Kate Simko: The Queen of Genre-Blending Rhythms

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A pioneer of blending classical and dance music, Chicago-born Kate Simko is one of the industry’s most exciting talents, we caught up with her ahead of her live show in London to talk all things music… 

You’re going to be performing at Battersea Arts Centre on the 6th, how’re you feeling ahead of the show?

I’m excited, we have changed the ensemble. Previously we had seven or eight people on stage, seven without the vocalist and eight with the vocalist. The whole ensemble was two violins, two cellos, a great bass and a harp, and me and a vocalist. But now we’re doing a more stripped back set which we debuted at Wonderfruit festival in Thailand. So it’s harp, solo violin and cello. It’s a string trio. And to be honest we first did that in Thailand because we couldn’t afford to fly everyone but it’s just a lot more of a vibey set. It feels more like the players know that they’re just listening to each other, they can vibe of each other a bit more, interact with each other a bit more, yeah it’s just more interactive. I’m excited to debut it for the first time in London. We’ve done the set three times now but this is the first time we’ve done it in London.

 

That’s exciting, so do you think that having just the three makes it feel a lot more intimate then?

It does, there’s definitely moments where it feels amazing with the whole ensemble but yeah it’s more intimate and the players say that too. They feel more connected. Everyone is more connected to each other.  There’s a lot more eye contact, between us and yeah I really like it, it’s cool.

 

 

 

So how do you prepare before a show, do you have any routines that you do?

Well it depends if we’re using players that we’ve used in the past, this show we are so they already know the music and I don’t have to do the preparation of the EDM part sometimes I need to if we’re debuting a new song or I’ve done something new, we need to prepare the score parts for the musicians. This time around, even though it’s our first time in London, we’ve done the trio sets with the cello before so I have the parts. I went through the last show we did in Bristol and I listened to the last recording, see if there’s anything we could do better, make notes in rehearsal and try to focus on a couple of things and if there’s bits to change. For example, the opening song we did it with the cello bode but I think at the Battersea we’ll use a staccato bass, so just things like that. I always try to listen back to what I’ve done for every show, revaluate, and make it better, make it fresh. It’s like a new chance to do it again and make it better.

 

What originally inspired you to bend the two genres and incorporate the orchestral music into dance music?

I went to the Royal College of Music to get a masters in composition for screen but I wanted to learn how to write for orchestra. In the first feature score that I did, I felt my limitations. While I was trained as a pianist I did not know the range of the strings. So I was just jamming out with mini strings and flutes on my keyboard, not able to write for them properly. So I moved to London and did a masters to learn how to do it right and to orchestrate. When I was getting that masters my composition professor really encouraged me to continue with my own sound, so rather than having Kate Simko the electronic producer and DJ and Kate Simko the orchestral composer that were two totally separate entities, he was like, ‘you’ve spent so much time developing your own musical voice, it would be silly for you not to incorporate who you are as a composer to your orchestral music.’

 

Kate Simko  LEO solo bw

 

It was great because the popular culture was open to that, some classical conservatories may have wanted me to keep them separate and may have thought that electronic sounds don’t belong with an orchestra. Again, this was a really open-minded professor and I had really great experience with the Royal College of Music so those two years I was able to really play around with my background and all the production I had done previously and trying to find a way to tastefully incorporate orchestral music into dance music. So I had two years of really intense studying to find my own way of doing that.

 

Yeah well you’ve been massively successful, so you must be doing something right!

Oh thank you, I appreciate that. I didn’t expect it to go beyond the university if I’m totally honest. It was just something that when I went to the real world, I didn’t expect it to translate. I had a final concert, not everyone had that, but I applied to get the Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music which is their opera theatre, and on the 24th March 2014, we had a concert that was completely booked out. That was the first London Electronic Orchestra show, and if I’m honest I thought that would be the last. I was like ‘ok I’m going to have to move back to Chicago most likely,’ and that was going to be the last of my two years, and I'd enjoy it with the people I’d been playing with and share it with the people in the city of London and my electronic friends as well. But at that concert there was a manager who messaged me afterwards and took me on and helped push me on to take that dream to the real world.

 

 

 

You grew up in Chicago, as you said, so how do you think that has influenced your music style and taste?

I think it’s influenced me massively. Chicago when I was a teenager was just exploding with music, Thrill Jockey and the whole post-rock scene, so that was combining electronics into rock and roll. Now it doesn’t seem like such a big deal but in the late nineties that was not done. Rock and roll was a guitar, a drummer and all analogue. Thrill Jockey label in Chicago had all these people that were combining electronic music with rock instruments, so I had that around me and it was a really exciting time for that, and then of course electronic music in Chicago, being the birthplace of house in the eighties and then in the nineties, early 200s when I was doing my radio show, we had record stores exploding with new music. So we had loads of great new DJs coming through. Also growing up with my family too, it was quite a cultured city with arguably the best orchestra in the United States which I would go to with my family a lot. Growing up in Chicago and all the music from being a young kid through to when I went to university and moved away, all of it influenced me. It is a very musical, music-loving city.

 

Kate Simko  London Electronic Orchestra colour

 

Where else will we be able to see you perform in the next coming months?

There’s Saturday and then we’re going to be at the Jazz Café in August which I’m excited about. On the 24th at the Jazz Café, we’re also doing WOMAD festival and a US tour in June. So yeah, this Saturday in London otherwise late August.

 

Is there any other work that’s on the horizon for you which we can look forward to or are you focusing on LEO for now?

I just finished my first feature score that’s on a documentary, so it’s an indie film from Los Angeles so I just submitted my final score for that. That was something I wanted to combine and do right, I had three players from London Electronic Orchestra who came to the studio with me, and we recorded a load of strings and harps on there. That’s been done. I have a lot more, new dance music that’s going to be coming out, I’m currently really focusing on that. I’ve got a studio in London Fields and am really trying to put some more of my solo music out. With the Electronic Orchestra, I wanted and it has needed all my passion and attention to get it off the ground. I’m just really keen to be making my own house music again. Just explore that a bit, and jump between the two really. 

 

Kate will be performing at the Battersea Arts Centre on Saturday, get a ticket here. 

 

By Georgia Evans

 

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