DJ, producer and all-round man about town Grant Smillie chats with me about the changing dance music scene, his plans for Zoe Badwi and Wynter Gordon, and what gay people want to hear.
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Dave: Where are you heading off to? [airport lounge rumblings in the background]
Grant: I’m all over the shop at the moment – just doing a quick little trip to Sydney to do some writing, then off to Amsterdam for a conference and then playing in Astoria (London), LA, New York and then back to Australia for the festivals.
Dave: That is really packed out. Where do you find the time to make this mix tape (Neon Essential 10 – Vol. 1)?
Grant: It is a difficult proposition to try and balance it but I enjoy every part of my job so it’s not really a chore. The Neon Essential 10 is a new thing for us. It’s an online-only comp, which is exciting for us because we’ve always been associated with physical releases but these days it seems like we’re all living off our Facebooks – why leave the computer to go in store?
Dave: You’ve also been busy in the studio lately. What can we expect on that front?
Grant: Lots of new things. I’m producing Zoe Badwi’s album – we’ve got her follow up single, ‘Accidents Happen’, ready to go in the next couple of weeks and the album will drop early next year. For TV Rock, we’ve got collaborations with Dave Spoon, Afrojack, and a couple of originals, including one with Julie McKnight.
Dave: Are there plans for another TV Rock album?
Grant: At this stage, we’re just gonna keep it as singles. When we get enough singles that we’re happy with, it might turn into an album organically.
Dave: You’ve been a part of the dance music scene for ages, what changes have you noticed in the last five years?
Grant: There have been lots of changes! Musically, the indie-house thing came through and the vocals went away for a bit. The festivals have become so big that it has actually impacted the week-to-week clubbing proposition. People are burning out a lot quicker [and] we actually need people to go out week-to-week because that’s where records get broken and that’s where new music comes through. You don’t expect to hear new music all day at festivals.
Dave: Do you think attitudes have changed towards dance music?
Grant: Dance music has certainly proliferated far beyond what I ever thought it would. I know he’s always referenced but look at David Guetta and the amount of breakthrough he’s had in America – now the gigs there are huge! In Australia, for four years in a row dance acts that have dominated the ARIAS – first with TV Rock, then Sneaky Sound System, The Presets and Empire of The Sun. I said years ago that dance music’s not a dirty word and it certainly isn’t any more. It’s one of the most popular forms of music out there.
Dave: Consider this statement: “Dance music is so anonymous, it often lacks the personality that pop and pop artists have.” Do you agree?
Grant: I think it’s a valid statement. It is anonymous because the barriers for entry are so low but I think that’s a good thing. You can buy a music program for a couple of hundred bucks and away you go! You’re producing music. But the amount of money that goes into a pop act – and the amount of people it takes to put them on that pedestal, so to speak – is enormous and I don’t think the resources are there in the dance sphere to get them there, unless you’re a household name or you’ve had a breakout single like Yolanda B Cool & D Cup. But that’s one out of the blue – if you walked past them on the street, you wouldn’t know who they were but I would suggest that most people would walk past Jessica Mauboy and know who she is.
Dave: You’ve been DJing for a while now – do you think you know what gay people want to hear?
Grant: Yeah, of course! Unlike anyone else, I think the gay community has an amazing ability to pick up new music first and enjoy the classics too. I always have a good time playing for the gay crowds.
Dave: Your label Neon Records is looking after one of my favourite upcoming acts: Wynter Gordon. What’s happening there? Are you working with her?
Grant: Not personally but I did send off a track the other day for her to consider singing on. We’ve got her album – that’s coming out early next year and we’ve got a bunch of remixes done for her latest couple of records. She is an amazing, amazing talent! We’re looking to bring her out here in January/February.
Dave: I first came across her track ‘Surveillance’ years ago and it’s really interesting to see her change and now head in a dance direction…
Grant: Yeah, you’re spot on. Atlantic Records have put her with a bunch of producers and just as it turned out ‘Dirty Talk’ was remixed and it sounded great as a dance proposition, so they ran with that. She started performing at a few festivals and loved it. I think it’s probably a better change for her [because] in America, dance has become the new thing there and she’s made a smart move to jump on the forefront. The album’s not all dance by any stretch but it’s certainly more influenced that way than R&B.
QUICK THREE with GRANT SMILLIE:
1) What would you cook to impress a date?
That’s a good one! I’m a bit of a health freak so I’ll probably do a seared tuna with some sort of sesame – and maybe, we’d go out for dessert later.
2) Your favourite childhood TV show.
I used to love G Force the cartoon.
3) Not a lot of people know this but I heard you played the sax?
Yeah, definitely. I played for eight years in school and it continued on but it’s not something I’ve included on any of my records but it may well happen at some stage.
When was the last time you got it out for a jam?
About two months ago?
Ah… maybe serenading someone?
[laughs] Yeah. Exactly right.
Download Grant Smillie’s Neon Essential 10 mix tape
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