Q&A with Kate Simko and Valeria Kurbatova (of London Electronic Orchestra)



The Chicago-born DJ and electronic producer, Kate Simko, is known for her music’s diversity and has performed in major venues across the globe. A trained jazz pianist and classical composer, Simko debuts her recent project with The London Electronic Orchestra in the US at LPR this week. We caught up with Simko and LEO’s harpist, Valeria Kurbatova, to get a sense of how the project came to be.
1. Dialogue between classical and club music existed relatively early on in the tradition of house and techno culture and has continued since (performances that come to mind are Laurent Garnier’s perfomance of Acid Eiffel backed by strings and Jeff Mills’ work with the Montpelier Philharmonic Orchestra). What do you think causes engagement between these two supposedly dissimilar genres, and what motivates you to contribute to this conversation?
KS: One thing I love about classical and electronic music is that that they can tell a complete story without words. In a lot of pop, rock, folk, and much religious music, the lyrics are didactic. They tell the listener what the song is about, and shift perception and context. In instrumental classical and electronic music the listener is taken on an open-ended journey through sound that’s open for interpretation. So I think there’s room for engagement to combine these creatively. I hope LEO helps bring together the two disparate worlds of classical and electronic music in a small way. It’s been rewarding to see classical fans embrace electronic music and vice versa.
2. Kate, how did you first start creating electronic-classical hybrid compositions?
KS: My background was first as an electronic music producer. When I was getting my masters in Composition for Screen (film) at The Royal College of Music in London I learned how to write for orchestra, and started substituting classical instruments for synth lines in similar frequencies. I fell in love with the textures and personalities of the different instruments, in the same sort of way you can fall in love with a vintage synth. To me the orchestra is possibly the ultimate palette. The richness of sound and texture is endless!

3. You’ve spent much of your career as a club DJ, and continue to play some of the biggest underground clubs and parties in the world. Do you feel that your experience as a DJ influences (affects) your compositions?
Yes absolutely. My experiences DJing informed my classical compositions more than expected! When you’re DJing in a packed room you’re making quick musical decisions on a sort of sixth sense intuition. There’s a feeling of connection in a room of people on a good club night, which is what brings a lot of music lovers coming back for more. When I compose music, whether electronic or for classical instruments, I always try to vibe off it as if I was in a club listening to the frequencies for the first time. So I’m composing for orchestra in a more improvisational, feeling-driven way rather than conceptual and head-driven. Classical music is pretty intellectual and complex, so it’s not always easy to take a step back and jam out (at least for me!). I wouldn’t make an effort to approach it this way if it wasn’t for my DJ experiences.
4. Since the early 80s, Chicago has cultivated some of the most prominent house DJs in the world. How do you feel the city has affected your musical career? Do you feel connected to this legacy?
Chicago has an amazing musical legacy in many genres. When I was a teen in Chicago it was second school of house at it’s heyday. Derrick Carter, Diz, Traxx, Boo Williams, and Superjane (DJ Heather, Collette, and Dayhota) are some of the DJ’s that inspired me the most back then. I saw the skills, dedication, and passion they brought to DJing and producing, and they set the standard for us up-and-coming new school producers. It was maintain at that level and purist terms or get out. I love that about Chicago and Detroit. Those two cities have a realness barometer that’s rarely matched worldwide. Coming from that legacy and mindset has grounded me, and made focus on being true to myself in music and always aiming for quality rather than chasing hype or trends.
5. Earlier this year, you both collaborated with Jamie Jones and Katy B on “Dark Delirium”, a song from Katy B’s new album Honey. How did the opportunity to work with her emerge?
KS: Jamie and Katy are with the same publisher so I think they approached him to make a track on Honey. Rather than go at it alone, Jamie asked me to get on board. Jamie and I released another EP together ‘One Time Game’ and we already had some studio time booked with LEO. The turnaround time for “Dark Delirium” was insane – like ten days start-to-finish! We recorded the strings and vox to a temp beat, and then Jamie wrote most of the percussion while flying from South America to Japan. We were both putting in crazy hours sending ideas back-and-forth but we got it across the line 🙂
VK: The day we recorded that track was so collaborative! It was like a jam, we just tried different things out until we found something we all loved. I loved working with Katy and Jamie – they’re both incredibly talented musicians and have so many ideas and sounds to bring to the table. They’re inspiring to be around and it’s amazing to see the long list of incredible collaborators on that album, it’s like a who’s who of music today.

6. Valeria, your repertoire spans from some of the most intensely canonized classical works to Daft Punk and Bruno Mars covers. What motivates you to break from purely classical projects and play songs like these, or play with a group like London Electronic Orchestra?
VK: Whilst I’m classically trained and will always play classical music – I love crossing over into other genres. My long term involvement with LEO has opened my eyes to the world of house music. There’s something very exciting about the balance LEO strikes between euphoric classical sounds and house beats – I really think it’s a niche sound that I love working on. I learn a lot from other genres and can reapply these learnings to my classical work and vice versa.
7. Harp is featured quite a lot on the LEO album. Do you find performing with LEO gives you a chance to express yourself more than some orchestral repertoire where harp is less at the forefront?
VK: Yes definitely, as Kate gives me a lot of freedom with my parts which I love, some are composed by myself, Kate composes most pieces but I get to consult which makes things so much more personal and powerful. You wouldn’t get that freedom in a conventional orchestra, you get what you’re given and that’s it. This is one of the reasons why LEO works so well as there a positive and collaborative environment to work in, and it’s a lot of fun!

Kate Simko & London Electronic Orchestra’s self-titled debut album is out now on The Vinyl Factory. The group makes its US debut this Thursday, July 14, at LPR. Tickets for the concert are available here. Kate Simko will be joined by Ricardo Romaneiro, Hannah Sumner, DJ Fiction, Justin Messina, and more, with visuals by Mau Ceppi.

Kate Simko (LPR Gift)