Label Spotlight: 20 Years Ago, a College Project Brought Anjunabeats to Life

Above & Beyond
Amelia Troubridge

Above & Beyond

Twenty years ago, Paavo Siljamäki and Jono Grant were students at the University of Westminster, where they first connected over their shared love of trance music. This meeting would go on to affect the history of the genre itself, with the duo -- along with Tony McGuinness -- soon forming the beloved trance trio Above & Beyond.

But this group wasn't the only entity formed on that U.K. campus. In order to earn their degree, Siljamäki and Grant were required to create what Grant calls a "major project." At the time, they didn't know how major this project would turn out to be, with the business they formed as part of their coursework going on to become one of the most respected labels in electronic music.

Existing at first as a distribution method for Above & Beyond's own output, since its creation Anjunabeats has released music by artists including Mat Zo, Audien, Arty, Andrew Bayer, Tinlicker, Super 8 & Tab, ilan Bluestone, Seven Lions and many more. (The label was named after a beach in Goa, India, that's a renowned hub for trance music.) While Anjuna's sounds are eclectic, the general vibe is one of smart, sophisticated dance music that tugs on your heartstrings at the same time it makes your feet move. Launched in 2005, its subsidiary Anjunadeep is a home to deep house sounds more at home in the side room than the mainstage.

Here, Grant recalls the label's creation, its essential tracks and the key to sending the team a successful demo.

Who founded Anjunabeats? When, and what, inspired them to do so?

Paavo and I founded Anjunabeats in 2000. It was established as a vehicle to release our own music. We met at University of Westminster during the first summer I was there; Paavo was in the year ahead of me, and discovered that we were both into melodic trance music. We felt we could innovate the sound into a new place from the music that was around at the time.

Since then, the label has grown into the company it is today, catalyzed by James Grant joining us in 2002 to help on the business side, after which the label has grown from a simple vehicle to release our own music into a fully fledged record label with publishing and artist management arms. Over the years, James seems to have had a knack of employing a dynamic team of fantastic people. We are really proud of the team at Anjunabeats.

What are all the ways the label comes to life for fans?

Most years we release a compilation album, the Anjunabeats Volume series, which serves as a roundup of new material coming up on Anjunabeats.

We still very much believe in albums as a label -- they are still very valuable in terms of building a story for a long-term artist. This belief also informs our decisions when it comes to A&R; we are generally not a label that looks for single hits, but rather artists that can continue to deliver great music.

In terms of events, we have hosted our own Group Therapy festival at The Gorge in Washington State in the USA, attended by 25,000 fans, as well as numerous Anjunadeep events including Explorations, a destination festival which took place in Albania last summer. Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep merchandise is extremely popular with our audience, and it’s not uncommon to find fans with tattoos of our logo or lyrics from label releases!

Where are you based? Does your location affect the musical output?

We are based in London, and I strongly believe that our location has informed our output. While London has a history with dance music, it is also obviously a metropolitan city and so I always feel what we do extends beyond niche genres, even if each release might be identifiable within a particular genre. I think this is the key to records that stand the test of time -- they ideally need to reach beyond the core fans of the genre in question, even if that doesn’t translate to a radio hit.

Are you an indie or a subsidiary of a larger label?

We are one of the largest independent labels in the U.K.

What prompted the launch of Anjunadeep?

We would sometimes find records that didn’t quite fit on Anjunabeats, and we wanted to explore releasing a deeper sound. James Grant also had a particular enthusiasm for this sound, and Anjunadeep started to grow from there. When a member of our team or director is enthusiastic about something, as a company we try to see how that passion might fit into the business, as it’s important to harness that drive and excitement.

How many employees does Anjuna have?

Currently around 40.

Do you have regular office hours, or do you keep an unorthodox schedule?

We operate fairly regular office hours, but with flexibility built in.

How has everyone at the label stayed in touch during quarantine and how has the pandemic affected your release schedule, if at all?

Plenty of Zoom calls and also Slack. The pandemic hasn’t really changed our release schedule.

Is there a common sound or ideology that ties releases together?

The sauce is simple: music that we and the team are excited about, rather than what we think people might want to hear. The sound evolves over time, and aspiring artists are sometimes influenced by the output, but we are always looking for the next thing.

What are a few essential tracks that define what Anjuna is all about?

It’s hard to choose, as we aim for a diverse sound, but from Anjunadeep a song I find myself always coming back to is 16BL "Deep In My Soul," and from Anjunabeats an early classic I still enjoy is Bart Claessen's “90 Nights of Summer.”

Who are the must-know acts on your current roster?

We’re fortunate to have many exciting artists, but two recent acts that spring to mind are Trancewax and CRi. Trancewax has managed to mix nostalgic trance and breaks, and CRi is definitely someone to listen out for with the release of his upcoming debut album. Christoph is newly signed to Anjunadeep for two big singles that we’re super excited about.

What's one piece of advice for aspiring producers who would like to get on your radar?

Be yourself, and don’t simply copy what is already out there. As a label, we are looking for where to go next rather than where we’ve already been.

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