Kate Simko is Fusion’s New Face
As the walls between musical audiences crumble, Kate Simko is building bridges between the two genres that have ruled her world. The Chicago-bred producer/composer/house and techno DJ leads Kate Simko and The London Electric Orchestra, a group that blends Simko’s classical pianist background with her Midwest electronic dance music roots.
The seven-piece ensemble play with classical melodies and instrumentations that soar over night club-ready electronic grooves. It’s a one-of-a-kind sound that easily feels at home at both the Royal Albert Hall and festivals like Latitude Festival and Bestival. Prior to her London show on Thursday, the 24th of May 2017 at The Jazz Cafe, The Rhapsody caught up with Simko over email.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a Chicago-born, London-based pianist, DJ, and composer who moved to the UK in 2012 to get a masters in Composition for Screen at the Royal College of Music. While studying there I began experimenting with combining orchestral instruments into electronic backdrops, and met some great players who are now part of my band, London Electronic Orchestra. I’m currently 7.5 months pregnant, prepping for my final show before the baby at The Jazz Cafe on the 24th of August.
Who gave you your first album?
Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ My parents bought me this on cassette tape. The songs from this record were played everywhere in the ’80s, and as a young girl, I remember being a bit frightened of the ‘Thriller’ music video, and I loved ‘Bille Jean.’
If your life didn’t turn to music, what was your plan B?
Photography or world affairs/politics. I remember struggling a bit with wondering if making music was selfish, as I really wanted to use my time here to try to work alongside others to try to make the world a better place. In time, I’ve realized that artists can have a voice that inspires thought and change, so no regrets on following my path in music 😉
What drew you to classical music, and how did you develop your signature fusion sound?
My father is a passionate classical music fan, so growing up he shared his favourite pieces with me and my brother. This was my first encounter with properly listening to music, alongside learning to play the piano. Classical music really lends itself to a child’s imagination (ex: Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ movie), and I remember daydreaming all sorts of scenarios to this music without words.
I started combining classical instruments into my electronic music as early as 2002 on my first album. There’s a piano piece in the vein of Eric Satie called ‘Melancholie Satie’ and a song where I recorded live cello (in the college radio station control room :). To me, music is music, and it’s natural for your style to include what you like, and your influences. Then, like I mentioned at the Royal College of Music I began properly fusing my electronic production style with all of the orchestral instruments. After two years of
keeping my head down and experimenting, I did a debut London Electronic Orchestra concert in March 2014 at the RCM’s Britten Theatre, with a 36-piece orchestra. I poured my heart and soul into it, and it led to the project having a life in the real world, which was unexpected and has been great!
Can you tell us about the process of making your first album? What did you least expect? What did you learn?
My first album was a collaboration with Chilean electronic producer Andres Bucci, ‘Detalles – Shapes of Summer,’ written in 2002 in Santiago, Chile. I was still a student at the university – just 21 years old. We made the album from start-to-finish in just two months, and that completely changed my expectations of how long it ‘should’ take, and taught me a lot about finishing songs. Before that I had lots of ideas sketched or almost finished, but nothing I was confident enough to send out, let alone to labels. We sent a CD demo of our album to ten of our favourite labels, and it was signed to Traum Records out of Cologne, Germany, which was a sub label of Kompakt. That stamp of approval from the label gave me much needed confidence. My best advice to aspiring producers is to finish their songs and get them out there into the world.
You’ve collaborated with some of music’s top talents on your album. Who’s still on your wish list?
I’d love to collaborate with an amazing, soulful vocalist. Someone who writes their own lyrics and keen to be involved in the creative process. Last year I did a collaboration with Jamie Jones and Katy B, and Katy’s lyric-writing skills, and strong voice, was really a treat to work with. Another aspiration is to write orchestral parts for a pop artist. Maybe some harp and strings arranging for someone like Rihanna or Grimes.
What’s your karaoke jam?
I don’t really have one, but The Smashing Pumpkins are Chicago legends and broke their album at The Metro, where I grew up hearing music. Their song ‘1979’ brings back a lot of memories, and seems to always be on karaoke lists in Chicago. Here’s the first verse and chorus:
Shakedown 1979, cool kids never have the time
On a live wire right up off the street
You and I should meet June bug skipping like a stone
With the headlights pointed at the dawn
We were sure we’d never see an end to it all
And we don’t even care to shake these zipper blues
And we don’t know just where our bones will rest
To dust I guess
Forgotten and absorbed to the earth below
How do you discover new or old music? Do you have a favourite record shop or website?
The best discoveries are usually enthusiastic recommendations from friends, or people I meet while traveling and touring. I jot down the song or artist names in my phone then look them up later. In London my favourite record shops to discover new music are Phonica in Soho and Kristina Records in Stoke Newington.
What are your go-to tunes for:
– Getting out of bed and seizing the day?
Four Tet ‘Morning Side.’ One to start the day in a good mood!
– Winding down at the end of the day?
Sigur Ros ‘Staralfur.’ It’s so calming, love it.
– Hyping up as you get ready for a night out?
Chaka Khan ‘Ain’t Nobody.’ A Chicago legend, disco always lifts the mood 🙂
Will audiences get to hear new London Electronic Orchestra material, or any other features, during your upcoming show at Camden’s iconic venue, The Jazz Café next week?
Yes! We will be performing our new LEO single as the final track in the set, which is an uplifting disco strings track with an electro-style beat. We recently laid down the strings at the studio – I’m excited to get this one out there! Also, we are all very happy to be collaborating with fashion designer and visual artist Jack Irving. Jack’s designed a bespoke light installation and is kindly letting us borrow some of his absolutely fantastic futuristic outfits for the stage. I’m happy to go all-out at our final LEO show of the year 🙂
Kate Simko and the London Electronic Orchestra are set to perform at The Jazz Cafe in London on Thursday, 24th of August. Tickets are available through here.