Recently we had the opportunity to get some answers from UMEK, the Slovenian techno giant. Being in the game for over twenty years, UMEK has been around the world and back. Still at the top of the techno game, his production and label are influential in the rise of the genre. Have a read and get a bit of an insight into the world of UMEK.
Name: Umek Uroš
Hometown: Ljubljana, Slovenia, Europe
Current Location: Ljubljana
Years Djing/ Producing: 20
Artist Influences: currently none, previously Westbam, Surgeon, Carl Cox, Jeff Mills
Current favorite track: Filterheadz’ – “Earth” out soon on my 1605 label
Favorite track of all time: LFO – “LFO” (but this changes all the time)
Most Used DJ Effect: I’m a big fan of reverbs and delays
Most Used Production Tool: Logic
What is your music background? Where did your career/interest in electronic music start?
I’ve always had an ear for electronic music. I grew up in the 80s and I remember listening to the then popular bands such as Falco, Human League, Modern Talking and some local acts such as Denis & Denis and Videosex, who were using a lot of electronic elements in their mainstream productions (I don’t listen to the lyrics. Even now I still hear voices in songs mostly as another instrument, the melody, the color, the hook). But then, in the early 90s, the borders fell down and the whole generation suddenly became exposed to so many new sounds and cultural movements. It was just the right time when I discovered this new electronic music coming mostly from the Germany. I was a rebelling teenager and I found my calling in rave culture. First as a kid going to raves in Munich but I decided quite soon to get involved as a deejay and producer. I quit school, my basketball trainings and focused on my only goal – to become this big international DJ figure.
In the beginning it was really hard for me to be in touch with electronic music as the scene in Slovenia was non-existing ‘till the beginning of 90s when I’ve discovered Cool Night show hosted by Aldo Ivancic, MC Brane and Primoz Pecovnik on Radio Student. They played all kind of electronic music, from trance, rave, techno, EBM, some really dark stuff … Soon after they started their nights in the student union’s club K4. I became regular and after I’ve got introduced to artists such as Jure Havlicek (Anna Lies, Moob, now working in the neo-disco scene under a moniker Sare Havlicek) who invited me into his studio and show me how this music is done. In that time, I was doing my first steps as a producer, using 8-bit Screen Tracker with 4 mono channels and we sampled our sound from the tape cassettes. It was far from being professional but we’ve spent all the time doing music. And when Jure showed me his Rolands 808 and 909 and all other classic machines I knew that’s exactly what I want to do in my life. As there was no copyright legislature in Slovenia at the time I’ve started selling pirate cassettes (for pirate recording label) with my friends and soon gathered enough money to buy first proper sampler. We’ve bought it from Random Logic and one half of that project, Gregor Zemljic, later did a lot of mastering of my music, as he’s a great expert in that field.
In terms of artists there are few who really influenced me, each in its own way. Todd Terry produced Royal House’s Can You Party was the record that got me into house and electronic dance music. Westbam was the leader of German techno movement in the early 90’s and I decided to focus only on techno because of Surgeon and the rest of Birmingham crew. As a deejay I found a lot of inspiration watching Jeff Mills doing his mixing, Carl Cox was the #1 master of building energy on the dance floor. It was really amazing watching these guys mixing records on three decks at the same time. Claude Young was also an inspiration. Music was the main thing, but I’ve adored deejays that were not afraid fiddling with knobs and switches. I’ve learned then that every piece of equipment you are using is there to be exploited to the limits.
If I can judge it by my own experience the outstanding talent isn’t the most necessary thing for success as I don’t believe I’m a really talented guy. Yes, you have to have at least some talent, but it is learning, hard work, persistence and stamina that are more essential for success in this very competitive game. I’ve met a lot of very talented guys through my career that will never achieve much as they are not developing their potential. I’m a former athlete and in the essence I don’t see much difference between what I did as a basketball player in my teens and what I do as a musician for the last two decades: it’s all about learning, training, working ethics, order and discipline, being focused on what you do and a motivation to be the best in what you do.
What motivated you to enter this area of the music business?
I still remember the first time when I saw a deejay working. It was at some school dance and at the time the guys were working with tape cassettes. I’ve been fascinated with this figure that was in a position to select and play music for other people to dance and have a good time. It was that moment when I thought for the first time that I’d really like to do that someday.
When did you know you wanted to be a producer?
That came naturally. Listening to this music I wanted to know how it was made. It took me couple of years to gather some basic knowledge about this, as the information was hard to find. But eventually I got to know some guys who knew that and were the pioneers of electronic sound in Slovenia, who invited me in the studio and showed me rhythm machines and synthesizers and how they worked. At that time I had no idea at all how this music was produced, it was a brave new world to me.
Lately I really enjoyed remixing Parov Stelar’s “All Night” that is coming out soon on Etage Noir Records. This was a challenge as they come from a totally different pole of EDM specter. I’m doing different music than them (they are a full retro swing-house oriented live band with a DJ, so it was an interesting clash of two worlds). They have sent me a sample of their track that was so good that it really inspired me, though I built the whole new track out of the break rather than from main parts as they have expected. And I really like what came out from this project.
Is there an artist you want to work with who you have not yet had the opportunity?
No, not really. Lately I did quite a lot of collaborations but I’m doing this spontaneously. They just kind of happen, I don’t really look for collaborations and plan them. But at the same time that doesn’t mean I’m not open to do some more collaborations in the future.
In three sentences, the history of techno?
It all started with the invention of microchip. Then eventually some guys full of bright ideas learned how to abuse the computers to make some noise and arranged that sounds into a melodies. And once people started to dance to this new music it really took off.
Favorite artist you have collaborated with?
Weird question, as I never work with people that I don’t like and respect. Uto Karem, Jay Lumen, Stefano Noferini are couple that I can think of right now. I know it’s wrong not to mention anyone else but you just woke me up after a really hectic weekend of travelling and performing all over the Europe, I’m not able to think straight yet, but we have to do this interview right now as we’re in a hurry. J
What’s your favorite thing about international touring and what’s your least favorite thing?
I’m not really keen of flying. Actually I suffer from a quite hard case of aerophobia so while flying I’m always waiting in fear when we’ll fall into the next turbulence and shrimps will start flying all over the business class. Another problem is that I’m not careful enough when I confirm bookings. Sometimes I take a night event on one side of Europe, then I have to fly on a daily gig in another country and probably there’s another one in the evening in the third country. As I’m not able to sleep on planes, that’s really exhausting and sometimes I just lay down on the floor in the airport lounge and sleep there to recharge at least a bit. Better that than being a grumpy bastard because of the sleep deprivation at the gig. J The good thing about touring is that I’m able to play music all over the World, to people who like to dance to it. That’s something that I really enjoy doing even after 20 years. This might come as a surprise to some of your readers but even if it might seem like it this job is not all about tasting world class sushi on the other side of the globe. J
Was there something else other than music that you considered pursuing?
As a teenager I used to train basketball but I stopped when I felt I needed to fully focus on my music career. Now I don’t think there’s another thing I’d like to exploit on a professional level, I’m focused on music and I really enjoy what I do. I actually don’t have enough time even for a bit more serious hobby as I’m running out of the time I’d like to spend in the studio.
Can you recall the feeling of the very first time you ever performed for a massive audience?
I’m not sure I can remember that but I remember my first gig. It was in a legendary club in Ljubljana called Palma (which was actually where beat, disco and rock music were firstly played in Slovenia, it played a part in the evolution of Slovene EDM scene and it still operates as an underground club under different name today). At that time Alf was a resident DJ and I must have already passed a year of me standing behind him watching what he does every weekend. But then one night he just gave me his headphones and headed to the bar and I had to finish the night. I took over the equipment and his tape cassettes and make it to the end! After that I asked him why he did that and he just said he thought that if I was made of the right material I’d have made it. And we laughed.
If your sound was a drink, what would it be?
Something sexy, groovy and funky … something non-alcoholic … something like blended strawberries with couple of sweet-mint leaves.
Not that I can recall. Probably I tried to make an ambient but not very successfully I guess. Take my girlfriend for an example: anytime I play something that I think it could set a right mood he asks me what’s that weird music I’m playing. I really have to get some Barry White CD as I never have that kind of music at hand when I need it. J
Planes crashing, you have a parachute, what’s the next thing you grab before jumping out?
That would be my rucksack with both of my comps, a wallet, a T-shirt, a pair of lucky drawers and couple other necessities I’m moving all around the globe. I’ve actually thought about this several times – I’ve told you I’m scared of flying – so this one’s settled for some time.
I’m totally satisfied with how and where things are going. It seems EDM scene is thriving as more and more deejays are flying to their gigs with private jets. I’m happy that I’m fully booked, I perform at the best venues on all continents except Africa (we really have to start cracking that one) and finally the atmosphere at the gigs in the USA is so great it’s worth flying over the Atlantic couple of times a year.
You have led a country in the musical sense, and been a major player in the international top deejays, how does it feel to represent your country on the world DJ stage?
I actually didn’t get very much from my country except that I have a strong support of the people that like this music and that the President of the state endorses me as a role model for youth, which is a huge thing. Except that I didn’t benefited much from the state though I’ve invested a lot of money, work and energy with my team into projects that could be nice platforms for promotion of Slovenia, especially as a creative country and tourist destination but we didn’t get proper support from the local communities and state. Although I’m very proud I’m Slovene that I come from this beautiful pocket country and that I can represent Slovenia abroad as her unofficial music ambassador.
As I’ve already stated above, that a very specific story. In general our government doesn’t support the development of this kind of creativity in small businesses, rather acts against the scene, though it doesn’t really trying to stop it. The problem is that most of the people here see clubbing and festivals more or less as a fun activity not a real business opportunity. The President of State on the other hand noticed there is something going on even before he was voted into the office. We did couple of campaigns already in the past, to promote the creativity and solidarity amongst young people, we did a “don’t drink” campaign (">) and his endorsement of Slovene DJs in the Top 100 DJs pool is just the latest one (">).
What changes have you noticed in the industry over the past few years with the boom of electronic music? It seems like you and your early music friends are on top.
You think so? Thanks. If I can pick one thing I really enjoy touring the States now, which was not the fact in the past. I performed in the USA for the first time some decade ago but after couple of bad gigs I’ve totally abandoned that market as it wasn’t really worth going through the Calvary of long flights for that as I was able to perform in the Europe as an established artist for much more excited crowds all the time. But this changed, parties in the USA have become great experience, people really embraced the EDM culture and now I’m doing five, six USA tours annually and I can’t remember when was the last time I didn’t genuinely enjoy playing for American crowd. The quality of parties in the USA right now is the same than in Europe and some festival productions are even better. Firstly I was a bit worried how this new young EDM-fans will accept my sound as I’m not so commercial as David Guetta or Deadmau5 but there’s also a huge audience that is craving for more alternative, underground sound. Now I really like flying overseas, the festivals are spectacular, clubs are full and the crowd is great.
Always! We’ve just released a new remix pack of classic tech-house anthem “Sunshine” from Tomaz & Filterheadz on my 1605 label. Next one is my own track “It’s Simple But It Works Like Fcuk”, I’m releasing a “100% Sure” on Stefano Noferini’s Deeperfect label in couple of weeks and there’s that Parov Stelar remix I’ve mentioned above. I’m also working on a new track with Uto Karem right now, I did a session with Mark Knight that was on a standby for the last couple of weeks due to our tight schedules …
Who would you say is the next big thing for techno music?
Am I the right person to answer this question at all? Though I always felt I’m doing techno, right now the vote on this is divided. Even more: when I say I play or produce techno, people from techno field say that’s not techno, but at the same time tech-house aficionados say it’s not tech-house either. So I’m stuck somewhere in between which is not necessary bad as it’s seems I have found my own niche on this scene. If I can give an Umek bump to someone, I’d say you should listen what Filterheadz are doing right now. They are not new kids on the block but they’ve been absent from the scene for couple of years and it seems that break did them very well.
Can you give us a hint what to look for on your label, 1605?
This week we are releasing Superskank’s “Good Time” with Olivier Giacomotto remix, Eric Sneo’s “Shut Up & Dance” with Pleasurekraft remix is coming out next week and after that Uto Karem’s “Green Pulse”, Hollen & Raul Mezcolanza’s “Meeting Dosage” EP and Filterheadz’s “Earth”. As always a lot of great music from the best producers on the scene.
One word for your fans.