Ivey prof, environmentalist and DJ Paul van der Werf is a lifelong learner
Lauren Medeiros, Culture Editor
Photo by: Paul Lambert
Nov 29, 2022
***This article was directly adapted from the 29 November 2022 issues of the Western Gazette.*** https://bit.ly/westerngazette
By the end of the day on Nov. 18, 2018, at age 50, environmental scientist Paul van der Werf had defended his three-year PhD thesis in food waste prevention and simultaneously began his career as an electronic dance music producer.
An academic, composting expert, former business owner and electronic DJ, Paul is as multi-talented and eclectic as they come.
Paul, an adjunct assistant professor in Western University’s department of geography and adjunct professor at Ivey Business School, spent the year following his PhD teaching himself how to produce, mix and master electronic beats in a studio he built in the spare room of his London home.
Fast forward a few years and songs later, the 58-year-old professor, known in the music industry as apaull, has an executive producer in New York City, a record distributor in Hamburg and a promoter in
Although Paul does not teach courses at the university, he helps supervise graduate students, manage labs and develop projects with other professors as his music career blossoms.
“The music is another one of those bucket list things that I want to accomplish,” says Paul. “I love learning, I love school. The music piece is just another one of those things that’s been on my list. I consider it a big effort — similar to the effort of doing a PhD.”
Paul travels now frequently to the Netherlands, his birthplace, for both his academic work and music career. The EDM scene is far more popular in Europe, and he hopes to take European inspiration to further his work in North America.
He considers his music to span the three electronic music genres — ambient, techno and house. His music can be considered techno with its fast pace and beats per minute, but also has the melodic quality of ambient and the inclusion of vocals typically associated with house.“I don’t necessarily create the pounding music you hear when you go to a club,” Paul says. “I’m certainly within that vein but I’ve really put my own stamp on it.”
Paul also takes inspiration from the artists he discovered in the 1990s, when he was doing his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Guelph. Classic rock bands and old school hip hop, which he used to gravitate towards, are both incorporated into his current “sound.”
“I wanted to produce [music] thirty years ago but put it aside … now I’ve unlocked that desire by taking myself back in time to tap into those influences,” Paul says.
The professor has worked for 30 years as an environmental scientist focusing on waste management research. For 25 of those years, he owned an environmental consulting company. He sold the company in May 2019 as his role grew at Western and his music career became more of a focus.
Jim Graham, a Huron University College alumni, met Paul in the late 90s when Paul was running a composting facility in London. Graham has been involved in the environmental industry since 1997, and is currently the president and chief executive officer of the London-based business, TRY Recycling, which Paul assists and consults with. The pair became friends early on and have maintained their relationship throughout Paul’s various career moves.
“He had long hair, he seemed like your sort of hippy, composting guy at the time,” says Graham. “My first impression was [that] he was brilliant, he was really a scientist when it came to composting, he was very passionate.”
Four years ago, when Paul came to Graham and told him about his decision to pursue electronic music, Graham knew he was serious. Throughout their two decades of friendship, Graham has learnt that when Paul does something, he fully commits to it. Graham is fascinated by his friend’s intense passion, and has enjoyed hearing the evolution of his music’s style and sound –– from his first self-produced projects, all the way to his most recent globally-influenced songs.
“I always enjoy seeing Paul’s brilliance from a technical, science, regulatory perspective on one end of his psyche, and then the creative and the musical and the artistic side — I love watching it all come together through electronic music,” Graham says.
Kate Schieman, an HBA recruiter at Ivey, worked in the department of geography’s Heal Lab as a master’s of science student while Paul was doing his PhD. Schieman initially thought that he was a professor, but soon found out he was a student like herself, enrolled in the same courses as her peers.
Although they were on completely separate projects, they immediately connected in the lab, and ended up having a drink at the Grad Club soon after meeting. Paul became a mentor to her during their shared time at the university and their friendship has only grown stronger since they both graduated.
Schieman clearly remembers the day when Paul told her he was going to start taking an online DJ course in the summer of 2018. At the time, Paul was a client of her’s at Hi-Ignition Fit Lab, a spin studio in downtown London where she teaches. During lab sessions, Schieman recalls Paul’s endless supply of EDM song recommendations for her to play in class.
Paul continues to attend the classes and now spins to his own music, which Schieman happily plays.
“People really love it,” she says. “They love it even more when he’s in-class — they’re like ‘I can’t believe this.’”
The recruiter and spin instructor says she has always admired Paul’s dedication — to his PhD, his company and now his music.
“I'm not surprised at all that he's been able to move [his music] this quickly and blow up … there’s no age limit to learning,” Schieman says. “Paul is a true testament that we can wear many hats and all be lifelong learners if we put our minds to it.”
Paul’s next project, an EP titled “Sans Phobia,” is set to release Dec. 9 — his third release of this year.
The collection takes a heavier tone, alluding to the cold and dark winter ahead. The professor and artist’s musical endeavours often deals with serious topics, such as censorship and the isolation of COVID-19,but still tries to keep all of them upbeat and something people can dance to.
The professor welcomes the creativity that music production allows him, and intentionally keeps the scientific parts of his life separate. For Paul, music is an outlet that allows him to think in a completely different way than he has been trained to.
“I’ve had a long interest in creativity and I find for the reason that it uses a different part of my brain,” he says. “It gives the mathematical and writing part a little bit of a break, and I find it very fulfilling.”