Music interview: Kate Simko

Kate Simko. Picture: Antony Price
Kate Simko. Picture: Antony Price
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American electronic composer and producer Kate Simko has crossed many genres since she first began releasing music more than a decade ago.

The Chicago native’s new project London Electronic Orchestra meshes her two major musical influences – live orchestra and electronic music.

She talked to the Yorkshire Evening Post about it and her upcoming DJ set at Back To Basics in Leeds.

What inspired you to form London Electronic Orchestra while studying for a masters degree in Composition for Screen at the Royal College of Music?

When I moved from Chicago to London in 2012 I didn’t have any experience writing for orchestral instruments. I started working with a harpist and string players regularly at the RCM, experimenting with recording instruments over house beats. I was totally blown away by the depth of sound and texture! Before we knew it we had our first gig. So yes, it was a detour – I was meant to be just composing to short films, not forming a band, oops!

Shikoku, the opening track on your new album, was one of the songs you performed at the National Gallery. They’d never had electronic music performed there before; did it feel like an inspiring challenge?

Kate Simko & London Electronic Orchestra

Kate Simko & London Electronic Orchestra

Yes, it was very inspiring! There was a series called the Belle Shenkman Music Programme (which has since been discontinued) that featured classical compositions paired with paintings at the Gallery. I composed original music for the LEO ensemble, and it was the first time beats had had been performed in the Gallery!

Do you see similarities between classical and electronic music?

The main connecting thread I see is they are both music that are carried mostly without words. A lot of pop, rock, folk, etc. is driven by lyrics but classical and electronic music give space for the listener to have their own journey through the song. Hearing artists like Aphex Twin, Black Dog, and Plaid off Warp Records were a game changer for me and are a big inspiration behind the LEO project.

What have you learned from DJ culture?

Hearing artists like Aphex Twin, Black Dog, and Plaid off Warp Records were a game changer for me and are a big inspiration behind the LEO project.

DJ culture shaped me into the person I am today. It’s influenced the way I view the world, myself, music and given me an appreciation for how we can all be connected through music.

What was it about Schubert’s Standchen that lent itself to reinterpreting with a dance beat?

The first four chords of the song jumped out as dark and mysterious, so I built the whole song around them! The original piece is for piano and voice, and then I put the piano parts on harp, violin and cello. I could imagine stripped back melodies from the original coming across as dance hooks, so I re-recorded everything in a way it could work at a dance floor tempo.

Who had the idea to team up with the dancer Hillary Tang and choreographer Ania Catherine for your video of your collaboration with Jamie Jones ‘One Time Game ft. Jem Cooke’?

This was Jamie’s idea. He saw a video of Hillary online choreographed by Ania. We tracked them down and flew them to New York to shoot the video!

Dark Delirium is an instrumental version of another song that you co-produced with Katy B and Jamie Jones. Did you find Katy a very open minded collaborator?

Katy was incredible! She’s such an impressive vocalist and lyricist. Jamie and I had written a basic chord pattern, bass line and temp beats at the vocal session. When Katy first heard the song she sat on the studio sofa for a long time – over an hour – singing quietly to herself writing the lyrics. I think we both expected her to come up with a couple ideas, but instead she got up and sang through all of the verses and chorus and it was spot on!

You’re going to be DJ-ing at Back to Basics later this month. Have you played in Leeds before or will this be your first visit?

This will be my second time DJ’ing in Leeds. I played in 2012, just before starting the masters course in London. Very excited to play for Back to Basics, have heard about this legendary club night for years!

Kate Simko plays at Back To Basics on Dock Street, Leeds on Saturday August 20. For details visit katesimko.com

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