The man behind one of this year’s breaking albums sat down in Buenos Aires for a little chat about life.
Paavo Olavi Siljamäki. If you know anything about Trance you know him already. He’s a third of the superstar trio Above & Beyond, co-founder of the Anjunabeats record label, and has been a part of many Trance acts such as Anjunabeats (the music group), Aalto, Rollerball, and P.O.S. This last alias is not only the one with which Paavo wrote some of the finest anthems of the noughties, but also the one which he’s brought back to keep writing music from the bottom of his heart.
While in South America, as part of the Above & Beyond stop in Buenos Aires for their first show in said city since 2019, Paavo gave an interview on Argentina’s 93.7 FM Nacional Rock Radio, during the DeeJay Time show, to talk about his musical career, how it started, how Above & Beyond was born, his current P.O.S alias, and more.
The interview was conducted by local radial legend and DeeJay Time host, Claudio “Capo” Ferraro. Joining him this time were station manager Alejandro Pont Lezica, simultaneous translator Fernando Farias, and, of course, Mr. Siljamäki.
The interview was recorded in full. Have a look below.
Even though most of the interview is in Spanish, the translation makes it really easy to follow it in English as well. Nonetheless, the rest of this article is the equivalent of almost all of the interview transcribed into text.
Before diving in, though, I want to personally thank Capo for letting me attend the interview, and agreeing on me transcribing it for EDMTunes. Paavo is an incredible artist, and human being as well, and it’s an honour for me to be able to bring this very special hour and a half to written English for the whole world to read about him, in his own words. Gracias, Capo!
Bear in mind, the format of this transcription is:
The moment we knew about the possibility of having you here on the show was a big bomb for us, because of what you mean to Electronic music, what Above & Beyond means to music, so, well, very excited to have you here on the show.
Well, I would also say our that history goes so far back with Argentina, and especially with what’s been happening in the last few years, we’ve all really missed Argentinian parties so I’m really excited [to be back].
How do you feel about Argentina? What can you say about your relationship with the country?
We’ve obviously done a lot of shows in, like, small clubs initially, then we’ve done different shows in different parts of Argentina, but there’s always been this kind of energy on the dancefloor that is really unique to Argentina, and I feel like people are so passionate about the culture and the music, that it just creates this magical thing that, you know, we experience. I’ve recently had my good friend Spencer Brown come back from Argentina and he was just, absolutely blown away, so it’s just, for him he was here for the first time and he’s getting the same experience that we got, maybe, 17 years ago when we first came here, so it’s nice to know that it’s still very much alive here.
We want to know about your early influences, your first contact with music, what were the artists that you first discovered and were a big influence [to you] when you were in Finland or later in the UK.
I’m from a very musical family, and I actually started with classical cello and piano and then did musical high school in Finland, but by the time I was eight to ten, electronic music was really starting to happen, people like Jean-Michel Jarre were doing incredible stuff, Vangelis was obviously making some really cool stuff, and because I started with classical music, I was feeling synthesizers offered this, unrivaled complexity to sound, and it all felt really exciting.
And I originally thought like “Okay, I’ll try to make classical music but with synthesizers“, but then when I was 15, I walked into a club, and I always felt like I was a bit of, like I didn’t fit in, I was maybe a little bit weird because I was so into arts and everything. But when I went clubbing in Finland for the first time my life changed, I really felt like I came home.
When you discover synthesizers and sequencers and those devices, that already provide rhythm and kind of push people into the dancefloor, is that the influence that drove you to becoming a musician and a DJ?
Well, I actually felt like I’m a musician, and for a long time, I also thought I’d much rather just be in the studio and let performers perform, that I’d just focus on creating music. But then once we formed Above & Beyond we started getting phone calls. Our first gig was in Tokyo and they’d literally called us like “We’ve got 8,000 people, we have Ferry Corsten and DJ Tiësto and we want you guys to come and play. We’ll get you flights, we’ll put you in a five-star hotel. Do you DJ?“. [Laughs nervously] “Y-yeah!“
We would like to know the process behind the creation of this sound that Capo describes as a blend of Progressive, Downtempo, Trance, and other genres that, he says, has an effect of relaxation. Tell us about that search and that creation.
Well, I always feel like we artists can often be our own worst enemies and we might box ourselves in. There’s moments when I go to the studio and I almost feel like I should try to create something. That’s when I know I’m doing the wrong thing. For me, it’s been really important to free myself of what the music means and just go on, and find fun in the music. And that’s led to, like, the Flow State project, and now this new P.O.S project as well.
Do you feel sometimes when you test some songs in front of an audience, that you need to go back to the studio to work a little more on them?
Absolutely. I just finished the first-ever P.O.S tour in North America, where I played around 20 tracks people had never heard before, and it was very interesting that some tracks, which I thought were kind of light when I was working on them, when played really loud in a dark room sounded quite heavy and banging, and vice-versa. I think you can never really know a club record until you’ve experienced it with people in a loud, dark place.
Before you begin making a track, what’s your approach to the creation? From the melody, an idea, a sound?
I think, basically creativity comes from finding a state of play, and it could be that I hear something that really inspires me, like recently, I was working on a remix of a track called ‘Baby We’re Ascending’ by Jon Hopkins, I just heard this track he’d done, and I was really inspired by it, so I managed to get the vocal, and within 24 hours I had the remix done. But it came from that spark of, like, inspiration. And sometimes it can be me playing piano, sometimes it can be I’m playing with a new plugin or software… so it really can happen in many ways but it’s always when I get that spark of inspiration.
What were your feelings when you founded your first record label, what can you tell us about that?
Actually, Anjunabeats as a name was invented with a couple of friends in Finland in 1995, because we were thinking of setting up a record label, but we never did anything with it. At the time, Anjuna Beach (Goa, India) was having lots of parties where people from different parts of the world would go and have these kinds of full-moon parties, so Anjunabeats was like a melting pot of these early electronic music styles, and we were all really excited about the idea that the label could be like a melting pot of different inspiration from around the world.
Then when I met Jono and we were setting up a Trance label, we were looking for a name, and I told him we almost started a record label with my friends in Finland called Anjunabeats. We asked the guys if we could reuse the name and they were cool with it. Anjunabeats really started when I met Jono and did my university major project, in 1999.
What can you tell us about the name Above & Beyond, where does it come from?
It’s actually almost, within six months of me meeting Jono I found myself in the studio with Tony, Jono, and me. We were remixing a track called ‘Home’ by this artist Chakra. We’d almost finished the remix but we didn’t know what we would be called. Tony was just looking around Jono’s room, and Jono’s just printed this thing from the internet onto his wall, and at the top of this thing it said “Above and Beyond“. Tony was like, “let’s call ourselves Above & Beyond“, and well, there’s that [laughs]. Jono had actually typed his own name into Altavista (Google these days), he googled himself, and found this very cheesy American webpage by this inspirational talker also called Jono Grant, his slogan was “Above and Beyond“.
What can you tell us about your first works as Above & Beyond?
Well, for the first year and a half pretty much we were only making remixes, and we had a really great studio, quite quickly we found out we had a lot of fun just jamming and making music together. And so, the first years were really productive, and we were getting to remix people like Madonna, Britney Spears, and all these superstars. This was pretty amazing actually. We’re talking around 2001.
What’s the boost given by the album Tri-State receiving the best global reviews, including DJ Mag’s 5 stars?
Tri-State was, obviously, a very, very long time ago. And basically, because we’d been doing a lot of remixes we were like, “Hang on, why aren’t we doing music ourselves?“, and that was around the time Tony was really coming into the zone as a songwriter. Tony has written I think all the male vocal tracks for Above & Beyond, so he’s an incredible songwriter. We hadn’t even realized how good Tony was until we started working on Tri-State, so that was a really big moment for us as a band when we started to make our own music.
We want to know about P.O.S, what’s the background? Is this project a way of reconnecting yourself with the dancefloor, the audience, reconnecting to yourself?
Yeah. It’s no secret I had a very bad burnout five years ago, and it left me questioning pretty much everything, “do I even want to make music?“. I felt like I maybe didn’t want to make music, and for the last two years, I’ve been sort of finding myself again as a clubber, and falling in love with Dance music all over again. So, this project, for me, is like finding my own grooves, my own things, and it’s the celebration of my love for Dance music.
What can you tell us about new generations and technology entering the scene?
This has actually been really interesting, especially during the last, I’d say, five to seven years. When we started as Above & Beyond we needed to have a studio, right? You know, synthesizers, mixing desks, all that stuff. Well, for the last two years me and my girlfriend have been traveling all around the world, we’ve been to French Polynesia, we’ve been in the forests in Finland, we’ve been sailing the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, and what I’ve done is I’ve set up a nomad music studio so that I can work on music anywhere. I’ve just been working today in my hotel room.
Now technology allows us to produce amazing stuff with very small equipment, and much more affordable too. And that way we have more and more people making music. It’s a really exciting time, but I think it’s always been a challenge for artists to be noticed, to get people to listen to your music, and that challenge is almost becoming even more challenging because there’s so much good music out there.
We noticed that your recent work [P.O.S] has a certain kind of message that you want to share, a message of love. Tell us about that, do you conceive that when you’re creating music you have this message in your mind, something that you want to tell people through your work?
I think, I’ve already mentioned, when I first went clubbing I really fell in love with the culture. And I believe that culture is still valid today, it’s all about acceptance, all about the scene being a place where you can be yourself and you will be accepted and loved just like you are, and as long as you respect others too. The P.O.S project has been accepting myself as, maybe not always making music that can fit an Above & Beyond set, but just something that’ll happen if I’m creative. If it’s a bit deeper, that’s fine too, I can accept that.
We’ve noticed how P.O.S’ sound kind of deviates from Above & Beyond. So the question is, do you think, feel, or foresee a new genre of music being born [from your project]?
I’ve always been a little bit anti-genres because I feel like it’s a limiting factor, but I’m certainly being really inspired by places I’ve been to. For example, recently I was in Guadalupe, in the Caribbean, around Carnival time, and I was listening to the local, traditional dance music, and I was so inspired by how I could see Dance music’s roots go back thousands of years. I can find inspiration, if I really look back, in old African grooves for example. In that way, I can hope [P.O.S] brings these new experimentations, and when I go into the studio with Jono and Tony, some of that will filter into A&B as well. I feel it’s really nice to find inspiration all over the place.
Claudio’s opinion is that P.O.S is, indeed, paving the way to a new subgenre. He hosts this show that’s been airing for 27 years, and over time he and his team have been spotting new trends, and he senses that your new sound is going to become a new subgenre. We believe P.O.S is here to stay. We thank you for this innovation, these new sounds into the scene.
I feel I can just return the thank yous for giving attention to my little experiment. It’s really heartwarming to see how well it’s been received so far. It’s super exciting to see how it works out.
We’re convinced, after this interview, some young people are going to decide they want to do this, become a DJ, an electronic musician, a composer, after what you’ve shared with us on the show.
And I really hope those people who are starting to make music have the same approach to just focus on having fun, and if they can really find the fun, everything else is really gonna click into place. People sometimes tend to overthink and over-plan, and that’s not good for creativity.
How many P.O.S tracks are already out there?
I just counted the tracks I took to the US tour, and I had 35 tracks in my USB sticks. So there’s plenty!
What can you tell us about you listening and speaking to people at events?
Actually, just during the P.O.S tour in North America, one of the most amazing things was going to small clubs and really partying with people, meeting them and talking to them. I love that. It sort of makes everything feel more real, when I have the opportunity to really hear from the people.
Is it true that somebody cut the audio during one of your sets for the Push The Button?
It’s happened many times, but that’s not how PTB started. I can’t remember where it was, but Tony just thought of stopping a record and pulling someone from the crowd, like it was kind of an accidental thing, but they actually felt that was really amazing — I wasn’t at that show —, and so Jono and Tony did it the night after that, and the night after that, and so on.
[Question from the crowd] What are the chances of a milestone ABGT being held in Buenos Aires/Argentina, from 1-10?
I’m not one to put an actual number on this, but we would love, love, love to bring it here.
[Question from me] Why did you decide P.O.S would be the one alias you would bring back to make music as a solo artist? I mean, as you’ve had quite a handful of aliases in the past, Anjunabeats, I think, correct me if I’m wrong, even Brasstooth, why P.O.S? Why not a new alias, for example? Did you not fear backlash from people who wanted your P.O.S alias left only for the older sound of Trance?
Well, thanks for the question. Basically, P.O.S are my own initials, and even back in like 2002, when Anjunabeats was really young, I did a couple of tracks as P.O.S, and like I’ve already said, I think it’s really important for people to be honest about what’s really inspiring them at any given time, and the P.O.S project for me is almost like a marker. Maybe 2002 me sounded a certain way, and now it’s sounding a bit different, and maybe in five years’ time I’ll do, I don’t know, a metal band. But if it honestly is what’s doing it for me, it’s coming from the right place, and that’s why I wanted to keep my original, old alias, to almost like, highlight the point that it’s coming from me, and that people change and we need to cherish that.
[Question from the crowd] Would you like to, someday, bring a big Open Air festival to one of the many beautiful locations there are in Argentina, such as Mendoza, or Patagonia?
I feel like, especially, we’ve had kind of like a two-year break from clubbing due to the pandemic, it sort of feels like right now the future is really exciting and bright again, and we’re able to start planning more and doing more. So now for us, it’s a duty to find the best places and clubs to do exciting things as Above & Beyond. I’d love to bring P.O.S to Argentina too.
What are your thoughts about the impact of the pandemic on the work of many young artists, particularly in the collaboration between artists through the internet?
It was definitely a big moment of reflection for everybody, musicians and many others. But I believe all struggles in life also bring something very good. Now that I look back, for example, I would not have ended up buying a boat and getting back into sailing if I hadn’t caught Covid. Actually, a lot of great things came out of the struggle, and, well, not all of us made it through, unfortunately. We’re the survivors, and hopefully, we can see what good came out of it too.
Can you mention an artist that’s really, really close to your heart?
For the last five years, I’ve been supported by a lot of my friends, Spencer Brown, and Marcus Schössow from anamē, have both helped me fall back in love with dance music.
You’re told your entire career work is going to be erased, minus one work that you pick. Which is the track that you choose?
The track that I’m going to make tomorrow.
What can you tell us about being part of BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix?
It’s an incredible institution, how long it’s been going for and how it still produces incredible sets! When we did the first mix  it was a very special time for us, we were doing a lot of gigs and so via this mix, we could blend our music with others’ productions, we sampled phrases from movies and yeah, I still go back and listen to it sometimes, and I still state it was a really exciting thing.
[Question from the crowd] What’s your opinion on Argentinian artists, performers, DJs, that you’ve met over the years?
One of the really amazing things for me was when I was at my first ever Burning Man festival and Paul Oakenfold invited us, I got a really good chance to know Hernan Cattaneo. When we were talking about people who do things with true honesty and have a child-like love for what they do, given how many years he’s been DJing, he’s really inspirational to me.
[Question from the crowd] Up to what extent are you aware of how much you touch people’s hearts? Your music provides a sense of union, love, and friendship. I’ve met friends through your music. Are you aware of this kind of spiritual aspect of the music that you provide to people?
I’ve been very, very aware of that, because especially now with the P.O.S project and me rediscovering clubbing, I’ve, you know, when it’s been hard for me I’ve been supported back by people who claim music has helped. So I’ve received the same thing I’ve sent. I’ve felt, in a real way, what people experience because I’ve experienced it myself.
[Question from the crowd] Can you reveal anything about future P.O.S projects being featured in other projects, remixes, or collaborations?
Well, what I’ve also been doing with P.O.S is remixing some of my all-time favourite records. And I remixed one of my all-time favourite records, ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ by Queen, and I just heard a couple of weeks ago that the band really liked my remix, so I’m hoping we can get to release it!
[End of the interview]
While it was certainly a great moment for both parties, A&B and attendees, to party together in Buenos Aires on April 15th, I believe this interview was one of the best things that have come out of the band in Argentina, since Paavo was so warm, and open to discussion, about his story, the past, the future, his own vision on life, and the way he feels about fans not being only followers of him but also friends, friends who are strangers but are united by a little word that has been used as a way of describing a family, Anjunabeats. And it all came true thanks to a group of friends in Finland researching India, and a little poster from a cheesy guy with the same name as one of A&B’s members.