Name: Simina Grigoriu
Nationality: Romanian Canadian
Occupation: DJ, Producer
1. Extrawelt - 8000 - Traum Schallplatten 2006
This track will NEVER get old for me and the audience always have a good response, cause it’s an amazing track and pulls on your heartstrings. I often close with this song (yes, this is a singable song more so than a track) and I call it the “bye bye” song. It’s kinda impossible to follow it up. Even Extrawelt are exclusively playing this at the end of their sets and the track was released a decade and a half ago!
2. Leo Tolstoy - Anna Karenina
I’m re-reading the classics I so much hated in school only to find that I love them all now that I can finally understand them and they are not forced on me by some book club list. Currently re-reading this one.
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When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing for fun and to learn the craft sometime in my early 20s. I was working at a bar part-time during university and wanted to be the music creator, not the drink mixer. A few friends of mine have a production company, Platform Entertainment, and are single handedly responsible for bringing German techno to Toronto. I asked to borrow some decks and started to learn at home.
Early influences included Jeff Mills, Juan Atkins and Derrick May, just to name a few. But I was into electronic music since I was 11. Starting with The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers and moving on to the Toronto Jungle scene in my teen years, my influences are very diverse. I also love 90s hip hop and Nirvana is my favourite band.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Well, I never officially learned music production. I had some friends in Canada who tutored me in Ableton and I was learning sound manipulation from YouTube tutorials and random Internet sites.
My brother, fellow producer and sound engineer, Moe Danger, has also taught me a lot. I work with him often as he’s pivotal in helping me to achieve the right sound. He really is a genius.
It took me a long time to find “my sound”, which, by the way, is always changing, and I was “copying” as an attempt to learn how to create those specific sounds. So it’s about creating music that fits well to the style of the label on which you’d like to release, but also staying true to one’s vision. I love to use samples and vocals and record and then manipulate them. It gives me great satisfaction to work with elements around me and for me, that will always be the basis of my creativity.
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
DJing is fun, carefree and involves an audience. I feel at home on stage. Music production is also fun but can be very tedious, challenging, as well as frustrating and usually involves nobody else. They're the yin and yang of the entire industry dynamic and it’s those hours I spend in the studio that really challenge me and make me feel like I’m a creator.
Sure, we are creating DJ sets which are pleasant to people’s ears, but they represent other artists’ work as well. A track can only rep the producer and his/her vision for said track. A DJ set is completely different animal.
How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?
The job is a melange of what I have to bring to the stage and what I assume/think/know the audience want to hear. It’s important to keep up with current releases but also be true to one’s classics. I am very passionate about my music and it’s important to bring that positivity to the stage.
Sure, we can be tired and grumpy but at the end of the day, the job description is “entertainer”. I’m there to perform and make the audience feel good, no matter what’s happening in my head or personal life.
Being able to compartmentalize myself is key in making this happen. I remember, “I’m here for them” and no matter what is going on with me, the smile appears on my face because, well, because I love what I do!
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first set up was at home with Technics MK2s, a Xone:92 and only vinyl. That’s how I learned to mix. I was using Traktor Scratch with timecode vinyls on stage and mixing in some wax as well. It was only after a certain Mac OS Update that something went wrong and I got irritated with Traktor and started playing CDJs, much later, might I add, than the rest of the world. Today I use CDJs on stage but always request a turntable just in case I decide to play vinyl. I’ll be honest, that doesn’t happen so often anymore but I always play wax at home. The love of finding old tracks on dusty records will always exist for me.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Technology is our best friend and worst enemy. If you look at early pioneers of electronic music production, Delia Derbyshire, for example, who was the mastermind behind the original Doctor Who soundtrack, you’ll see that in the 60s there were no synthesizers—they were sampling and cutting tape. Today, it’s very easy for anyone to produce music.
I love that those boundaries have been broken and that anyone can buy a copy of Ableton Live and start right away. The end result of any project, however, is directly related to a human’s ability, passion and dedication to the craft. It’s not uncommon for a rookie producer to have a big hit and end up on the most important labels. That is not because they a certain machine was used. It’s because of his/her effort, time and talent.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do life and creativity feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I am a Mom. Nothing is routine for me aside from our daughter’s schedule and working out once a day with my boxing trainer. If I can get into the studio, I do. If I can’t, I don’t. There are many days when I hardly have time to check my email.
My working day is very short as we don’t have a nanny so I basically just try to get as much done in those few short hours before 3 pm comes around, then my “working day” is over and it’s all about the family. I’m fine with that. In fact, I love it.
As time seems to fly by and turning 40 is slowly creeping up on me, I realize my life is best when it’s balanced. I did not feel this way before I had a family. I was spontaneous and when I made “Exit City” I would stay and sleep in the studio for days. I can’t do that anymore. It’s a bit of a juggling act, balancing motherhood/wifehood, music, travel and of course, my techno label, Kuukou Records, but I’m managing quite well and I have an awesome team to help me with this. If this was an Instagram post, this is where I would insert #blessed :)
Let's say you have a gig coming tonight. What does your approach look like – from selecting the material and preparing for, opening and then building a set?
I spend some hours during the week collecting new tracks and making playlists in Recordbox but as far as playing onstage, I am quite spontaneous. I never decide when I’m going to play a certain track, I just go with the flow. This is my only way. Don’t overthink it! Plus, it’s important to be able to feel the audience.
If I’ve prepared a super hard and dark set but the DJ before me is playing 124 BPM, well, I have to ease into it. There’s nothing worse than a DJ who doesn’t listen/respond to the audience. Reading a room, in any situation, is a crucial social skill.
Can you describe your state of mind during a DJ set? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Happy. My state of mind is happy! I just love what I do and I like to do it well. I can get pretty excited especially if it’s a big show and extra excited if my friends are attending. “Getting into it” is achieved after the first mix. Like I said before, being on stage is like coming home. I feel comfy there. No need to do anything extra to prepare. Just don’t forget to smile!
What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
Not much consideration since the music in my playlist has already been carefully curated before I step on stage. There is not much key-clashing when it comes to techno and if something sounds “off” as I’m mixing in, I’m very good at dynamically making it go away. That, again, is the job description. It’s not just about mixing pleasant records together, it’s about knowing how to fix/solve a problem when you hear it happening—and fast! In the army they teach you how to fall before they teach you how to shoot. Just know your music and know how to recover if something goes wrong with your sound.
Would you say you see DJing as improvisation? As composition in the moment? Or as something entirely different from these terms?
Carefully curated tracks at home. Improvisation on stage. Too much planning is meticulous and unless one is playing live, there’s no need to be too rigid with pre-set organization.
How do playing music at home and presenting it in the club compare and relate? What can be achieved through them, respectively, and what do you personally draw from both?
I often do guest mixes and I also have my own Kuukou Radio show on Data Transmission. I am home and recording sets every week. This is how I “try out” my music. If it doesn’t work for me at home it surely won’t work on stage. It’s a preliminary playlist organization and I know that the tracks at the bottom of a playlist will always be harder than the ones at the top. This helps to keep me organized when I’m being spontaneous on stage, I don’t have to, nor do I want to think about it too much. I’m there to perform, not to think too hard about what’s next. Bringing the energy is my goal and this is achieved only when you actually like the tracks you’re playing.
How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? How does this relationship manifest itself during a performance and how do you concretely tap into it?
I am very lucky to have almost always had a positive effect on the audience. I never really was unprepared or unmotivated. Having said this, yes, there are some gigs that are more “interesting” and can therefore evoke a bigger emotional response out of me. But essentially I always bring my A-game. People appreciate this and nobody has ever thrown rotten tomatoes at me so I guess I’m doing some things right.
The only time I got discouraged on stage was one time when I opened a concert for Paul and the audience had been waiting for him for hours. They were yelling “Paule, Paule” and it made me feel weird and unappreciated but that also had nothing to do with me or what I was doing—they were just anticipating him and I know that. That was the only one time I really felt “rejected”, for lack of a better word, but even that was not in response to me, but more so because they were waiting for the their darling headliner. I am so proud of this man. He has achieved his dreams and is an inspiration to our entire family.
Especially thanks to the storage facilities of digital media, DJ sets could potentially go on forever. Other than closing time, what marks the end of a DJ performance for you? What are the most satisfying conclusions to a set?
Happy smiles, lots of sweat and simply watching them dance. If you can’t make the audience dance, you’ve failed as a DJ. This should be enough. But I love to close sets with classic tracks (go figure, who doesn’t?) and usually it can be an unexpected surprise. I also consider the region in which I’m playing. For instance, in France I always play a remix from K-Paul of Edith Piaf’s “Rien de Rien”. That seems to go down well because the audience can relate. I have a similar track for Romanian shows that features Maria Tanase (the Edith Piaf of Romania). Hearing these tributes to local folk music shows that I care about them but also gives them a sense of national pride—a pride I also feel and that connects me to the audience even more.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I try to keep politics out of it. I am a very opinionated person but my beliefs should not affect what I’m doing at work. We definitely should be using our platforms for doing good, and I see a lot of artists doing this (i.e Ida Engburg saving animals, Coyu with his Suara foundation, Nicole Moudaber raising awareness for girls/womens rights, just to name a few.) I like to think I can bring this level of awareness to issues for which I’m passionate but I also have a hard time believing that this is what fans want to see. Social media is also a bit of an escape for the end user. People want to hear music, they want to be entertained, not told how to feel or what to do.
Being political on social media requires a delicate approach. I’m still trying to find a right way to feature organizations which definitely could use more exposure but I often do this kind or work on my own and not via social media.
My approach to being an artist is to be open. The word “artist” is like a massive umbrella. A lot of things fit under this general label and although I am an artist with my music as well as visual arts, I am also a producer and that, for me, requires technical excellence. I am always trying to learn and develop my skills. I’ll be honest, ever since becoming a mom, studio time has taken a big hit so any and all time I have to create is done with mindfulness and diligence.