TOTAL IMMERSION – PHIL SMART

Phil has played lots of records to lots of people in lots of clubs, bars, warehouses, fields, basements, carparks and bunkers for the last twenty years. He’s renowned for playing the newest sounds and forward thinking electronic music.Voted Australian DJ Of The Year at the National Dance Music Awards in 2000. Twice voted into DJ Magazine’s prestigious list of the worlds Top 100 DJs.

Played at the premier events around Australia including Love, Sabotage, Tweekin, Mad Racket, Chinese Laundry, Home [Sydney], Honkytonks, Revolver, 161, [Melbourne], Empire (Brisbane], Ambar [Perth], Halo [Hobart], Garage [Adelaide], and national festivals such as Good Vibrations, Vibes On A Summers Day, Field Day, Big Day Out, Falls Festival, Global Carnival and Splendour In The Grass.

Infamous long-standing residency at Tweekin, the Sydney clubbing institution voted Best Club Night at the 2000 Dance Music Awards and described by DJ Magazine in the UK as “coming under the very short list of proper clubs around the world”. As an indication of musical versatility, Phil has been chosen to play alongside visiting DJs as diverse as Michael Mayer, M.A.N.D.Y., Adam Freeland, Sven Vath, Derrick Carter, Sasha, John Digweed and Jose Padilla.

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So am I right in assuming you spend most of your time managing a cafe? How’s it going?
I play my part in running the café, but I’m mostly behind the scenes. My wife is the hospitality superstar. I spend a lot of time being a Dad, and on music stuff at the moment.

Which album or compilation has the highest play count in the cafe?
No particular album, but the dub playlist definitely gets the biggest workout. For me, dub is a winner any time, anywhere. We do push boundaries with what we play in the café though. We want to bring people great food and coffee, but we also want to nourish them in other ways, with great music and great reading material as well.

If I dropped by the cafe for brunch, what’s the most annoying thing I could possibly order?
Some people basically try to reconstruct a menu item so it barely resembles the original. That can be kind of annoying, for the chefs at least.

Ok. You’re at the cafe. It’s peak hour, full of loud, self-righteous hipsters ordering crazy hybrid coffees and quinoa bagels. Do you ever have a Talking Heads moment and think to yourself, “How did I get here?”
Not really, it just kind of happened. I fell into it through my wife, but it’s funny how many DJs have gotten into the food industry.

https://soundcloud.com/philsmart/r_evolution_mixtape

For those who don’t know, you were considered one of the greatest techno/house DJs to surface in the 90s and 00s in Australia. UK legends like Sasha and Digweed were convinced you were a DJ prodigy. Do you ever think you picked the wrong city by stomping it out for so long in Sydney, Newcastle and Byron? Do you ever think London, San Francisco, Berlin might have welcomed your talents with higher praise?
I came so close to moving to San Francisco many times, but at the end of the day I always had this thing about staying in Australia and helping things move forward here. I figured that if all the good people left, who would help push it along? I also always struggled with the weather in Europe and northern California, especially in the winter. It suited me to escape the southern winter and head north every year, chasing the perpetual summer. Plus I like the ocean too much.

Your father was a conductor and a classical musician. Do you think that has influenced you or translated to the way you work as a DJ?
Most definitely. Being brought up around music and musical instruments all the time, it was total immersion. My parents even started a series of music camps, and when I was younger I would spend half my summer holidays at camp, so I was this little kid hanging around, and the older kids took me under their wing. I got to try pretty much every instrument there is. My main instrument was trumpet/cornet though, so there was also a lot of brass band and marching band, which may be where my love of 4/4 comes from. And as a trumpet player in an orchestra, you get to count a lot of bars of four. Good DJ training! You’d play a few notes, count for 64 bars, play a couple of more notes, count another 96 bars, play a few more, etc. Trumpets didn’t get a lot of action there. In brass bands on the other hand, we were like the violins!

Phil_DJ-Shot

Do you hear popular dance music at the moment and think, how did it get here?. Do you feel club music in Australia was more ‘sympathetic’ back in the 90s and 00s?
I always think that about popular dance music. I kind of always had an aversion to popular music in general, I was always trying to find something different. I still am! I don’t know that it was any more sympathetic back then, the commercial thing is always there, but our crew was always pushing hard to play forward thinking, different music. That’s one reason we threw our own parties, so we could play what we wanted to. That’s one of the reasons we’re now doing our ColourSound night in Newcastle.

Do you still collect vinyl or have you converted to digital formats solely? Do you feel like one is superior?
I haven’t bought a piece of vinyl in a long time. I’m still playing CDs, which I’m totally comfortable with. I never quite made the transition to Traktor or USB or hard drive or whatever, I guess I still like a little bit of the physical element that CDs bring. Although for me one of the biggest things I miss about vinyl is the visual aspect that helps me remember and connect to tunes. I do always play WAV files rather than mp3s, but without a doubt vinyl sounds better.

Do you prefer DJing with wax on turntables or are you indifferent to the evolution of the CDJ?
I’d prefer to still play vinyl, but for someone like me, it works to play digital. As I’m not playing all the time, I couldn’t even afford all the vinyl I would want, and there aren’t any record stores in Newcastle so it’s great that I can be at home and have all this music at my fingertips. I do miss the social and personal element of record shopping though, especially considering my background working at Reachin Records.

https://soundcloud.com/philsmart

In three words tell us how you feel about EDM. Go!
Same. Old. Story.

OK, for those who don’t know, you’re not only an exceptional DJ but also the undefeated Boggle Champion of South Dowling Street. Do you still play boggle with your family? What’s your secret to boggle success? Is there a link between boggle and techno?
The only link is that I don’t play a lot of words in my techno, so maybe I save that for the Boggle. We played a lot of board games growing up and I really liked the word games, partly maybe because I read a lot. I haven’t really played Boggle with my family, I think they’re too scared. But they finally came close at beating me at Scrabble, so maybe it’s time to bring out the Boggle!

You’re what one would call a ‘Burner’. I understand this is someone that frequents Burning Man Festival. Do you think the Burning Man experience would have a positive affect on everyone or is it only for a certain type?
I don’t think it’s necessarily for everyone, but I think most would get something positive from it. I mean it’s such a different experience from anything else you could do, and I definitely think that things like leave no trace, decommodification and the gift economy are some of the most profound differences that make a burn a unique type of gathering.
I’ve seen people flame out, I’ve seen someone basically have their serious OCD cured after trying to keep their RV clean and eventually giving up after a few days, and I’ve seen people have epiphanies that have altered the course of their life. For many people it really is a life changer. It was for me, and still is.

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