26 Nov 2016

Clinton Smiley: dancefloor pioneer

From RNZ Music, 3:45 pm on 26 November 2016
Jason Harding AKA DJ Clinton Smiley

Jason Harding AKA DJ Clinton Smiley Photo: Malcolm Brow

It’s a well-known cinematic coming-of-age trope where a wide-eyed, seemingly innocent youth is drawn into the cloak of night, seduced by unfamiliar sights and sounds.  Completing this cliche is the enigmatic figure who guides our greenhorn to new horizons.

To a certain set of adolescents making their first steps into adulthood during the grey, recession-heavy, post-stockmarket crash 1980s New Zealand, this movie stereotype was their reality. Sneaking out of their homes into clubs and warehouses to attend underground raves and dance parties. It was a vibrant and novel contrast to what was the mainstream.

Providing the soundtrack, and playing the untouchable, guiding figure was DJ Clinton Smiley spinning the rarest and newest tunes on offer in the burgeoning dance music scene.

An eclectic selector with a deft hand for mixing tracks, Smiley’s dancefloors and radio shows were where many of New Zealand’s now established resident DJs honed their ears.

When he wasn’t Clinton Smiley, Jason Harding was a respected journalist, cultural critic, and independent label pioneer. Capital Recordings, which he started with Brent Gleave, introduced the early works of The Phoenix Foundation, Die!Die!Die! and the solo outputs of Barnaby Weir and Bret McKenzie to a wider audience.

A guy blessed with “open ears, he had 10 pairs of ears,” laughs friend and former flatmate, Mel James who DJs under the moniker Melfunction. She credits Jason for being the person who got her behind the decks, “I had a really big record collection, and he said there was no point having it if I didn’t use it properly.”

Blunt, brutally honest, chain-smoking and loyal is how a group of his friends describe Jason, who suffered a brain aneurysm and stroke on November 24, 2006. Upon the tenth anniversary of this tragedy, DJs Vee, Coda and Takas are wrangling 30-odd other DJs to come together to fundraise for the Clinton Smiley Trust. 

They want Jase’s kids, the beneficiaries of the trust, to know who their dad was, and the influence he commanded on New Zealand’s dancefloors, DJ Vee explains “His reputation went international, they would have heard of Clinton Smiley”.

Today, Jason resides in a nursing home in Porirua, Wellington, and his friends reckon his fighting spirit would love the party they’re throwing for him.

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  • Music details

    Artist: DJ Clinton Smiley
    Song: Promo Mix
    Composer: Jason Harding
    Album: Not Available
    Label: Not Available