How big a music fan is Grant Kearney? (aka DJ Sample Gee) Try REALLY big â€“ while still in his early teens, Grant had so many records he had to buy an old shelving unit from a record store to hold them all. And by the age of 16, the 600-album rack was full - and Kearneyâ€™s bank account was empty. As addictions go, he admits he had some habit. â€œYeah, to tell you the truth thatâ€™s why I became a DJ,â€ he says, â€œI just couldnâ€™t afford to keep buying every new 12 inch that came out.â€ That collection now stands at 10,000 records !!
Opportunity first knocked for Grant in the late 80s when the resident DJ at West-Aucklandâ€™s notorious Timbucktoo nightclub (Andy Vann) called in sick. â€œIt was a Friday night,â€ he says, â€œand I was working in a record store around the corner â€“ I got a phone call saying â€˜our DJ hasnâ€™t shown up, can you get here in 20 minutes?â€™ and I was like â€˜you bet I can.â€™â€ Before this though, he had plenty of ground to break - starting with being a founding member of one of New Zealandâ€™s first rap acts, Total Effect, in 1988. It was during this period that â€˜Sample Geeâ€™ was born. â€œThe name came up when we were playing,â€ Grant explains, â€œI was on the sampler keyboard and when we were putting a song together the guys would say â€˜give us another Sample Gâ€™, G for Grant obviously, so I just kept it.â€
By early â€˜90 Grant was signed to Sony Music as part of The Chain Gang (where he achieved two Top 20 singles before the age of 21), working in a record store, and DJing nights. But it wasnâ€™t enough â€“ although he didnâ€™t know it at the time, he was about to change the course of NZ dance music history. In what industry insiders describe as a â€œdefining moment,â€ Grant and long-time associate Sam Hill opened Bassline Records â€“ NZâ€™s first purely dance music store - and their inner city base quickly became the hub of Aucklandâ€™s emerging dance culture. â€œEveryone said we were crazy,â€ he laughs, â€œbut weâ€™d been listening to a lot of underground stuff out of the UK, and we knew it was right.â€
Bassline also gave Grant the chance to communicate to a far wider audience than he could ever hope to reach via his club shows. Never content to remain underground or on the fringes, he used the Bassline foundation to take dance music to the masses â€“ launching a series of parties, one of which would eventually become a NZ pop culture phenomenon. â€œSam and I started â€˜The Brainâ€™ in December of â€™91,â€ he says. â€œWe knew there were big raves happening in the UK so we thought weâ€™d take a punt. The first one pulled over a thousand people, so a month later we had another one, and itâ€™s still going now 14 years later. Longevity-wise itâ€™s definitely the most successful party ever in Australasia and possibly the longest running rave event in the world.â€
The Brain also spawned two albums (the first DJ Mix albums compiled for New Zealand) which proved to be a huge success for Central Station Records, selling 3000 copies each. By now Sample Geeâ€™s profile was high enough to draw the attention of music video station Max TV. Looking for someone with the credibility to host a new dance show, the channels owners asked Grant to join the crew. Within weeks â€˜The Pulseâ€™ was born. With a weekly audience in the tens of thousands, the cutting edge show built up a huge following â€“ a following that Grant found soon wanted more. â€œWeâ€™d get people calling the station all the time asking how to get hold of the tracks I was playing. So we thought weâ€™d take the playlist from that â€“ which at the time was bands like The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, and Underworld, and put out a compilation.â€ It was 1996 and Lagered! had arrived.
Marketed as â€œ14 Up For It Indie Dance Anthemsâ€, the album hit the streets with little fanfare â€“ and promptly sold over 5000 copies. Record company Universal took note. 2Lagered was released in 1997 with a national TV campaign and sold Platinum (15,000+). 135,000 albums and 9 Cdâ€™s later and Lagered! is still going strong. Lagered Cloud Nine was released in NZ and Australia in April 2003 and was supported by a 9 date tour of both countries playing to more than 6000 people. Grantâ€™s other successful releases as Sample Gee include Chemistry (with Sam Hill), Cue and ZM Clubmix. The immense popularity of his mix albums have seen him collect five Gold and four Platinum sales awards in New Zealand.
In November of 2001, Grant was asked to head up Universal Australiaâ€™s new dance division and left his job of Local A&R Manager for Universal New Zealand to take up the challenge. Since that time he has mixed albums for Universal Australia such as Mint 4, Cream Spring 2002, Cream Trance Anthems, Cranking Hard Trance, Club UK and Trance Destinations selling tens of thousands of albums. After only two years living in Australia, Sample Gee was voted the #5 DJ in the country out of 600 nominations in August 2003. Grant left Universal in October 2003 and is now based in New Zealand once again, concentrating on a full time career as a DJ/Producer and promoter. Recording under the names Zander and Cyprian, Grant has had his own tracks featured on compilations worldwide. His total mix album sales in Australasia is now in excess of 250,000 albums. New Mint and Lagered albums are due out in mid 2005.
Without doubt NZâ€™s preeminent DJ, Sample Gee has changed the face of the countryâ€™s dance scene and has become an interstate crowd puller in Australia. Looking back on a career that began with a bedroom full of records, Grant says he canâ€™t imagine things turning out any other way. â€œMy entire life is based around music,â€ he says. â€œFrom radio shows, to DJing, to performing it. Whatâ€™s always been important for me is to push dance music forward, and weâ€™re miles ahead now of where we were 15 years ago. If I have got a crowd in front of me, I can take them anywhere I want â€“ and thatâ€™s always meant everything to me...â€