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Musician, Paris

The unpredictable French provocateur turning hardcore punk classics in to dreamy synth songs.

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Sometimes you come across one of those people whose imagination is so outrageous and unpredictable, you just know you need this person in your life, even if you don’t really understand what you’re seeing. The kind of people who don’t mind getting hurt or criticised, as long as they make something, anything happen. The kind of people that are like living firework displays. Maxime Smadja is one. For the last four years, Smadja (whose better known under the pseudonym Digital Octopus) has been making the most inexplicably wonderful stuff for no apparent reason, and the internet can’t get enough. 

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Since 2012, he’s been taking some of the most aggressive and ferocious songs from the canon of punk, hardcore and Oi! (like “Don’t Tread on Me” by Cro-Mags or “Hybrid Moments” by the Misfits) and turning them into dreamy synth songs with hands-in-the-air Human League-style choruses. Each one is put online with a lo-fi offbeat video. Why? For a laugh. What else does he do? Well, right now he’s watching a lot of nature documentaries so he can create an ambient album for pets (titled, Animalia Symphonia). Fantastic. And what is he doing after all that? He’s going to start a glam rock pub band, obviously.

Maxime grew up in Paris. In his neighbourhood, he tells me, “the environment is green, there is a river nearby and also a lake. I spent all my summers jumping from the bridge and swimming in the lake with mean swans.” As a kid, he wanted to be a modern jazz dancer, and his dad bought him a guitar to encourage him towards music. Then, at 13 years old, his life changed when he discovered punk music. “I bought my first Doc Martens, a Dead Kennedys t-shirt and a leather jacket that was way too large for me,” he tells me.

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His Digital Octopus covers come from a place of love. Hardcore bands like Cro-Mags and Misfits were his most cherished as a teenager. “When I uploaded these songs on YouTube, I didn’t expect them to get so many views,” he says. “Then, friends and unknown people asked for more covers and I did it.
” Soon, he was getting booked to play shows as Digital Octopus. Harley Flanagan, the founder and bassist of Cro-Mags, got in touch to say he enjoyed his covers. “It was like a child dream becoming true,” says Maxime. And when he’s not touring the world, Maxime is recording with bands from France and abroad. Last year, he worked with French band Rendez-Vous on their new EP, Distance. “Recording bands is what I like the most,” he says, “it's pleasant to see that bands trust me for producing their music.”

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Quite exactly what he’s going to next, perhaps even Maxime doesn’t know. The glam rock pub band is certainly happening, although he openly admits he’s yet to find the members. But the music is being written, and, as he tells me, “I always wanted to play rock’n’roll, so it’s gonna be a new experience.” For my very last question, I ask Maxime what the most important lesson in life his parents taught him was? “Carpe Diem,” he says. Needless to say, that explains a lot.