You wouldn’t guess it – especially when listening to “Uebok,” a song sung in Russian that’s been viewed nearly two million times on YouTube – but Apashe lives and works in Montréal. It’s in his Mile End studio that he composed Renaissance, an orchestral/electro album recorded in Prague with a 65-piece orchestra.
John De Buck, a.k.a. Apashe, is a special case. Born in Belgium, his Francophone parents chose to enroll him in a Dutch-language school, and the now-trilingual producer completed a degree in electro-acoustic music at Concordia University before his career exploded. To this day, he’s written music for ad campaigns by Budweiser, Adidas, and Samsung. Famous franchises such as Marvel and Fast and Furious have also availed themselves of his services.
We meet with him in the office of his record label, Kannibalen Records, also home to Black Tiger Sex Machine. It turns out De Buck is the antithesis of his music, which is full of abrupt drops, intense buildups, and frenetic crescendos. The man is calm and affable.
The secret of his success? Following his instinct. “My team and I work in a very organic way,” he says. “We create music, we put it on the internet, and we wait and see. It grew very naturally, to be honest, we never really tried to push things. But we’ve now gotten to a point where the projects we get are huge!”
Huge? The word could hardly be more appropriate. SOCAN members who see and hear their sheet music played by a horde of seasoned musicians in Prague’s Dvořák Hall are few and far between. After seducing the dubstep world and ad agencies, Apashe was chosen for a substantial subsidy, the first of his career.
“Up to this point, I’ve always been 100% independent,” he says. “We were so used to doing things on our own that now, if someone gives us the financial means, we’re like ‘Yo! Let’s go all out!’ Without FACTOR’s help, I wouldn’t have had the chance to work with the orchestra. I owe them that.”
We already knew he had a knack for epic, opera-like creations. But this time around, he’s not re-mixing a Mozart concerto. It’s his own creations. “I listened to a lot of classical music when I grew up, all the great composers,” says Apashe. “Now I’m exploring the lesser-known composers. I listened to a lot of movie soundtracks, and they’re generally classically-trained composers who work with orchestras. People like Daniel Hoffman, Philip Glass, or even Hans Zimmer… People always tell me I make cinematic music, but the thing is, when I try to do something else, I just can’t.”
Apashe’s love of strings, and especially sacred music, has been well-known for a long time. He also loves foreboding and heavily treated choirs, to add another level of intensity to his music. “I’m not sure exactly where that comes from, it’s quite strange,” he says. “I just love grandiose and supernatural sounds. Just like bass music! It’s heavy and immense, like classical music. That’s why I want to bring them together.”
This penchant from dramatic sounds doesn’t mean he can’t flirt with hip-hop, such as when he collaborates with Instasamka. Their collaboration might have seemed improbable at first, but it was unavoidable. “I wanted someone to rap in Russian over the melody of ‘The Little Birch Tree,’ a very popular folk song in Eastern Europe,” Apashe explains. “I asked my contacts over there, and she [Intasamka] was highly recommended. They told me she’s more of a comedian and influencer, but that she had just dropped a kick-ass album. I listened to it and thought it was perfect. I wrote to her manager and he told me she knew my 2014 track ‘No Twerk.’ She said yes right away, and within a week everything was done.”
The video, which was filmed between his appearance at the Sziget Festival in Budapest and à concert in Nizhny Novgorod, is articulated around Russian stereotypes. A ride on a tank, bare-chested hunting (à la Vladimir Putin), a face-to-face with a bear… The images that play over “Uebok” allow Apashe to add a touch of humour and self-deprecation. Clearly, aspiring to excellence hasn’t gone to his head.