Few London-based trios are as globally popular as trance powerhouse Above and Beyond. Possibly Harry Kane, Son and Dele. But other than that, we’re hard pressed to think of one. Although “A&B’s” own Tony McGuinness may’ve preferred we go Hazard, Morata and Giroud. He is, after all, proper Chelsea. JW caught up with Tony via phone recently as he tours the United States in support of Above and Beyond’s new album, “Common Ground,” out now. They talked all things Chelsea, the Premier League’s growth in America, and that time Tony was supposed to teach Eden Hazard to DJ.
JW: You are a massive Chelsea Fan. Give us the back story. When? Why? Whither?
TM: I was actually born in a hospital that falls within the Kensington/Chelsea perimeter. In that neighborhood, you’re either Chelsea or Fulham. My mom lead me to Chelsea because she thought the players had better haircuts. My dad was actually a Spurs supporter. My brother and sister both went with him. So even though I’m supposed to hate Spurs, I have some Tottenham tendencies. I don’t really hate anyone, actually. I love football more than I love Chelsea. I don’t take a lot of pleasure in damning teams that aren’t Chelsea. Going to Stamford Bridge is hugely cathartic for me. When I’m there, I don’t get a mobile signal, the phone is off, I’m with my mates, screaming and shouting like a kid.
JW: You’re touring America right now in support of the new Above and Beyond album, “Common Ground.” Talk about how you experience Chelsea from this side of the Atlantic.
TM: When I travel, The Guardian and the BBC’s football pages are the most visited in my web browser. That said, it’s become so easy to watch football in this country. I have cousins in Boston who years ago told me, “It will never catch on here.” But now it’s much easier to watch games in America than it is in the UK, unless you’re using some illegal stream or actually going to the match. When I’m in the U.S., I try and find an Irish ex-pat bar, of which there are millions. And I think that’s part of it, people from other countries where football is the most important thing in their sporting life coming to America. They come here and it begins to rub off.
JW: It's oft-said that the late 90s, early 00’s was the NBA’s hip-hop era. Would it be fair to say that football is in its trance/EDM-era right now?
TM: I’m not sure about that, actually. I know lots of DJs who are fans of footballers, but I really can’t say I know any footballers. I was actually supposed to teach Eden Hazard to DJ. He has the same press people we do and there was a plan to shoot a piece for the Chelsea website, but it didn’t pan out.
JW: What kind of DJ do you imagine Eden Hazard would be?
TM: He's clearly a very creative and confident player, but I’m not completely sure what kind of DJ he’d be. I know he already DJs for the Belgian National Team. The thing that’s similar about DJ’ing and football is the narrative arc. Structuring the set for two hours of entertainment. Football always seems to adhere to that same arc. And, like a good set, football often delivers a climatic scene in the final few minutes.
JW: It’s been an up and down season at Chelsea. At times, you’ve really struggled in front of goal. At others, you’ve looked very much like defending champions. As we speak, you’re in the Top Four. You have Barcelona coming up in the Champions League round of 16. How do you see this season playing out?
TG: The performances the team has put in this season vary greatly from game to game. I think that has to do with playing in four competitions. Well, three now. But it’s very taxing. And the sense of frustration Antonio Conte has shown is worrying. That said, we have some bright young players. Ethan Ampadu is extraordinary. He’s 17, but he plays like he’s a 30-year-old who’s been in the team for ages. Andreas Christensen is still only 21. He’s kind of a Scandinavian John Terry in the making. A Scando JT is an interesting combo. So even if it doesn’t play out how we’d like this season, there are some interesting seeds of hope. And even though Chelsea - like most football teams - change players and managers like wallpaper, my love for the team remains.