On a mission to change the world, one tune at a time… 18-year-old DJ and music producer Cooper Smith is a big advocate for inclusion. As a brand ambassador for Cerebral Palsy Alliance and a Steptember participant, earlier this year he participated in CPA’s Steptember advertising campaign “A Life Changing Movement”.
Cooper also works with City of Melbourne as an accessibility consultant.
A lifelong passion for music and COVID lockdown hobby turned into a busy DJ career, an agent and record label. Cooper is in hot demand in the music industry, rubbing shoulders and mixing tunes with the likes of the legendary UK DJ Carl Cox and Melbourne’s Eric Powell.
Cooper loves music and how it enables him to communicate and express himself and do things – like standing and dancing for two hours – which he didn’t think were possible. He has cerebral palsy and finds some movements and speech challenging, but his disability is just a small part of his identity.
Cooper started practising DJing on his iPad during lockdown; he woke up one morning and just decided he was going to do it.
“He’s pretty determined in that way, his mum Bron commented. “He likes to prove people wrong. Like if the doctors say you probably won’t walk then the next thing he starts walking.”
His school teacher thought Cooper needed some proper equipment, so they contacted the Dylan Alcott Foundation. Dylan and Angus got in touch with Cooper and helped with his setup and it’s just gone from there.
“He’s always got a knack of being in the right place at the right time. He just makes thing happen.” his mum commented.
Although Cooper believes that hard work counts for around 40% of his success, he puts making things happen down to manifesting.
Cooper finished school in year 11 last year. Everyone decided that it would be better for Cooper’s mental health not to do year 12, and as he was getting so many opportunities with music gigs, it seemed a better idea for him to pursue that.
He has dystonic CP which means that movements happen without his control, so it makes DJing really tricky. But he’s learned how to adapt the equipment, and technology is changing and becoming more accessible.
“If I look at someone else DJing, it’s hard and really creative, but when I look at Cooper doing it, it’s even more amazing. So much concentration, balance and coordination is required for him to stand up, let alone use his hands to DJ and dance as well. He only started walking independently about eight years ago, so he gets exhausted,” commented his mum, Bron.
About six months ago Cooper put a shout out on Instagram for anyone that could help him. Tom Evans, who happens to be one of Cooper’s favourite Melbourne DJs got in touch and they now get together once a week. Whatever musical ideas are in Cooper’s mind, Tom can be his hands on the equipment.
“Cooper was studying music production at TAFE, learning the same things as he’s getting from Tom, an industry expert, on a 1:1 basis in a much more fun, experiential way,” said Bron.
He’s DJ’d at CPA events in Melbourne including STEPtember, with CPA feeling so lucky to have had him participate, given he and Tom just landed a record deal
to produce music together, and Cooper now has an agent, Thick as Thieves, to manage his bookings; he’s a young man much in demand!
Looking ahead, Cooper’s excited about a festival called Beyond the Valley which he will be playing at the end of this year, just outside Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road. And next year he’s hoping to do a European and Australian tour.
Cooper’s motto is never give up; he’s passionate about persistence, showing up and doing what he says he’ll do. His advice to people with disability is:
“If you’re trying your best and positive about your disability, not complaining about the situation and feeling sorry for yourself, then people are more likely to support you and want to be around you. People are more likely to help with someone with a disability if they have something in common.”
You can watch the recent ad campaign by Cerebral Palsy Alliance featuring Cooper here – cerebralpalsy.org.au/great-minds-think-differently and also visit the CPA website: cerebralpalsy.org.au to find out about all the ways they support families living with cerebral palsy.