If there was ever an electronic/dance experience that represents the embodiment of connecting people through music, it is certainly Above & Beyond's Group Therapy (ABGT) live series. As their name suggests, they go astronomically to find a common location to bring people of all backgrounds and professions through the healing bond that is music.
Unlike most musical gatherings, the mood here is abound with love: the simple love of an artist's work, the love of reconnecting with friends and meeting new ones, and even the love of finding one's soul mate. However, the most important love accepted here is acceptance. The moment you step into this setting, you are home. This feeling has always been evident within their productions and lifestyle. And for a genre with an attachment for drug abuse, Above & Beyond have been overlooked on their ability to lead by example and leave those types of baggage at the door. This is a space where one can break free from addiction and just let the music take over.
Group Therapy was chosen as a redirection from their former podcast, Trance Around the World: to enhance the quality of music produced and introduced; have a Common Ground for it's Anjunafamily; and to bring meaning to a sometimes tense world.
This year's celebration of their 300th episode, Hong Kong was chosen as an epic point where common grounds are common tongues. Think the financial sky scrapers of New York combined with the island layout of Hawai'i, minus the palm trees. A place where generations of wisdom, street fare, and culture captivate the inspiring global entrepreneurs and daily sight seekers. Citizens were already in a festive mood in preparation for National Day, marking the founding of the People's Republic of China. Splashes of gold and red adorning offerings to Buddha were highlighted in anticipation.
Whilst many flock to see the luminance of the modern world cascade into the aquamarine waters, Hong Kong is a playhouse of hidden gems. The Tian Tan Buddha towers over Lantau Island but still masks itself from the bustling streets and mosaics of glass below. Just nestled behind an alley of decapitated ducks and plastic fans for sale is the Yick Cheong Building in Quarry Bay. It is a mathematically alignment of living quarters that has become every photographer's dream. Just about every block is beckoning to be discovered. Hong Kong is a natural lure for an artist, mathematically and artistically. It's no wonder musical creatives, Above & Beyond, chose such a homey host.
ABGT300 kicked off from a gondola ride between the bouncing bays. The trio of trance performed and recorded their Anjunadeep set, which was featured an hour prior to showtime. The Asia World Expo played house to hundreds of adorning fans from Madagascar to Malaysia, Italy to India, Argentina to America, Poland to Puerto Rico, and even Jordon to Japan. The displays of fan-abilia were threaded in their country's flag, many worn as capes. The Expo ceiling was lined with lanterns baring Group Therapy colors and stellar visuals, which is an Above & Beyond trademark. Prior to the event, the Anjuna team emailed and promoted reminders/guidelines/restrictions for attendance and even the layout of both events. Usually that's left up to the promotors and event staff but to see it coming from the label themselves was just another reason for anticipation.
For those unable to attend, ABGT is broadcasted annually live worldwide via film or audio streaming. #ABGT300 tweets were displayed just above the stage showcasing shoutouts to mates in attendance, or listening from home, and how they tuned in. "I'm pretty sure I'm pissing off my roommate" at 4 a.m. EST to "I'm tuning in with my baby belly". The overwhelming sensation of respect was a rare reality compared to most festivals. Event staff walked around with free water and a few people were using hand held fans to keep people cool. Apologies for accidentally stepping on one's feet was met with a hug or dance. Finding out where your dancing partner was from was a common way to break the ice.(As a representative of South Carolina, I was blessed with "how did you guys fare with Hurricane Florence?" almost every time. It was truly touching). this is what Group Therapy sessions are made of: Common Grounds and We Are All We Need.
The crowd erupted at the sound of ABGT's radio show intro, which a combination of 'Welcome to Group Therapy' and hellos of various languages. Ben Bohmer began the evening with a killer set of progressive beats that absolutely shredded our senses. The King of ID tracks, Spencer Brown, kept the momentum flowing with a pulsing set that one could not stand still to. Years of listening to their productions introduced on ABGT and hearing them live has produced a new profound respect for these gentlemen. Similar to the days when albums had a hidden track completely unrelated that proved these are finely tuned musicians. Crowd favorite Grum didn't disappoint, in fact, he destroyed; taking the audience down the rabbit hole. Whereas he was night, Andrew Bayer was day. Bayer brought everyone almost to tears, like you're seeing the sunrise for the very first time. The audience didn't miss a beat of lyrics as Mr. Music Visionary lifted his hands in unison.
Label frontrunners and Anjua master chefs, Above & Beyond, had the whole world tuned in for one epic night of euphoria. It's rare to see Pavvo, Jono, and Tony together for a live set and well worth the wait. If one could look through their eyes and see the global unity they built, what would they say? To know, as an artist, your work changes lives and, as a fan, you are still a leading example of humanity. Above & Beyond were in full unabridged smiles which were infectious. The crowd was one massive goosebumps group. Their progressive trance set began with Surrender, the very track that jump started their career 18 years ago. Messages of positivity lit up the backdrop: 'Life is made of small moments like these' and 'You are home'. Every touring set and radio episode they choose a fan to 'push the button'. This particular evening three girls representing Trance Family China were appropriately selected. They had a beautiful handcrafted sign with the ABGT300 dragon mascot and were certainly thrilled to push play.
Most headliners end the show but Above & Beyond are humble in nature and turned the decks over to Ian Bluestone. He was zestful as if 24 hours wasn't even a factor. It is difficult to remember how the main even came to a close (there were plenty of afterparty opportunities). The entire evening felt like a wrinkle in time, one big blur of simple happiness, the purest kind.
Sunday was the perfect afternoon to spend on the grass at West Kowloon Nursery Park. Annually Anjunadeep Open Air is hosted the day after ABGT live. Anjunadeep is a sub layer of deep house compared to the uplifting trance of Anjunabeats. Above & Beyond stretched their hands as the yogis stretched to their soulful sounds. Penelope, one of the few female Anjuna artists, was a beautiful addition to the lineup as the sun set slowly. James Grant & Jody Wisternoff were having the time of their lives as the Ritz Carloton Building lit up in musical displays. Luttrell was an epic ending to the Anjunadeep lineup. Intergalactic Plastic bounced off buildings as couples embraced, reunited online personas were finally met in person, and laughter was in abundance. Open Air was appropriately titled as the breeze came off the harbor and artists mingled with fans in the sun. It was a moment of letting go and living in the moment where many never thought they would be.
Flying across the world and meeting Anjuna fans on the plane or walking down the hidden streets of Hong Kong was a feeling one simply cannot grasp. And to have the Hong Kong Trance Family as your tour guides was truly an unforgettable experience. The power of music is undeniable and restores faith in humanity. No where else on Earth could these people have been united. I applaud the efforts made to host an event of an epic proportions and unity.
ABOVE & BEYOND
DISCOVER HONG KONG