Grant Smillie & Ruby Rose: In Neon

Having kicked off earlier this year with a debut compilation mixed by Melbourne club heavies TV Rock and Chardy, the ‘Neon Essential’ series from Warner’s upstart Neon Records imprint, quickly established itself as the new kid on the block. Clearly not wasting anytime in taking that reputation further, the Neon crew have lined up the next instalment in the series, overseen by a diverse trio of mixers including Grant Smillie, Don Diablo, and as previously reported on ITM, MTV poster-girl and former Sony inthemix50 host Ruby Rose.

As Ruby and Grant make their way across the country to support the compilation’s recent release, ITM caught up with the duo for a frank discussion about the label’s position on the local circuit and how Ruby Rose’s celebrity profile has impacted on her DJ career.

It’s kind of impossible to get around your celebrity profile, Ruby, have you found it difficult for people to take you seriously as a legit DJ?

R: I won’t lie, it was always going to be an issue from the beginning. You know, I’m aware that there’s an image for ‘celebrity DJs’ out there and that they’re generally pretty lousy, but I didn’t want that to get in the way of doing something I enjoy. It started out as just me listening to and enjoying a lot of music but over time I’ve really gotten into the technical side of things. I didn’t just wake up one day and say ‘oh yeah, I think my start DJing’. I developed into it, and from when I bought my first decks I just kept practising.

G: And you can tell she’s been working hard on it, because when you see one of Rubes’ sets she puts a lot of young DJs out there to shame.

So does that mean you’ve had to prove yourself as a DJ in your sets and now with this Neon mix?

R: Yeah, absolutely. I always knew that there would be people out there who wouldn’t be willing to give me a chance, and that’s fine. But for the rest of kids out there who want to go out and have a good time, I think they’re surprised to see me behind the decks playing some really big tracks.

Coming from a fairly unconventional background as an MTV personality, how does your track selection and personal taste work on a compilation like this?

R: I think I bring a bit of an edge with my mix, there’s a lot of unexpected stuff in there. And that’s really what I enjoy most about DJing, I get to push a lot music and bands that I’m into out there. Like, we had The Grates play on The Lair last year and it was pretty low-key but I really loved them and started to push them on my MySpace and Twitter and other people would pick them up from that. When it came time to put the mix together I called up some friends of mine who were doing a remix for them and got that in my mix, so hopefully that’ll mean even more people will be interested in them.

Grant, how does Ruby’s mix stack up to yours in terms of style and coherence?

G: Well I think Ruby did a great job with her mix, and like she said, there’s a lot of variety on there, exposing a lot of artists to a new audience. Ruby’s mix has more that indie-dance vibe to it, but mine’s more to do with big, main room tracks and some unreleased Neon stuff.

This isn’t your first dance with a mix compilation, Grant, what keeps each one interesting and exciting for you after these years?

G: That’s a good question! I think more than anything I just love to work on something for a crowd. It doesn’t have to be with a compilation, it could just be with a gig on a Friday night, you know. I love to build up the vibe in the club with different tracks, changing things up when something’s not working. Another thing I’m always doing is to test material in the club, whether that’s a remix or something I’ve been working on for TV Rock, just to drop it in there and see what kind of reaction it gets.

So with Neon now onto its second compilation, where do you think it sits in the market? What separates it from the glut of other compilations on CD racks out there?

G: Well, you’re right, there’s a thousand other compilations out there competing for peoples’ attention, but I think what we’re doing with the Neon label and these mixes makes us stand out a bit. We definitely want to grow the Neon label and make it a source for consistently good music and there’s releases coming up that should do that. With the comps I reckon it works well because we offer a bit of everything, Ruby’s done her fantastic mix that’s got a lot of new and obscure artists on there and the other two discs on the new comp are more conventional stuff from me and Don Diablo. Hopefully there’s something on there that appeals to everyone.

Neon Essential Vol.2 is out now through Neon/Warner, to get a preview of the compilation check out the teaser mixes here and here, and scope the tour dates below.

Neon Essential National Tour Dates:

Friday October 30Lot 33, Canberra GRANT

Saturday October 31 Villa Nightclub, Perth GRANT & RUBY

Sunday November 1Sound Mansion, Melbourne GRANT & RUBY

Friday November 6Electric Circus, Adelaide GRANT

Friday November 13Main Street, Mackay TV ROCK

Saturday November 14King St Hotel, Newcastle GRANT & RUBY

Saturday November 21Plantation, Coffs Harbour GRANT