Friday night, photographer Mark Derutte and I braved the crowds to see the British EDM band Above & Beyond. Approaching the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, a line can be seen — formed like tightly packed sardines, about 12 people thick, and running half the length of the building. “Oh, yeah,” I say out loud, “The long wait. How could I forget?” “No worries,” we say to ourselves — that is until we get closer. About 50 people stand on the opposite side of the road, waiting for the cross walk. Once we reach them, we realize this is a part of the entrance line, and it extends beyond your previous line of sight. We venture further in attempts to find its end, and after traveling the entire length of San Francisco City Hall, we find our place in line amongst hundreds. It is not until forty minutes later that we are finally released to be free inside the Civic Auditorium. This is what you can expect for a sold out show.
Right as I walked in, I was immediately reminded of what it felt like to be 20 again; glow stick here, half naked people over there, hard-step dancers, people packed more tightly than the sardines I previously spoke of outside. When a song ended, the crowd erupted into a frenzy, leaving us to think we were louder than the bass. Then, a quiet, almost whisper like chant was heard: A & B, A & B, A & B. Another song started in the dark, bass began to roar. I didn’t realize it until half way through that this was the first song. Above & Beyond came on stage 15 minutes early, midway through the song the lights turned on, the singing began and dancing commenced.
To become more absorbed in the scene, I nestled into the army of people on the dance floor, closer to the speakers. I raised my arms and stretched from side to side — no need to think I may stand out, as 80% of the crowd had their arms in the air, pumping forward and backwards. At one point someone elbowed me accidentally, and overly apologized, sincerity in his voice. I collided with another ‘bro’, as he rushed to the bathroom. Another apology commenced, which cannot be halted with, “It’s okay, no problem.” The guy must shake my hand and apologize four times. I’m a smoker. A cough sensation began, but there was no need to cough as the penetrating bass moved whatever phlegm was detaching upwards without my help.
Outside, adding more tar to my lungs, I conversed with some fellow concert goers. Said one, “Been a fan for four years. They are not one of those groups that simply presses play.” Another person stated they came here specifically for Above & Beyond, they did not really know the other opening artists, and they didn’t seem very interested. Another fan claimed to have “been a fan since 2008” — that’s seven years. Again, I ask, “How long have you known about Above & Beyond?” “Six years,” says another. “I’ve seen them six or seven times, maybe here if I thought about it. It’s about being with people.” When asking what about Above & Beyond makes them such a fan they replied, “[It’s about how to] love yourself. It is very enveloping, all about understanding each other. It’s smart electronic music.”
It was after this last response that I began to find what was different about this EDM group, who holds a minor emphasis in trance. All the fans seem to have known about them for some time, and hold them in high praise, but on a personal level. This was illustrated by watching the crowd as well. As I mentioned, there were the typical EDM concert sights — people out for the night to party — but most people were dressed comfortably, were a bit older than the typical person at EDM shows (maybe an average age of 23 or more), and seemed deeply focused on the stage. It was as if all these people were seeing a best friend who had been absent for several years: one who you had so much to tell and fill in about your life and get advice. One to tell you everything will be all right. They were attaining something that had been longed for. The emotion was easily read in most faces.
Listening to the lyrics really solidified what I had come to learn about the relation between Above & Beyond and their fans. In “On A Good Day,”part of the chorus goes, “But I hold on / and I / I feel strong / and I / know that I can.” These words echo the positivity and personal intimacy fans related to me outside. Like all good EDM shows, the lights and visuals are amazing, dazzling and trance inducing. This projection however, also holds motivational and supportive comments sprinkled throughout the set. One reads, “Somehow we’ll make it together.” Another says, “Let’s waste our young tears together.” Note how both quotes end with the word ‘together’.
This sense of community or support was also enacted directly by the two DJs that comprise Above & Beyond. At the end of the show, as confetti fell from the ceiling and the lights turned on, “You had us at hello San Francisco,” can be heard spoken through a microphone. Both DJs climb off the stage and seem eager and excited to begin shaking hands and signing autographs. Similar to how their fans feel support and comfort through their music, it is also easy to see that Above & Beyond thrives for these kinds of interactions: meeting the fans and feeling the level of emotion seemingly feeds the D.J.’s — maybe as their own form of therapy. This bond must be what makes for a sold out show like tonight.
Photos by Mark Derutte