Simina Grigoriu: Home is Where the Heart Is

Time and time again musicians have said that releasing new music is like having a child. Simina Grigoriu can attest to this statement. In January of 2021, the Romanian-born, Toronto-bred, and Berlin-based DJ and producer released her single Bucuresti, aptly titled after the Romanian capital, on her Kuukou Records imprint. In February, she and her husband Paul Kalkbrenner welcomed their second daughter. She sprung into the spring season with a re-release of her first album Exit City from 20212, which includes a collaboration with MAMA and 2 remixes from Paul Kalkbrenner and Pan-Pot. Wait, there’s more! Her new EP Sycophantic Slacker is out today on Pig & Dan’s acclaimed German label ELEVATE. Sycophantic Slacker and Bucuresti are peak hour dancefloor-ready anthems, tailor-made for dark, smokey, and sweaty rooms. To say that Simina Grigoriu has been busy in 2021 is an understatement!

Simina Grigoriu spoke candidly to The DJ Cookbook about motherhood, the importance of maintaining and passing down family traditions as well as creating your own. She gave us a checklist of her favorite Romanian dishes, what and where to eat when in Toronto, and what to expect from a Simina dinner party! The Kuukou label boss gave us a preview of what’s next for the label, how spending her summer holidays as a teenager in Romania exposed her to electronic music, her top 5 Hip-Hop albums, and much more.

Q: How is your 2021 going so far? There’s a new family member, is everyone getting adjusted to each other? (Any funny anecdotes from big sister, grandparents, Mom, and Dad?)

A: Hello! Everyone is well, thanks! Isabella is loving being a big sister and is super helpful with Victoria. Paul is just the best Dad, and we’ve all been in a little bubble since the baby was born. He’s going to a studio. I have lots to do with my label, and since Izzy is in kindergarten and the baby sleeps all day, I have a bit of time. Sure there are challenges, but it’s been a lovely learning experience so far. It’s not that I felt incomplete before, but I’ve always known I wanted two children, so now I feel we can finally move on with our little family.

Q: 2020 was the year that changed our lives, what are your thoughts on the pandemic?

A: I am speechless. I cannot believe how this has turned the world upside down. I honestly just want us to all get our lives back. Streams are fun but hold no comparison to playing live for humans in a club. It’s sad to see how our industry has become at risk. Clubs are now covid testing stations and vaccination centers, performing artists have lost their jobs altogether, and for those of us who earn our income on stage, this is a disaster. As to the future and to attempt to answer the second part of your question: I have no idea. I am hopeful but also skeptical. I am so happy to see that countries like New Zealand are entirely open to events, and I hope this becomes our reality soon.

Q: During your pregnancy, did you have any weird food cravings? If yes, what were they? Were they crazier than your first pregnancy?

A: Yes! Everything salty and savory. I also overloaded on chocolate. I was basically a human vacuum. It was not as crazy as my first pregnancy, but I still had my favorite restaurants on speed dial.

Q: Did you discover new recipes during lockdown? Were they a hit or miss?

A: I’ve been cooking and baking with Isabella, so we try new things out for fun. We recently got a spiralizer, and we’ve been experimenting with that as well. We like to mix sugar and salt, and we’ve been experimenting with maple syrup a lot. It’s a Canadian thing.

Q: Do you listen to music while cooking? If yes, is there a specific genre, or is it a free for all shuffle? Do you dance and sing while cooking?

A: Of course! We usually listen to classic radio or 80s hits, and of course, there is Top 40 pop for Isabella, who seems to know all the recent hits. She also has a CD player and all of her dad’s CDs, so PK is on heavy rotation, too.

Q: Now that you’re a mom, does food play a major role in your household? Have you become more aware of what you buy, eat, and cook for your family?

A: Absolutely. While on tour, it’s challenging to stay regimented, and food options are limited. At home, we are blessed with a multitude of choices. I try to teach Isabella to make healthy choices, and even if it’s going to be chicken nuggets and fries, there are always plenty of vegetable options alongside. We talk about natural food vs. processed food, vitamins and minerals, and how important water is.

Q: What is a food staple that is always present in your kitchen pantry or fridge?

A: Pantry: Quinoa, raw cacao powder, hibiscus flower tea, long corn brown rice, nutritional yeast, Himalayan sea salt (and many more). Fridge: All the sauces: Ketchup, a variety of BBQ sauces, Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo, pickles, homemade iced tea, Oatly, organic milk, and a variety of raw fruits and veggies.

Q: Do you have a favorite kitchen appliance?

A: Thermomix. I cannot live without it. I use it for everything!

Q: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Romanian food? Is it a smell, a distinct flavor, a childhood memory, a location/setting, a family gathering?

A: All of that. Our favorites included: Salată de Vinete (eggplant salad), Mititei (Romanian grilled sausages), Sarmale (cabbage rolls), Fasole Batută (Romanian white bean dip), Mamaliga cu Brânză (Romanian polenta with cheese), and all of the salads you could imagine. My family makes all of these dishes for all occasions, and there is never a shortage of food. It brings us together, and there is always laughter and entertainment around the table. These dishes make me think of my childhood, and I hope to give my daughters a similar experience with exposure to my native cuisine.

Q: As a young girl in Bucharest, did you have a favorite sweet treat? Was it chocolate, candy, a candy bar, baked goods?

A: There’s a pastry called “Merdenele,” which is a fluffy treat offered with various filings. They’re readily available fresh at every bakery. I loved the sweet cheese Merdenele. They’re great as a snack for kids but also as a meal after a night out.

Q: If you had to describe Canadian cuisine in one dish, what would it be?

A: Poutine.

Q: When in Toronto, you must eat at or a…?

A: Burrito Boyz and Mr. Jerk.

Q: Can you tell us your favorite Canadian comfort foods?

A: A biscuit breakfast sandwich from Tim Hortons or a homemade Nanaimo bar.

Q: German dish that you have discovered and cooked that you’re proud of?

A: Schnitzel! It’s actually Austrian, but I’m going with Schnitzel!

Q: Do roots and tradition play an important role in your family?

A: Yes. I grew up going to the Romanian Orthodox church, and I read from the bible with my grandmother when I was little. Though not overly religious, my mother still holds the main traditions and cooks the appropriate dishes for Easter and Christmas. We are a very traditional family. We talk to Isabella about old Romanian family traditions (i.e., Easter and Christmas) and how things were different where Paul grew up in the GDR. We like to expose her to traditional foods and music and tell her old stories brought down through our grandparents. We are still such a young family, with our oldest only being six years old, but we are slowly starting to create our own family traditions, which are a mix of our cultures combined with new traditions we create.

Q: Your family fled Ceausescu’s communist regime, and your husband grew up in East Germany. Both of you have experienced the failed and oppressive effects of communism and socialism, what are your thoughts regarding the rise of extreme political fanaticism in the XXI century?

A: Woah. Ok. I have a lot to say here, but it will turn into an essay if I start. We’d better leave politics out of it.

Q: If you gave a dinner party, what dishes would you cook that would best represent Canadian, German, and Romanian cuisine?

A: As a common denominator, I would go with BBQ. Romanians LOVE BBQ; Canadians pride themselves on grill mastery during the summer months, and Germans are renowned for their sausages and pork dishes, often fired on a grill. I would then add a few side dishes from each region: Grilled corn and baked potatoes for Canada, all those dishes mentioned above for Romania, and a regional potato salad and sauerkraut for Germany.

Q: In your opinion, after a long night of clubbing, what is that one food that hits the spot?

A: Something crunchy and salty, like fries.

Q: When touring, how important is it for you to discover the local cuisine?

A: Discovering local cuisine is one of the perks of traveling. If I’m somewhere new and I see something I’ve never tried on the menu, I’ll give it a go. I grew up trying everything. My parents’ mantra: “How do you know you don’t like it if you don’t try it?”

Q: Do you think that being musically trained from an early age allows one to experience the world differently?

A: Absolutely! I was exposed to a variety of musical styles from a very young age. It built up sort of a music library in my head. My parents had great taste in music, and right around when CD players came out, I was old enough to play around and experiment with our disc collection. As to my classical training, it was very short-lived. I played violin for three or four years while also learning piano, but I dropped music for visual arts once I got to high school.

Q: Albums from your teenage years that you’ve been revisiting lately?

A: Many and often from Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang, No Doubt, Sublime, Easy E, Rakim, Lil Kim, Bob Marley, The Prodigy, Sneaker Pimps, and many more.

Q: Your top 5 Hip-Hop albums of all time?

A: Mobb Deep – Infamous, Nas – Illmatic, Wu-Tang Clan – 36 Chambers, Eric B. & Rakim – Paid In Full, and GZA – Liquid Swords.

Q: What were you doing before you realized music was going to be a way of life for you? Were you enrolled in a University degree program, were you working a 9 to 5 job?

A: I graduated from Ryerson University in 2004 with a B. Tech in Graphic Communications. I worked at an ad agency for a few years and then moved client-side as a print/media producer. On weekends went to techno parties and messed around on my decks. It wasn’t until moving to Berlin in 2008 when I decided to focus on music full-time. I moved here for love and am very grateful for my husband, who has supported my career and musical journey since I moved here from Toronto. It wasn’t easy at the beginning—motivation for studio time and results play a role—but I used the time to learn Ableton, produce my first tracks and start making a name for myself.

Q: As a DJ and producer, which artists do you think have had the most influence on your sound?

A: Adam Beyer, Victor Ruiz, Jeff Mills, Paul Kalkbrenner, Extrawelt, Robert Hood (and many more).

Q: In your opinion, the ideal set of headphones should be?

A: It depends on what you need them for. For studio, I like to use Beyer Dynamic, and for DJ, my go-to has always been the SONY MDR-7506 (they’re production headphones, but I love the sound and how they feel).

Q: What is the story behind your latest release Bucuresti?

A: I was born in Bucharest in 1981. I lived there only three years and then immigrated to Toronto with my parents to escape the communist regime. After the revolution, we were able to visit, and my brother and I spent most of each summer in Bucharest. I got to know the place I came from, and I fell in love with Romania in general, feeling most connected to Bucharest and the “summer friends” I still know today. So that’s that. The track is a dedication to where I’m from and the place I never really got to call home. It’s weird since I didn’t really grow up there, I can’t say I feel a nostalgia for it, but Bucuresti will always be the core of my heart.

I can say this: When I was 11, one summer in Bucharest, I bought a bootleg CD of The Prodigy “Experience,” and it changed my life. During those early summers in Romania, I heard music I’d never heard before in Canada—Breaks, Big Beat, House, Electronica in general. At 12, I attended my first “discotheque” and danced until way too late. At 14, I snuck out of my grandmother’s house and went with a few teenage friends to a club that would later be known worldwide as the first electronic music club in Romania: Martin—The House of House Music. I was honored to play there 20 years later, and it felt like coming home.

Q: How did the idea for your label Kuukou come about? Artists or releases on Kuukou that you are excited about?

A: I founded Kuukou Records in 2016 after taking a yearlong break to have our first baby. My pregnancy was so rough that I had to cancel many gigs and stop touring earlier than expected. I had nothing else to do with my time other than making music (and eat. A lot). I produced an album, which I later decided to split into E.P.s and start my little techno label. I started with “Techno Monkey” (a track dedicated to my dear husband Paul) and “Ninja Princess” (a track dedicated to our daughter Isabella Amelie).

At the recommendation of my manager, my booking agent, my husband, and pretty much everyone I spoke to, I have decided to split my album into E.P.s because for today’s generation of music enthusiasts, the concept of the album is beginning to become obsolete. It just made more sense this way. We now have 46 excellent releases, including top remixers, and I am very excited about my now 5-year-old label.

We have a lot coming down the pipeline in 2021, and I’m excited about all of it! An extra special project is my “Techno Monkey Remixes.” I’ve selected a dozen artists to remix my original and first track on Kuukou, “Techno Monkey.” We will be releasing these throughout the year starting this May. I’m thankful to the artists who have joined us for these releases and very grateful to ALL those involved, including my label managers who are wondering if I’m crazy, wanting to release a dozen remixes of one single track. I’m very curious about fan feedback, and I hope you guys like them, too! More on this soon!

Q: When listening to demos, what do you look for in a track?

A: Punch and feeling. It’s gotta make me wanna get up and dance. There is A LOT of good techno coming our way, and often it’s hard to make these decisions based on sheer volume, but essentially, a track has to be memorable, have a special something, and make you want to groove.

Q: Do you think that once clubs reopen, there will be a bigger appreciation for peace, love, unity, and respect? Can you envision the energy between the music and the dance floor?

A: I hope so! I hope it’s not a bunch of savages rushing to the bar! No, all joking aside, I think we already do have a greater appreciation for our industry and nightlife in general. Having had this fully taken away from us has been a shock, a challenge especially for those who rely on nightlife events to earn a living. It’s been a challenge for the performers as well as for fans who look forward to these events and festivals as a way of self-expression, unity, and pure simple fun and love of music!

Simina, thank you so much for talking to us!

Thank YOU! It’s been a pleasure! 🙂

Check out Sycophantic Slacker, out now!

 

Simina Grigoriu’s Instagram
Kuukou Records