Cut From the Catalog: Anjunabeats
Record labels have long been the gatekeepers of the dance music space, as they continuously define and reshape tastes via releases, endless talent scouting, and the curation of brand-hosted parties. In our Cut From the Catalog series, we big-up established and buzzing imprints alike by taking a look at the organizations’ ops while running through a retrospective mix built solely from their respective catalogs.
When it comes to record labels that have been momentous in their impact on the dance scene, there are few that rival the scale of achievements of Anjunabeats. Started way back in 2000 as an outlet for the production work of superstar trance trio Above & Beyond, the project gradually grew into something with far greater scope and ambition.
By the time Anjunabeats 100 was released in 2008 to celebrate the label’s century of releases, Anjunabeats had spearheaded a trance revival and won legions of fans around the world for their deeper, more progressive take on the sound—not to mention kick-starting careers of Super8 & Tab, Boom Jinx, Nitrous Oxide, Oliver Smith, Andrew Bayer, Sunny Lax, and many more besides.
In the past decade, though, things have stepped up even further for the Anjunabeats stable. As Above & Beyond grew into full-blown crossover singer/songwriters, playing special “Acoustic” shows, alongside developing into mainstage staples at festivals like EDC Las Vegas, their weekly radio show Trance Around the World also evolved into Group Therapy (named after the trio’s beloved album of the same name), its weekly audience growing toward millions of devotees around the world.
With the label’s deeper house-focused sibling Anjunadeep developing alongside it, Anjunabeats increasingly courted a powerful and visceral mainstage sound, while simultaneously keeping their progressive edge and avoiding the excesses of the EDM scene. In the process, it also helped introduce the next generation of Anjuna stars to the world, including ilan Bluestone, Jason Ross, and Grum, the latter of whom has mixed the new Anjunabeats Worldwide 07 compilation and is currently underway on a supporting tour. This Friday, the string of dates will lead Grum to Exchange LA, where he will be joined by special guests Fehrplay, Jaytech and Oliver Smith.
However, this all represents just the tip of the Anjunabeats iceberg. For instance, the label’s annual Group Therapy party, to celebrate another 50 editions of their radio show, is held at iconic international locations like NYC’s Madison Square Garden and London’s Alexandra Palace, is simulcast live to record-breaking worldwide audiences, and basically stages a takeover of Twitter every year.
There’s more to Anjunabeats than meets the eye. To get an idea of what goes on behind the scenes, we spoke with label manager Allan McGrath on some of the finer details of helping run a dance music empire.
How has the world of Anjunabeats been going this year?
Nonstop busy, but very fun! Our North American Anjunabeats tour earlier this year was a big one for us, and it couldn’t really have gone any better. The whole tour was almost entirely sold out, and the love from the fans was immense. The 14 dates included sold-out shows at L.A.’s Belasco Theatre (which sold out in a day), Rebel in Toronto, San Jose City National Civic, Chicago’s Concord Music Hall, and the Atlantic Avenue Warehouse in Brooklyn, as well as our annual Miami pool party at the Raleigh.
On the releases front, there have been many highlights from faces both familiar and new. Boss men Above & Beyond have a massive forthcoming single called “Tightrope,” which features Marty Longstaff on vocals. It’s been getting a lot of love since it popped up in the Ultra set, so we’re excited to see it out there.
It was also a real moment to finally have a full Seven Lions release on the label through his Jason Ross collaboration “Higher Love,” featuring Paul Meany. Jeff (Seven Lions) obviously first broke through with his Beatport competition-winning remix of Above & Beyond’s “You’ve Got to Go,” and we’ve been trying to find the right track for a full release ever since. Nearly six years later, we got there, but it was worth the wait!
“There’s something incredibly reaffirming about seeing thousands of people from all over the world passionately engage with what the label is doing.”
ilan Bluestone’s “Scars” with Giuseppe de Luca is another standout, as was the track before it, “Frozen Ground,” that many people know from the Anjunabeats tour video. Both are taken from his forthcoming artist LP, Scars, which is due out later this year. It’s also been really exciting to see fresh new talent Spencer Brown find his sound and come into his own. And let’s not forget longer-standing names like Oliver Smith, Genix, and Sunny Lax, who seem to be finding new gears all the time.
And as you know, the next big compilation on Anjunabeats is the latest Anjunabeats Worldwide mixed by Grum, one of the roster’s most unique artists, who’s done a fantastic job of distilling his DJ sound for the series.
This is without mentioning Anjunadeep, which is stronger than ever. Way Out West’s brilliant LP Tuesday Maybe has enjoyed a particularly great campaign (the album is a career best, IMO!).
Looking back to when you joined the label, tell us a little about what inspired Anjunabeats in the first place and what the label’s early goals were.
To answer that properly, you’d really need to speak to Jono, Tony and Paavo, but here’s a quick history lesson from me. The very first iteration of Anjunabeats was set up by Jono and Paavo in their university days. The long story short is that they met at Westminster University, bonded over a shared love of dance music (specifically trance), and set up Anjunabeats as an outlet for their own productions—initially released under the name Anjunabeats (the first Anjunabeats track to be released was actually called “Volume One”). Pretty soon, they received attention and support from the big trance names of the day: Paul Oakenfold, Judge Jules, Tiësto, etc. Around that time, Tony was working as marketing director at Warner Music, but also producing trance as a big fan of the scene. He had been asked to remix Chakra’s “Home,” and he approached Jono and Tony to work on it with him.
The three formed an instant bond, and Anjunabeats was initially an outlet for their productions under various aliases. Above & Beyond and OceanLab were the obvious ones, Freestate and Tranquility Base among the others.
The main initial goals were to present a clear, quality and recognizable brand as an outlet for their productions (the iconic ‘A’ has been a feature from the early days). But as the label gathered steam, awareness grew, and a sense of community developed (helped along by Paavo’s passionate interest in early web forums), soon demos started coming their way, and people were asking to be signed to the label.
From there, a very organic label roster developed, as artists like Oliver Smith and Mark Pledger (Smith & Pledger/Aspekt) and Super8 & Tab joined the label, gradually followed by many more and all the acts that make up the broad label family that we all love and know today.
In broad strokes, how has this changed and evolved as things have grown over the years?
Essentially, certain core values have always remained. Quality control, a family ethos, real musicality, and emotional authenticity are all things that come to mind. As more and more people have been drawn to what Above & Beyond and Anjunabeats stand for, it has allowed us to do bigger and better things—but the guiding principles always remain.
In many ways, the growth only strengthens these core principles. There’s something incredibly reaffirming about seeing thousands of people from all over the world passionately engage with what the label is doing, both online and at events. The growth has also allowed us to invest seriously in developing artists over time and building acts in a broader sense than before.
When did your own involvement with the label begin, and how would you describe your role?
I started here as label manager around seven years ago now. Before that, I was working as Clubs and Music Editor for DJ Mag. One day, about 10 or 11 years ago now, I got sent a copy of the Anjunabeats Volume 4 mix compilation to review. I had been a big fan of trance in its initial heyday in the mid ‘90s, but had kind of stopped paying attention as I moved on to other sounds. However, when I got Anjunabeats Volume 4, I was completely blown away by both the quality control and the fresh approach to the sound. It reminded me how trance could be both beautiful and forward-thinking. I was also drawn to the artwork and overall presentation values, which stood out from a lot of the other trance, and to be honest, dance labels in general, at the time. Artwork is something that has been a defining feature of the label, and is an area that Tony especially remains very passionate and involved in.
From that point on, I was a big fan of the label and developed a natural relationship with both the guys, who I would always end up interviewing for the magazine, and James (Grant), their manager and our company MD. When I was looking for a new challenge, the stars had aligned and Anjunabeats were also looking for a new label manager. After a series of interviews and marketing proposal tasks, that was that.
“The main thing is making sure growth is real and organic, rather than anything too trend-based.”
We’ve grown hugely as a company since, so I’ve since been promoted to label director, and we now have a sizeable and very passionate team across all the many areas that are needed to keep a label of our size growing and at the cutting-edge. Everyone is an expert in their own area, but everyone contributes and collaborates across everything in some way. It’s a very special and unique vibe, which is driven by the way Jono, Tony and Paavo have always done things. The A&B studio is also right next to the office, so they are regular faces in the office and maintain a very hands-on involvement with all that we do, from A&R and artwork to merch and events.
What have been the most significant moments you’ve been involved with yourself?
There really are too many to mention, but I’ll try to touch on a few. First of all, the excitement and engagement on Above & Beyond’s Group Therapy and We Are All We Need album campaigns were big ones. Launching the “We’re All We Need” video on the screens in Times Square and seeing Beatlemania-levels of fan adulation was a particularly memorable moment, as was the sold-out Group Therapy show at Madison Square Garden the day after.
Some other personal highlights include the response to Andrew Bayer’s groundbreaking If It Were You, We’d Never Leave LP and achieving a Grammy nomination with Mat Zo’s inspired Damage Control. Watching a then largely unknown Arty take the whole dance world by storm with “Around the World” and “Kate” was an exciting period, too.
All the above felt like real turning points for the label, but the most significant thing is that the turning points keep coming, and the team keeps growing and developing. It feels like the future is bright, which is always an exciting place to be.
Considering Anjunabeats is an independent dance label, the scale on which it operates is impressive, indeed, when you take everything into account. Give us a rundown of the different staff working in the office that keep things ticking over every week.
Our London team now stands at over 20 people, working across A&R, publishing, radio and promo, digital marketing, social media, graphic design, web design, business management and accounting, among others. We’re an indie with ambition. Jono, Tony, Paavo and James have always had the mentality that no challenge is too great. There’s usually a belief that big things can always happen with the right application and the right foundation. And that’s a mentality that filters right across the team. The main thing is making sure growth is real and organic, rather than anything too trend-based.
Beyond the more obvious side of things involving signing and releasing music, can you describe for us the many other areas the label is involved with?
We now seem to be “involved” across just about every discipline within the modern music industry, which matches up with our parent company name, Involved Productions. Within that, we have Involved Management, where we manage the artist careers of Andrew Bayer, ilan Bluestone, Jason Ross, Lane 8, Dusky, Yotto, Luttrell, and have also just taken on Seven Lions, which is a really exciting one for us. We also have a publishing company called, you guessed it, Involved Publishing, which is headed up by Jarrod Bird, who had previously worked as publishing manager at the ace Australian indie Future Classic.
Beyond that, we also run Dusky’s 17 Steps label as a joint venture with them, as well as being closely involved in Lane 8’s This Never Happened label and events as his artist management.
All the label tours across both our labels are run and strategized out of our office, with help from some trusted booking agents, as is the weekly Group Therapy show. There’s probably more that I can’t think of right now, as we seem to end up going where our passions take us! But there’s a lot going on, as you can see.
The next major mix release for the label comes from Grum, who has compiled the latest Anjunabeats Worldwide. He’s the perfect example of a key artist who’s been supported and promoted by the label (he’s one among many). Tell us a little about his ongoing involvement.
Grum is a favourite of pretty much everyone within the company. Jono, Tony and Paavo have been big fans for many years, regularly supporting his music in the radio show, and he’s been one of their preferred warmup DJs of choice for some years now—that progressive vibe works so perfectly for them. His sound has always been a very unique melting pot of influences, and as the progressive and trancier elements within that melting pot started to shine through more and more, the matchup between Grum and Anjunabeats made perfect sense. He brings something very individual and unique to the label, whilst tapping into its core values: musicality, emotion, innovation are all high in any Grum production. It felt like a natural move to have him mix this year’s Anjunabeats Worldwide, a series which has been a platform for multiple Anjunabeats stars in the past; Super8 & Tab, Mat Zo, Arty, ilan Bluestone, and Jason Ross have all contributed to mixes in the past.
The music focus of the label has definitely evolved from perhaps a more purist trance affair into something quite different, more versatile and more modern. How was this evolution steered?
The musical evolution of both labels is a very organic thing, with Above & Beyond, James Grant (Anjunadeep), and the A&R teams just following their tastes and what’s good at that point in time. Artists often come to us very naturally and organically. Luttrell’s first demos, for example, were sent to us direct by his good friend Mat Zo, who recommended us as a label. Cubicolor has been a revelation for Anjunadeep, bringing a band sound and dynamic to the label, and that is a project that grew out of our existing artist 16 Bit Lolitas. Yotto was picked up by the A&R team after an early remix had appeared on Group Therapy. Then there are industry contacts and managers that tend to send us demos we think we’d like. If we like them, we start talking.
The thing that binds all these artists together is the same principles that brought Jono, Paavo and Tony together in the first place. There’s an appreciation of emotional and melodic music that is trying to make a statement, and it doesn’t always matter what particular genre that music falls into; it’s whether it feels right and moves us.
There’ll always be fans that naturally move away from the label over time; that’s the case with any label. But by and large, I would say that Above & Beyond and Anjunabeats fans are arguably the most loyal and longest-serving around. I regularly meet fans that have been with us for five, 10, sometimes 15 years at our events, and their passion doesn’t seem to be dimming!
“It doesn’t always matter what particular genre that music falls into; it’s whether it feels right and moves us.”
The ABGT radio show certainly represents a huge part of why the label continues to be so successful. Can you give us a broad idea of what goes on behind the scenes?
It’s pretty hard to give a clear, combined audience, as the show now goes out via so many different platforms, stations and mediums. But it’s well in the millions, and the engagement levels on socials are higher than ever. The show production is something that our core radio team of Gareth (Jones) and Neil (Ribbens) will work on throughout the week, with the help of other team members. They’ll source and collect the shouts, make sure all the relevant news from Anjuna world is put in the show notes, schedule guest mixes, and also actively source music for the show.
Along with A State of Trance, you were among the first to bring your weekly show over to Spotify. Did this bring with it a lot of headaches in terms of licensing and tech issues?
It was a lot of work, indeed, driven by our core radio team Gareth and Neil, among others. But it was definitely worth it, as the interaction levels and play count numbers we get from Spotify have more than justified it.
Your annual simulcast Group Therapy event also operates on such a scale that it’s nearly impossible to comprehend. Give us a broad idea of what it takes to pull it all together.
For this one, I’m going to hand off to our radio guru Gareth Jones, who is responsible for pulling the event together:
The world of live-streaming has expanded rapidly in recent years. Now, any bedroom DJ or small club can stream globally via a multitude of platforms to a huge audience, so we’ve always been conscious of making our broadcast stand out. Every year throws up new challenges, whether that’s making a dressing room in Madison Square Garden look like a radio studio, or changing the catering area of a faceless arena into a dynamic media space. If you’re going to invest money in capturing a show on video, you should create content that actually makes people tune in rather than leave it on as background noise.
With ABGT, we bring together the Nomobo production team, pioneers in the livestream market that are responsible for the Ultra broadcasts, with director Hans Pannecouck. His credits include EDC, Tomorrowland, and the legendary Faithless show Everything Will Be Alright Tomorrow, live from Alexandra Palace. There’s also a separate radio team focusing on the audio-only output, and my role is to bring all of these units together, so we have an engaging program that not only showcases the music on the mainstage, but is also an exciting and interactive broadcast for those watching at home. There’s around 50 people on-site just working toward that effect, outside of the show itself.
We’ll be capturing this year’s milestone, Group Therapy 250 at the Gorge Amphitheater outside of Seattle in 4K, streaming on a number of platforms and on radio in over 50 countries worldwide. It’s a two-day event in a remote location with 25,000 people attending, which throws up its own challenges. But once again, we’re looking to innovate with a new studio complex on-site and a live drone cam capturing the stunning scenery around the venue.
Anjunabeats Cut From the Catalog Track List:
Grum “Something About You”
Slusnik Luna “Sun 2011”
Grum “Drifting Away”
Andrew Bayer “Once Lydian”
Faithless “Salva Mea” (Above & Beyond Remix)
Oceanlab “Clear Blue Water” (Ferry CorstenRemix)
Tranquility Base “Razorfish” (Above & Beyond Progressive Mix)
Bart Claessen “Elf”
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