In Conversation with Lee K

Anyone who has ever travelled to Southern California understands it is a land of many cultures. The term “melting pot” is cliche and overused, but SoCal is one of the few areas on Earth where the term actually makes sense. As a result of this inherent diversity, the artists who are born in SoCal are rarely bound to one genre, one style, or one method.  They are open-minded to the core, and Lee K is one of those artists.

A native of San Diego, which is about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles if traffic is in your favor, Lee grew up outside the rat race. SD is certainly a big city with millions of residents, but without the constant introduction of new artists, parties, labels, etc., it gives those in the scene a chance to find their place, and that’s exactly what Lee did.

By taking a listen to her productions and DJ sets, one would think techno was her foundation. But in speaking to her we learned that her musical influences are far broader than dance music and much more in line with the eclectic nature of SoCal. Names like Diana Ross, Khruangbin, and Nine Inch Nails come up in the interview below alongside Lee’s thoughts on her label, Circulate, and of course her native Southern California.

Read on get inside the mind of Lee K, and she has also prepared an exclusive playlist filled with some of her favorite tracks of the moment.

HL: You’ve played Clinic before, but this will be your first headlining set with us. How does it feel to be coming back as the main act?

LK: I’m very excited to be back. I love the idea of people coming out on a Wednesday night – it makes it feel very ritualistic. Since most people work during the week, I always think it takes more motivation for them to commit to going out on a week night. Meaning… those there are generally very engaged on the dance floor! 

HL: What do you enjoy about playing in your native Southern California? How does it compare to other parts of the world?

LK: Gigs are different regionally, but they can also be very different party to party depending on the venue and night. I would say my favorite part of playing here is seeing familiar faces and playing for promoters I’ve known for years. There’s something special about being able to enjoy a gig with friends around you.

HL: How would you compare the San Diego dance music scene to that of LA’s? LA is, of course, a larger market, but San Diego has a very distinct identity within dance music as well.

LK: LA has a palpable atmosphere to it because it’s such a city in motion – and I think you also have an opportunity to go a bit deeper and more obscure musically depending on the party. But San Diego has an intimate atmosphere to it that I don’t think you can replace. And while LA is larger, San Diego has opened itself up a lot over the last decade and is bringing a healthy amount of talent across genres.

HL: Your social accounts don’t include a bio or much background info, but your Facebook includes several musical influences like Trent Reznor, The Prodigy, and other synth-driven live acts. How do these artists influence your music?

LK: Ah, yes… the beloved bio! It’s something I’ve attempted multiple times but it’s never felt quite right. As for musical influences – a huge part of my love affair with electronic music stemmed from my pre-teen and teenage years and discovering acts like those you mentioned. I’ve always been drawn to the sound of a kick drum and synthesized sounds, particularly if it’s dark, weird, or thought provoking. Skinny Puppy has been a big one for me too. For me everything I do comes back to these references – maybe not audibly, because neither my DJ sets or my music really sounds like them, but it moves me and has shown me what I feel like true artistry and work ethic can look like in the music space.

HL: I read in a past interview that you were considering the idea of doing your own live set. Are there any updates on that front?

LK: I’m in the process of building up my own catalog of music to do this, so while it’s not on the immediate horizon, it’s in process.

HL: You were DJing and curating music on your label, Circulate, before you had any of your own music out which is the not the case for many artists. How do you think this progression has affected your perspective on producing?

LK: As far as industry standard, I probably did things a bit backwards. Ironically the first time I opened a DAW was way before I started DJing, but once I did start playing out regularly, production took a backseat. I’m grateful in a way because I feel playing out allowed me to become better acquainted with what translates on the dance floor, and with things like arrangement and energy. There are lessons when you go on the road, and there are lessons in the studio – and I think both are equally as valuable. I just happened to do the prior first.

HL: What is the mission behind Circulate Records? What do you look for in a release?

LK: Circulate has been an adventure into unknown territory. I launched it three years ago because it was an itch I was considering scratching for a long time – and I realized better to launch and adjust rather than wait for the perfect moment. I’ve learned a lot in the process. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what I look for in releases, and to be honest that’s been one of the trickiest parts of running a label. Because my taste covers a bit of ground, I’ve signed a range of tracks. The obvious answer, I suppose, would be that it’s something I would play out. But as I’ve gone on, I have tried to be more selective in what gets the green light. I think the mark of a good label is consistency and identity – people should know what they’re going to get.

As for the mission, for me, it all comes back to a mutual support – the artist of the label, and the label of the artist. I’m always flattered when artists send me their demos, and I enjoy giving them the exposure and support in return. I’ve developed some great friendships through this process all over the world. We had our second label party two weeks ago and it was a firm reminder of why I got involved in music to begin with: to connect with people, share music, and to have that collective experience.

HL: Earlier this year you contributed a guest mix to Sian’s Octopus Podcast. This was after the two of you played together at CRSSD. What’s it like working with a seasoned veteran of the scene like Sian? Are there any other collaborations coming up from the two of you?

LK: Graham and I share a lot of mutual interests and I have a ton of respect for what he’s done over the years with Octopus, so anything we do together is a pleasure. It’s not unusual for me to ask his opinion on something industry related as he’s already gone down this path and then some. If an EP on his label counts as a collaboration… then yes! More news on this soon.

HL: Who would be your dream B2B partner and why?

LK: I’m going to go completely left field on this one and say Laura Lee from Khruangbin. I saw them at Coachella this past year and they completely blew me away. It would be a very different DJ set – but it would give me a chance to play all of that Diana Ross I never get to 😉

HL: What’s coming up in the future for Lee K?

LK: Next stops are Mexico City for Storage Festival followed by Austin, TX. Along with the Octopus EP, I also have a remix coming out for Matteo Martinelli as well as a joint EP on circulate. We’re also putting together the next label party which will take place sometime this fall in LA!

Connect with Lee K: Resident Advisor | Soundcloud | Facebook | Circulate