Since the 1980s, the sounds emanating from the house music capital of Chicago to the west and the techno capital of Detroit to the east have met and cross-bred in the Midwest.
These were the hybrid sounds that DJ-producer Kate Simko soaked up as a rave kid. And they have greatly informed her work, which can alternate from minimal Detroit techno to jacking Chicago house, and everything in between.
Simko is still a relative newcomer to the international tech-house scene, but already counts releases on some of its most hotly tipped labels, like Spectral Sound, Supplement Facts and Hello?Repeat. She's also becoming a highly sough-after DJ with a penchant for driving body-jacking sets.
WMC week alone has Simko playing a handful of parties, including Air London on March 20 and the Supplement Facts showcase on March 23. And as it turns out, her arrival in Miami next week is a homecoming of sorts, since she attended the University of Miami back in the day and even interned at the beloved WVUM radio station.
Crossfade: How did you first get drawn to electronic dance music and when did you begin DJing and producing yourself?
Kate Simko: I first got into house music in my teens in Chicago. A good friend of mine gave me some mixtapes of house, techno, and drum 'n' bass. And then I started going to underground parties in the Midwest, pretty much every weekend. At the start of college, I moved to Miami to study music at UM, and that's where I started interning at the radio station, which led to me DJing for the first time. I never thought I'd be a DJ to be honest -- I just loved the music.
Does current-day Chicago live up to its name as the birthplace of classic house? What is the scene like there and how has it shaped you artistically?
The Chicago scene has always had a very keep-it-real vibe. The DJs and producers here really work hard to come up with their own sound, and something they're proud of. Fake people don't really last here, and there's a feeling that you have to continually prove yourself, which keeps you on your toes! Chicago has shaped me artistically in a lot of ways: my musical influences, DJ style, and overall mentality. I think Chicago is a good place to be to keep your head on straight. People here judge the music by what comes out of the speakers -- that's what I mean by keep-it-real.
You've alternated between minimal techno and melodic vocal deep house. What moves you to take either direction in the studio? Is there one style which you consider your strength or the sound you are primarily working towards?
This goes back to the last question actually. The first DJs I heard in the mid-'90s in the Midwest were mixing house into techno into electro, etc. Genre lines were blurred, and I really fell in love with a lot of styles of music over the years. Usually I try to make songs that fit with what I'm into as a DJ at that time. Right now my DJ sets have a more jackin' melodic feel, so my upcoming tracks are heading more in that direction too. It feels good to be making more melodic music again.
2011 saw the release of your debut album Lights Out. What can you tell us about the album, its concept and the creative process behind it?
It's my first full-length solo album, which was released on Berlin-based Hello?Repeat. The album was created over a 2-year time span between Chicago and Buenos Aires. The album ranges from electronic listening music to house, to techno, to ambient. The creative process was basically trying to work out ideas a bit outside the box.
Why did you decide to release an LP in this age of short attention spans and digital single downloads?
I wanted to try to make dance music that wasn't totally for the dancefloor -- more in the vein of IDM, Perlon, etc. Leftfield dance music that is for after-parties, driving in your car, and other times like that. A few people advised me to forget about making an album and just release more EPs instead. But I really wanted to have a CD to give to people outside of the vinyl community. I wanted to have an album of music to look back on in 20 years and be proud that I created an hour of music that fits together, rather than just one-off tracks. Making the album was probably a bad career move based on how long it took me to make it, and the dwindling interest in dance music LPs. But no regrets, I'm happy it's out there.
Last year you also debuted your new "live" show. What is your live performance M.O. and what are the advantages over DJing?
My new live show is an audio/visual live set with interactive HD video that reacts to the music in real-time. I like playing live because you're creating all of the elements in the moment.
What do you have in store for 2012? Any forthcoming projects or releases?
I have a couple EPs about to drop in the next couple months, including an EP on Leftroom, a collaboration with Matt Tolfrey, also for Leftroom, and a collaboration with Tevo Howard. We're also planning to record the AV set and release that as a DVD. See you in Miami!