Photo credit: Rui Pignatelli.
Kate Simko is a London-based composer and electronic music producer. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, she attended Northwestern University’s music school and is formally trained in classical piano and jazz.
Simko interned in Los Angeles on feature films while her electronic music career simultaneously began to soar. Her 2011 house track ‘Go On Then’ appeared on the Beatport Top 10 Deep House Chart.
Simko moved to London where she completed a master’s degree in composition for screen at the Royal College Music. She created the London Electronic Orchestra while in attendance. The LEO has performed worldwide and released a self-titled vinyl album to much critical acclaim.
Simko’s recent film and television projects include the 2017 LA Film Festival premiere 20 Weeks; PBS Sacred Journey; PBS Independent Lens We Believe in Dinosaurs, soundtrack released in 2019 by Lakeshore Records; and the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival premiere Underplayed, soundtrack released today by Lakeshore Records!
We reached out to Simko to discuss her start in music and her recent project, Underplayed.
SSM: You stated in a previous interview that you became interested in house music while you were in college at Northwestern University. Can you speak into why that genre of music first caught your attention?
KS: I first got into house music as a teen going to underground raves in Chicago and the Midwest. It was a really exciting time in Chicago for house music, as well as post rock combining electronics with rock instruments (bands like Tortoise, the Sea and Cake, etc. on Thrill Jockey).
I was always was more naturally drawn to electronic beats, and loved how it was mainly music without words like classical music. At Northwestern I took over as the head of dance and hip hop music at the radio station, and that’s when I first started DJing on the radio and went from being a fan of the music to a DJ and couple years down the line releasing my own records.
SSM: You attended the Royal College of Music in London, England, to study composition for screen. What was it about film scoring that pulled you in that direction?
KS: Ever since I started learning how to produce music I wanted to score for film. I studied Music Technology at Northwestern and my final graduation portfolio project was to self-teach myself Pro Tools and score a student film. A couple years later a film faculty member requested me to score my first feature film, The Atom Smashers. It was an amazing experience, and also made me realize my limitations as a composer. I moved to London to learn how to properly write for orchestra and take things up a level.
SSM: Underplayed explores the gender and ethnic disparities within the electronic music scene by interviewing some of the genre’s female pioneers and next-generation artists. How did you come to score this film?
KS: Gabe McDonough (at MAS in Los Angeles), who I’ve known for almost 20 years from Chicago days, contacted me to do this score. We’ve kept in touch and he knew I had a background in electronic music and scoring so put me forward to score a demo scene.
SSM: Can you speak about the conversations you and the director, Stacey Lee, had with how to incorporate a score in a documentary about electronic music, featuring such talents as Rezz, Alison Wonderland and Tokimonsta?
KS: The first conversations with Stacey had to do with creating a score that sat comfortably next to the various niches of electronic music in the film. We didn’t want the score to fit into a genre box, but instead weave in and out of the artists’ sounds. It was a lot of fun to score this film, and underscore the experiences of female DJ’s and producers that I could genuinely relate to. All of the artists in the film are so inspiring!
SSM: While in the UK, you created the innovative classical-electronic, all-female led ensemble London Electronic Orchestra, which has performed all over the world. How did the LEO come into conception?
KS: When I was getting my masters at the RCM, my composition professor, Howard Davidson, encouraged me to incorporate orchestral instruments into my sound as an electronic producer. To be honest, I expected to set aside electronic music during my masters and focus on classical composition. Instead, I was able to combine these two passions into one, which is how LEO was created.
In March 2014, I did a concert in the Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music, alongside a 25-piece student orchestra. The 300-capacity concert sold out and a London-based management company contacted me after that show and helped me bring LEO into the real world. Looking back it was all pretty surreal and happened quickly.
SSM: You have had such a phenomenal career from DJing in clubs, creating an orchestra to scoring feature films. Who are the artists that are currently inspiring you?
KS: Ah thank you. It’s been such a strange and challenging year, but one perk has been more time to listen to music at home. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz music. Classic albums from artists like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver etc. Also London-based jazz artist Nubya Garcia, Kelly Lee Owens, Acid Pauli, oneohtrix point never, Jayda G, and Jamie XX.
SSM: What’s coming up next for you?
KS: Currently I’m finishing an orchestral-electronic album with Jamie Jones, and starting a new solo album. I’ve just joined the faculty of Composition for Screen at the Royal College of Music, teaching 1-1 composition to masters students. Excited for all of these projects and can’t wait for the next film score to come in either.
Follow Kate on Instagram and listen to the Underplayed soundtrack below!
Underplayed Soundtrack Available Now: [Download/Listen]