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Dance's action man taking life for a spin

Grant Smillie is hitting the decks for The Long Weekend, writes Michael Dwyer.

Grant Smillie is hitting the decks for The Long Weekend, writes Michael Dwyer.

TIME is critical in Grant Smillie's expanding universe. When he's done being interviewed today he has a video conference to hammer out a film clip concept for Zoe Badwi, the dance-pop starlet he produces for his record label, Neon. Then he has to go hire a chef at his Southbank restaurant.

After that he's due at his bar, Ponyfish Island, to work on a marketing plan. Then he'll field emails concerning his brand development company, his recently acquired social media agency, his radio/TV show and/or his international DJ commitments before a night on the phone to the US, where he's "locking in a headlining act for a big, big project for New Year's Eve".

"I might have lunch in there somewhere too," he adds, though he doesn't say in which country. "I'll fly around the world to go to a restaurant if I can get a booking," he mentions during our whirlwind conversation. "Food is a massive passion of mine."

So massive he gets up at 5.30 most mornings to jog it off. He put a gaggle of Olympic gold medallists behind him in a charity race up the Eureka Tower last October, hitting the 88th floor beside mate Michael Klim (guess which one had been DJing until 3am).

"I was just determined. I didn't want him to beat me," Smillie says. "I reckon I can go to the Olympics in 2016. I don't know what event I'd compete in but if you name one, I'll give it my all."

Stop it, you say? Compulsive overachiever alarm bells ringing off the wall? That's what his mum thinks. She keeps giving him books like When Is Enough Enough?.

He uses them "as tinder to light the fire", though he credits her with an early spark.

"I played saxophone in stage bands for eight years at high school," he says, recalling his daily travel to Xavier College from his childhood home in Eltham, where his father ran a panel-beating shop.

"Mum said 'Whatever you do, don't be a muso because they're all impoverished. Go to university, get a degree'. So I did indulge her that and I think it was probably worthwhile."

He romped through his marketing major at Monash University, not least because he'd learnt some practical fundamentals as a 17-year-old promotions manager at the Metro nightclub, where his head-pulling strategy was an early incarnation of social media.

"Text and friends," he says. "It was back in the days of the old Ericsson 337. I had the whole 200 numbers." He took his first turn behind the decks on his 18th birthday, when his two DJ mates both called in sick.

"I never looked back."

A decade later, when every major label in Sydney turned down his first dance record as part of TV Rock, he and partner Ivan Gough released it independently. Flaunt It became the highest-selling single of 2006 and picked up two ARIA Awards.

That was when he sold his share of a successful marketing and design agency to "go into the music thing".

"You can sit in an office all day and be the best accountant around but no one comes in and pats you on the back," he says.

"When you make music, with that instant gratification of thousands of people singing your song back, it's a pretty amazing feeling."

It's become more amazing in recent years, as decades of US resistance to electronic club music has finally surrendered to French DJ David Guetta.

"He was the Trojan horse and we all spilled out the sides," says Smillie.

"Mid-range DJs in Australia are moving to LA. They're all getting between 10 and $15,000 a show, two or three times a week. Guys who are doing serious output are in private jets. Las Vegas used to book Liza Minnelli. Now you're looking at a DJ."

At 35, Smillie knows he has to "make hay while the sun shines". He's just back from making plenty on a party-stop tour through Europe and south-east Asia. But it's also time for mature consolidation.

The Long Weekend is an amalgamation of his top-rating Friday-night radio show on Nova FM and his 1500-head Saturday club night in Melbourne, blended with a new Channel [V] TV platform and tied up with his recording, brand development and social media interests.

The four-month project kicks off in Melbourne later this month, then leapfrogs as far as Cairns, Perth and Auckland over subsequent weekends until November. DJing. Filming. Texting. Tweeting. Broadcasting. Dancing. Laughing.

If it all sounds a tad exhausting, remember that energy is unlimited in Smillie's universe. It's time that's critical.

"It's a question of priorities. Life goals," he says. "[The DJ world] is littered with old bastards who are single, surrounded by a bunch of cash. Is that what you really want?

"You need a diverse portfolio of things that you do, all of which equally appeal to you. You've got to figure out what you have to fall back on should the music stop."

The Long Weekend starts at Seven nightclub in South Melbourne on Friday.

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