Digital Octopus Synths Up Cheesy Electro Takes on Hardcore Classics
Every once in a while, from the insipid sea that is the World Wide Web, a rare gem floats to the surface. One that not only gently slaps you across the cheek as if it was a pristine white glove, but also — if you let it — comes into your house, makes itself comfortable, grabs some suds from the fridge and won’t fucking leave! Maxime Smadja, aka Digital Octopus: Get the fuck off my couch! No, wait — please stay.
A couple years back, when a seemingly bizarre electro-synth cover of “I Don’t Like You” (originally penned and performed by Brit white nationalists Skrewdriver) took over social media feeds from New York to Calcutta, needless to say, eyebrows were raised. Then came similar treatments of Oi! / punk / hardcore classics by the likes of Negative Approach, Blitz, Cock Sparrer and the Misfits. WTF?!
Upon further e-perusal, it wasn’t difficult to realize that Digital Octopus was a spectacularly calculated exercise in taking the piss. A YouTube channel under the moniker “Château Vergogne” is proof positive. The comments underneath the Skrewdriver cover alone are entertaining, to say the least, vacillating between affirmative outpourings of joy to genuine exclamations of “White Power.” There’s even a “proper” music video for Octopus’ take on Cro-Mags’ “Don’t Tread on Me,” complete with a semi-recent photo of Smadja alongside Mags frontman John Joseph, not to mention lying in a field of grass reading Harley Flanagan’s book. Clearly, the Parisian punk experimentalist set out to stir the pot, with tracks designed more so for the inebriated afterparty than the actual gig.
DA’s long since impossible-to-find 12” — featuring a dozen wacky-ass, but disturbingly danceable tunes — displays the works of an unhinged craftsman unlike pretty much anything previously set to wax. Twelve thoroughly angry punk anthems plastered against playful Eurodisco productions is must-hear stuff for various reasons, depending on your point of view. But who is this French weirdo daring enough to concoct such nuttiness? His friends call him Maxime. Others just think he’s an asshole and a wise-ass. How could we not want to know more?
People are discovering you because of the Digital Octopus tracks, but what can you tell us about your other bands, Rixe and Skategang?
Skategang is a power-pop band that I started with Mathis and Paul, two friends from Marseille. We did a tape, and then we pressed an EP released by Gone With the Weed Records in 2013. Now the band is on standby, but it’s a lot of fun. I wish we could play more, like we used to. It's a trio, like Rixe. I like the three-piece "format." I started Rixe at the end of 2014 with Tom and Victor, from a desire to play classic Oi! music. We're still playing, and just released our third EP on La Vida Es Un Mus.
Were you basically a punk in your younger years?
The first time I heard punk I was 10 or 11. I had no clue what I was listening to, but I really enjoyed it because it was so fast. In high school, I started going to shows, and I got involved in hardcore. I still considered myself a punk.
Were you ever a skinhead?
I've never been a skinhead, but I love the music and the history, which has connections with punk, of course. Indeed, I play drums in an Oi! band because I wanted to start a band that sounded very French and plays Oi! We didn't really have hardcore bands [in France] in the '80s, so if you look back at the French classics, a lot of them were by skinhead bands. My mom hates when I shave my head!
What are some of your favorite bands from the punk and Oi! scenes?
I love early '80s hardcore, especially from the East Coast, but also Discharge, and classic British and French Oi! As for other actual bands, I really like Arms Race from London; Exit Order from Boston; a lot of NYC and Austin bands. Murderer is, I think, the best Nabat rip-off, but there aren’t so many Oi! bands these days.
How did you become involved with electronic music?
I own a home studio and experimented with electronic music there. That's how I started creating that style. Digital Octopus is the only "band" where I play this kind of music (and it's a joke). I'm still young, 26, and I want to keep playing punk until I get sick of it. Electronic music is a good option for when you get older, because you can just stay home. One day I WILL write my own songs.
What's behind the name "Digital Octopus"?
It's because I have long legs.
What was the first production you did as Digital Octopus?
The first one that people really liked was the Bloodkrow Butcher one. They are my friends, so I thought it would be fun to cover them.
Most people assume what you're doing is a bit of a goof, but have you taken any flak for the Skrewdriver cover?
Some people get mad at me and cancel shows, but hopefully people see it's a joke, and of course, not an ad for Nazi bullshit. If you think about it, it's clearly the opposite: a gay-friendly disco cover created by a Jew to make fun of Skrewdriver.
Do you ever feel as if what you're doing with Digital Octopus is sacrilege — covering punk, hardcore and Oi! electro-synth style?
All the songs I cover are songs I like. It’s sacrilege even for me, but punk can be very serious, so I need to escape sometimes. Smash the discos!
What's the worst reaction you've gotten to any of the songs?
Once I was performing with Digital Octopus in Clermont, Ferrand and people started throwing rotten tomatoes at me. It was a nightmare because I hate wasting food.
Have any of the groups you cover reached out to you to comment on your work?
Recently, Harley Flanagan shared my Cro-Mags cover and told me he liked it, so it's basically a teenage dream happening for real. I also sang the Sheer Mag cover a few times with their singer Christina [Halladay], so I guess she likes it, too.
What songs are on deck for you to work on next?
I can't tell you. It's a secret.