Exclusive Interview: Simina Grigoriu

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With a plethora of hard-hitting releases on the likes of ELEVATE, Set About, Tronic Music, Complexed Records and her very own Kuukou Records already this year, Romanian-born techno maven Simina Grigoriu has had one of her most prolific years to date. Fresh off the back of her latest juggernaut EP, Line Runner, on Prospect Records, we caught up with the Berlin-based artist to find out more about life under lockdown, her first introductions to electronic music, and juggling a career in the music industry with motherhood.

Good day Simina and thanks for chatting with us! Where in the world are you answering this interview from right now?

I started this interview in Berlin but now I am sitting in my mother’s garden in Toronto. 

With 2020 being such an exceptionally different year than any before it, I have to ask: how have the last few months been for you? Where did you spend lockdown and how did you keep busy and motivated?

We were not shocked when Germany closed down as we had done our research and had a forecast for what was to come. Everyone called us crazy—pulling Isabella out of kindergarten and keeping her home safe—until two weeks later when all the schools closed and we were all officially out of jobs for the remainder of 2020. Considering what’s happened in the world, we are quite fine. We’ve spent the last few months happily at home and in studio. We’ve explored Berlin and the surrounding areas. We’ve taken road trips. It’s been fun!

We also drove up north where Paul’s uncle lives and we spent about one month in the country-fresh air. We’ve adapted to new routines and have had to find interesting ways of keeping Isabella entertained. iPad all day is a no-go so we’ve learned some new skills including two-wheel bike riding and homing in on reading/writing/painting/swimming skills. I’ve basically been mommy-ing hard and loving it. I didn’t realize how much pressure I’d been putting on myself until my days and weekends had been stripped bare and time became an element with which I could now play.

Do you feel the lockdown has slowed your progress as an artist, or do you find some positives in all this?

Actually, yes, it has slowed me down. I rely heavily on kindergarten to provide me with my working time. If our child is at home, my working time is limited to answering some emails. I cannot dedicate hours of time in the studio, even if it’s at home. My concentration is not there—if my family is home, I focus on them. I need alone time to be creative and quarantine has found me swapping working time for family time, which is perfectly fine and I love it, but to answer your question, it has definitely slowed me down. 

I also work with several engineers and during those first few months when we were not allowed to see anyone, we communicated primarily over Zoom. I am so grateful to be able to access such technology and continue to communicate, but it’s not the same. Providing technical direction is not the same as sitting in the cockpit together. I missed studio and collating while in quarantine. Having said that, Stiv Hey and I made three tracks over Zoom and communicated remotely to do so, so anything is possible.

It seems you’ve had a very prolific year in the studio, with big releases on the likes of Elevate, Tronic, Complexed and your own Kuukou Records imprint. How do you decide which labels to release on? And do you tailor the music to the imprint?

I set my goals and then make music I love that also fits the label. It has to fit the label. If it doesn’t, they won’t take it, no matter how good. So creativity is important but some sot of direction or end goal is crucial if you’re making music with a certain label in mind. 

We understand you have another release coming up on FORM Music after the summer. Can you tell us any more about that?

Yeah! Interpol 2020 is a 3-track EP coming out on FORM Music in October. The tracks are heavy and driving and perfect for the dancefloor. I’ve already tried them out in some streams and have received some positive feedback so I’m excited to bring them out very soon. I love FORM and have massive respect for Alex and his team. Merci! Bisous! 

Let’s go back to where it all began. What were your first introductions to electronic music?

I’ve always been into music. As a child, I played piano and violin and I was in choir. As a teen, I started rapping and writing rhymes. I bought my first bootleg The Prodigy CD (Experience) when I was 11 and  by the time I turned 16, I was a full-on Jungle raver. There was never a day when I didn’t have music blaring in my Panasonic Shockwave headphones or blasting from the subwoofer of my little black Jetta. Actually, now that I think of it, it was quite dangerous playing such loud music while driving! Sorry, Mom!

As for my musical education, I never officially studied music production. In my 20s, I started learning Ableton during my free time (outside of my 55-hour workweek in marketing and print production) and I did so from tutorials and with mentors (who were and still are my good friends). I’ve had the great luck to be able to turn my hobby into my job but I still consider myself a student! It took a long time to learn the basics of music production and I’m still learning new skills every time I go into the studio. I often work with my brother (and engineer, Moe Danger) and he’s always introducing me to new and cool plugins and hardware. Thanks, Uncle Dan! 🙂

I remember working at a bar in university and I kept looking at the DJ. I was not only interested in learning the skills, but I was also interested in changing the music! So I got myself some decks and a XONE:92 and started to learn to mix. A buddy of mine told me that the hardest style to mix is jazz and classical (no real beats) so I started with that. I was also blessed with awesome friends who gave me tips and showed me the ropes. 

After university, I was working a full-time corporate job while still raving about and mixing on weekends but it wasn’t until I moved to Berlin that I decided to focus on music full-time. I love what I do and encourage others to follow their passion. One of my goals with my label, Kuukou, is to provide a space for artists to experiment and showcase their music, the way so many label bosses have done for me, too. 

What were you planning to do before you realized that the world of music production and DJing was going to be your passion and work for life?

I graduated from Ryerson University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Technology and a double: Marketing/Entrepreneurship & Innovation. I worked at a global advertising agency for a few years after which I jumped over to client-side, all the while learning to produce in Ableton and practicing on my Technics. I obtained some random gigs here and there and most of my friends were connected to the music industry somehow. I split my time between my corporate job during the week and my passion for music on the weekends. And although I completed my studies and graduated Uni with honours, it wasn’t until I was playing music professionally that I felt like I’d landed where I was meant to be.

Tell us about your label Kuukou Records…

When I was pregnant with our daughter, Isabella, I was home a lot. I was bored, I couldn’t tour and fly and party. I was confined to the comfort of our home as well as my home studio. So I used that time to produce an album. Upon thinking of how to release it, I decided that starting my own label and splitting up the album into EPs with top remixers was the way to go. “Techno Monkey” was the first release with remixes from Klangkarussell, Ron Flatter and Citizen Kain. It’s been a lot of work but I’m lucky to be working with Grise Agency to manage the label and the influx of music we deal with on a daily basis. It’s my little passion project and it makes me happy to work with such wonderful people and talented artists. 

Kuukou means “airport” in Japanese. I am an aviation junkie. I love to fly. I love planes and machines and airports and am obsessed with the hustle and bustle of what it means to run an airport—especially a hub. I’ve been travelling my entire life—back and forth from Toronto to Bucharest for the summer as a kid—and it shaped me. I became independent at a young age and I realize that this was, in no small part, as a result of my travels. 
I also love and appreciate Japan, its culture and its people. When I travelled to Japan the first time, I felt like I could live there my entire life. I kept hearing the word “Kuukou” (pronounced Kuu-KWO in Japanese) over the intercom at the airport and it sounded cute and funny. I kept it in mind. It was not until four years later that I decided to found my label and then this word popped up in my mind. It only seemed fitting and it seems to have become a theme for us because as DJs we are always travelling. An airport can make or break your trip, especially if you get stuck in one for a long time. 

What other hobbies or passions do you have that aren’t music related?

Mommy-ing. Reading. Boxing. Running. Wandering around metropoles with no particular goal (exploring).  Playing tag and fort-building. Painting. And FOOD! Can food be a hobby? Eating, I mean, not cooking. Although I do like to cook, as well. 

I also love to be close to water and would like to get my boating licence, to renew my motorcycle license (first obtained at the age of 21) and to finally secure a pilot license. Flying myself to my own gig? That is the dream. All in due time. 

What’s the one venue you hope to play in some day?

The Vatican.

If you could share a studio session with any other artist in the world, who would you pick and why?

Delia Derbyshire. She was the mastermind behind the Dr Who soundtrack in the 60’s and the very first woman to professionally play around with synthesizers. She is my heroine. 
AND:
Extrawelt. I was and still am blown away by their work.

If you could play b2b with anyone in the world, who would you choose?

Frankie Knuckles.

What is the best thing you’ve eaten in 2020?

I’m on a mission to try every vegan burger in Berlin. So far the BURGHAIN Burger at VEG’D is the best thing I’ve ever tasted. A perfectly-seasoned veggie patty sandwiched between a lightly toasted black pumpernickel bun with homemade vegan kurkuma mayo and veggies. I’m salivating just talking about it. A must-try! 

Any final words for our WOTN readers?

Don’t believe the hype. And definitely don’t believe Instagram.

Simina Grigoriu – Line Runner EP is out now via Prospect Records

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