Johan De Smet is a self-proclaimed autodidact, not having studied music at the post-secondary level or with a renowned composition teacher. All the same he was greatly influenced by musical experiences encountered early on. He sang for many years in a boys’ choir (which led to his meeting Louis De Meester and Benjamin Britten), his brother was conductor of the Goeyvaerts-Consort and at a young age he was a student at the Ghent Conservatory, which did give him some basic training in music theory. It soon became evident that he was more attracted to pop music, with Frank Zappa his great hero. De Smet’s fascination for this artist and the musical “hybrid forms” that he created led to an interest in the contemporary “classical” music of Edgard Varèse, Igor Stravinsky and others. At this time he gained practical experience as a pop and theatre musician. The openness of this world appealed to him more than the traditional conservatory, where he felt that an exaggerated respect for the past created a fear of innovation and a preference for “boring music”. A life of pop music alone turned out to be somewhat one-sided and labour intensive, however, and De Smet turned his attention to repertoire for the theatre, where he began to work in the 1980s (with his first success in 1984, Het rattenkasteel (The rat-castle), based on the “Nero” comic strip by Marc Sleen). He is also the house composer for the shows, songs and sketches of Kamagurka (including the radio programme Studio Kafka, the television shows Lava 1, Lava 2 and Johnywood, and the series Bob en George) and he is an active member of the group “The Simpletones”, which parodies “minimal music” by using only three notes in its whole repertoire. Over the years, De Smet has built up a sturdy reputation as a (very productive) composer of music for opera and theatre, often commissioned by leading companies in Belgium (KVS Royal Flemish Theatre, KNS Royal Dutch Theatre and NTG Ghent Theatre).
Today he is artistic manager of De Kopergietery in Ghent.
- M. DELAERE, Y. KNOCKAERT en H. SABBE, De postmodernisten, in Nieuwe muziek in Vlaanderen, Brugge, 1998, p.134-135
List of works & work review: www.matrix-new-music.be
consultation scores: Matrix