that’s why people are flocking to raves. That’s the appeal. Yes, there are lights, motherships, and mau5 masks but if you close your eyes, you’re not missing out on anything important. Close your eyes at a Beyoncé concert and the story isn’t the same.
Having built a successful brand out of providing their fans with Group Therapy, Above & Beyond are an exemplar of this experience curation ideal. “You look amazing out there,” “time for some Group Therapy,” “but we love you, can you love us back?” and other similar encouragements were flashed across the screen repeatedly over the course of the evening. It was almost as if they were personally serenading each attendee. Their positivity is infectious. As I furiously scribbled notes into my phone several of my floor mates checked in to make sure I was enjoying myself. The happiness and experience of a stranger was important to them.
The peak of my evening and the heart of the set was when A&B dropped “Sun & Moon.” The room immediately erupted into a Richard Bedford sing-a-long but when the music suddenly stopped the chants changed from, “you were the sun and moon to me” to “push the button! push the button!” Tony McGuinness left his spot behind the decks to pluck one lucky girl from the crowd so she could push the button and deliver euphoria, as he often does, to the fans who had been eagerly awaiting this moment for the entire night.
Promoters can sell tickets, book the right artists, and put them in the right venues but what they can’t do is manufacture feeling. Feeling is, for the most part, what keeps fans coming back. And that’s where Rong-Gong Lin II, Paul Pringle and Andrew Blankstein — authors of the contested LA Times article — missed the mark. So, why do I attend “raves?” Because standing next to a bunch of people who “get it” — it being the music — is truly spiritual.
For a full tracklist from the evening go here.
Photo Credit: Doug Van Sant for MadeEvent.com