Interview: Five Minutes with Simina Grigoriu

Romanian-born, Toronto-bred Simina Grigoriu has been steadily racking up accolades during her decade-long career. Starting off as a DJ, she quickly made the transition as a producer and kicked off her own label Kuukou, a home for techno forward productions, where she calls all the shots. In this time she’s also transplanted to Berlin, a place she now calls home and the major source of her creative inspiration, a source as diverse as her influences. 

Her first productions came to light on the Berlin label Sonat Records in 2010 with the huge Mukluks & Ponytails EP, followed by releases with Phrase Insane Records in Spain, Italy’s Intelectro Vibe, Urban Sound and Frequenza Records. A debut album was sure to follow, as ‘Exit City’ became one of Susumu Records’ highest chart-toppers. 

After a yearlong break, where she focused her efforts on motherhood while keeping an active studio schedule, Simina christened Kuukou Records in July 2016 with her inaugural EP on the label Techno Monkey. Shortly after, she doled out Matching Numbers on POPOF’s FORM, an immediate hit EP complete with a smashing remix by Julian Jeweil. Since then, Simina has become a mainstay on some of the most notable labels in the techno world, with critically acclaimed, internationally-lauded releases on the likes of ELEVATE, Tronic Music, Set About, Prospect Records and Complexed Records to name just a few. 

We are pleased to have connected with the forward-thinking techno artist in the wake of her new EP Confiscate / Elucidate, out now via Kuukou Rec.

Set the tone for us. Why the arts?

I’ve always been an artist. I was enrolled in Claude Watson School for the Arts when I was nine years old. I proceeded to concentrate on visual arts while also studying drama, music and dance. I played violin and keyboard and of course, the recorder, like many kids do at that age. I performed in plays and dance recitals and sang in a choir. I was multi-talented and I think this background in performance prepped me for being on stage later in life. 

In high school I focused on visual arts but also started writing music and writing rap lyrics. 

Eventually my life went corporate after university but somehow my love of music and need to write remained ever-present. And here I am 🙂

Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?

It depends! I often just sit down and start so I would say the sound comes first, then the ideas flow. But often, I come up with a melody in my head and wrap the track around that idea. I’ll record whatever I’m singing and try to reproduce that in studio either as a totally warped top line or as a sound. But yeah, it depends.

Does your material feature any collaborations?

Yes! I often work with my brother, fellow producer Moe Danger. He is also my sound engineer and my sounding board (pun intended) for most of my work. I also like to do remixes and that’s a collaboration in itself. I’ve recently produced two tracks with Stiv Hey over Zoom during this Corona pandemic and that went well, too. Sure, the dynamic is a little different as we’re not sitting in the same room, but it worked!

What’s on your current playlist?

My new EP “Confiscate/Elucidate” on my label Kuukou, and I’m looooving the new Drumcode release from Bart Skils. But at home, we listen to a lot of classical music, 80s pop and 70s folk music. I also love reggae so really, my playlist is a reflection of my personality which is actually all over the place. I record 1-2 mixes each week and now there are the live streams so I don’t usually listen to techno at home unless it’s in combination with this type of output, which is pretty much daily.

Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.

If they dance, I am happy. That’s my job and I like to think I do it well. After all, I am there for the audience. I feed off of their energy as they do off of mine so staying positive and smiling are always a must. I appreciate them. I would not be able to do what I do without the fans and I love them for their continued love and support. I can’t stand artists that are stuck up and refuse to integrate with the groove of the audience. Be there for them! After all, we are what brought them to the club. And say yes to photos! Again, they are there for YOU! Basically, don’t be a dick.

What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?

I have some go-to vsts but it’s different for every track. The most important element for me is a dark and rumbling rolling baseline. This is what will move the bodies. That is my base. I am not a purist. I don’t have a lot of analog machines. I use Ableton and the wonderful tools it provides because truly, this is all I need.

Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?

Yes! I was bartending my way through university and realized I wanted to be the one making the music, not dancing to it behind a bar. I had a few promoter friends in Toronto so I was already immersed in the techno scene. I asked them to lend me some turntables, I bought a Xone:92 and just spent my afternoons practicing. I had a friend who would come over once or twice a week and school me on Ableton. Show me how to manipulate sound and get what was in my head out into the real life. 

When I met Paul and moved to Berlin, I had been working as a marketing manager for some years and learning the art of mixing in my spare time, playing some random house parties here and there. It wasn’t until I moved to Germany that I took my own fate in my hands and decided “this is what I’m going to do now”. That was 12 years ago 🙂

What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?

Water. Towel. Tequila.

Any emerging artists on your radar?

So many it’s hard to say! DESNA is rising up fast and furious and Gallya is also creating her own little techno empire. I love these girls. So much respect.

What gets your creative juices flowing?

The bassline. When I find it, it’s like the glue that holds the track together. All other elements wrap around that sound. And it’s the first element with which I start. I don’t find the flow until I find the sub bass.

Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.

I’ve recently done an interview with Computer Music Magazine called “What’s on your Hard Drive?”. I wanted to do the feature with Moe Danger since we work so closely together and since he’s a tech genius who has taught me most of what I know. 

Please have a look here:

Any side projects you’re working on?

Yes, but I can’t say at the moment. 

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?

I spend more time on the basics and I am more focused. At the beginning, I would lock myself in the studio with a bottle of vodka and not leave for 18 hours. I was insane. I’d end up with 50 clips and a mind full of madness. Now, I sit down during the day when the kiddo is at kindergarten and just try and get stuff done. I’m more selective about what stays in the track and if it doesn’t work, I have no qualms about burning it. Before, I held onto EVERYTHING in hopes of possibly re-using a sound later. No more of that. I’m more focused on the end result and experiment a little less (unless I’m in the mood).

Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?

I’ve just released an EP on ELEVATE, another on Set About, two tracks on TRONIC and an upcoming release in June on Drumcomplex’s Complexed Records. I have stuff coming down the pipeline for Kuukou, FORM Music, Prospect Rec and a super banger which I’m not allowed to mention yet. We also have a super special remix project for which I’m still vetting artists but I can tell you it’s going to be great, just based on the artists we’ve lined up so far.

Also exciting is that I’ve been invited as one of the first 100 artists to join and you can expect weekly streams there. It’s a brand new app but growing quickly.

On the home front, we’re trying for another baby so if that happens this year I will be the happiest girl in the world. Isabella is always asking for a brother or sister made of “blood and bones”. Wish us luck!

Famous last words?

Don’t believe the hype.

Simina Grigoriu’s latest EP Battle Axe is out today, 12 June, via Complexed Records:

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By Alaric Hobbs