The English trance trio Above & Beyond—Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki — are not only headlining slot this year’s Electric Zoo: Transformed, they’ve produced its theme song, albeit by accident. The Zoë Johnston-sung “Fly Me to New York,” from A&B’s latest, We Are All We Need, was chosen by the event’s producers as its official anthem, months after the album’s January release. It’s no surprise: The trio are one of the most popular in dance music, with their 2004 and 2011 editions of BBC Radio 1’s weekly DJ showcase Essential Mix each named the program’s top mix of the year. As usual at E-Zoo, when they perform, your hands will be in the air.
We spoke with Jono Grant over the phone about Electric Zoo, festival food and the group's tag-team approach to the road. Electric Zoo goes down this weekend, September 4-6, at Randall's Island Park in New York City. Grab tickets here. —Michaelangelo Matos
How many Electric Zoos have you played now?
At least three; this is our fourth. It's definitely one of our favorite U.S. festivals—just a lovely vibe. People who really know the music seem to gravitate toward it. It seems to get bigger every year. I don't know if bigger is always better, but it's certainly growing.
Do you remember the first one?
Tony and Paavo played the first Electric Zoo together, and then I did the second one with Paavo, so my first exposure was different than the other guys. Two of us play the gigs, you see. I'd heard so much about it from Tony and Paavo before. I kind of wish I'd done that one [laughs]. When I got to do it, we were after John Digweed. So the stage was set really nicely. The crowd was really warmed up. We had a great time.
It’s interesting that you split up like that to go on the road.
When we started, it was expensive to have three flights—that's why we started sending two to the gigs [laughs]. Obviously, things have changed. The reason it works is that one of us can be back in the studio working on new material. A lot of people have to farm out the music-making process. But we're studio first, performance second. It's been one of our strengths, because it means we have a social life, we have a family life, and we're able to take a rest. It's very easy to get burnout from traveling all the time—jet lag, staying up late, trying to do what is a really inhumane schedule.
It reminds me of Avicii having to go on hiatus because he was exhausted.
Yeah—the whole job is exhausting. If you're in the studio for a few weeks, you crave to do a gig. And when you've done a month on the road, you can't wait to get home. So it's really nice to have that balance. The traveling is great. The traveling is also terrible [laughs]. The actual logistics aren't fun, though on a long-haul flight it can be nice to have your phone off and relax. But I absolutely love seeing the world, and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to do that.
So what’s the configuration at this year's Electric Zoo?
It's myself and Paavo this year. The times we do play together as three is when we do the Group Therapy live radio show, which we did at Madison Square Garden last year.
What’s a typical day when you’re doing Electric Zoo?
You wake up and have some breakfast, deal with your jet lag [laughs]. I love New York, obviously. I normally try to explore the city a little bit. During the day I'm making some last-minute tweaks for the set. When you've got an hour-and-a-half, normally you play a lot more of your bigger records. So I'll be editing tracks, that kind of stuff. Normally, you head to the festival site about three or four hours before playing, do some interviews at the site, and then enjoy the nice catering. That's something I'd say about Electric Zoo: There's always nice, healthy food backstage, which is important. You tend to get that more at rock festivals than at dance festivals.
What kind of food is more typical?
A normal English festival would be a hot dog. It's gotten a little better over the years. The best thing I can say is that Electric Zoo is that there are vegetables there, which they don't always have at dance music festivals [laughs].There's fruit! And juices! Just stuff that's green that might give you some nutrition. It’s an investment in their artists, as I see it.