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Exclusive Interview with UMEK

UMEK otherwise known as Uroš Umek began DJing back in 1993 when he was just a young 17 year old kid from Slovenia. UMEK is known to be one of the pioneers in bringing electronic music to Slovenia. For this year's DJ Mag Top 100 List,  UMEK ranked #59th and some regard him as one of the Top 10 Techno DJs in the world. Here we had the opportunity to ask UMEK about his career in Electronic Music, Charity as well as his personal life.

EDM Sauce: How did you originally get into the Electronic Music scene?
UMEK: In the beginning it was really hard for me to be in touch with electronic music as the scene in Slovenia was literally non-existing. In the early 90s I’ve discovered Cool Nights show hosted by Aldo Ivancic, MC Brane and Primoz Pecovnik on the students union operated Radio Student. They played all kind of electronic music, from trance, rave, techno, EBM, some really dark stuff … and soon after that they started their nights in the students union club K4. I became regular and after a while I got introduced to artists such as Jure Havlicek (Anna Lies, Moob, Sare Muratore, now successfully working in the nu-disco scene under a moniker Sare Havlicek) who invited me into his studio and show me how this music was done. In that time, I was doing my first steps as a producer with two of my colleagues, using 8-bit Screen Tracker with 4 mono channels and we sampled our sound from the tracks recorded from the radio on 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 legendary machines I knew that’s exactly what I want to do in my life. As there was no copyright legislature in Slovenia at that time I’ve started selling pirate cassettes for a local pirate recording label with my friends and soon gathered enough money to buy first proper sampler from the guys behind the Random Logic project, and Gregor Zemljic, half of this group and now a guru of studio production in the central Europe, thought me a lot about the music and production later in my career.

The nice thing about starting a scene from a scratch was that we could do it on our own and on our own terms, but we’ve had to be deejays, producers, event managers, label owners, hosts of radio shows … all at the same time. And we had to improvise a lot, as we had no proper knowledge, experience, equipment and resources as our peers in the Western Europe. In the early 90s there was no real Music Industry or party scene in Slovenia, we were inexperienced, had no support of promoters who would be previously involved in organizing pop-rock concerts or festivals, so we’ve had to figure out everything on our own. To make it even harder, at the time we started nobody really knew of this new thing called rave, as there was no media coverage of it and wider infrastructure for spreading information about this movement, it’s flagman, club culture, deejay culture, music … We basically had to drive to Austria and Germany, 500 kilometers away, to buy music and specialized magazines and I asked friends to translate to me what they were writing about, as I didn’t and still don’t understand German. We went to some raves in Munich, Dortmund and other German cities where we experienced this movement in all its glory, mass appeal and music variety and we wanted to introduce this culture to Slovene youth that was hungry for something like that as it all just coincided with the fall of communism, borders and this big explosion of electronic Dance music in Europe. I can imagine how it was for Detroit and Chicago pioneers to build the scene from a scratch, as we did it quite the same. At the start our raves were kind of private parties, in a while we attracted some hundred people and in later that figure grew to thousand and another thousand … It took us years and strong dedication to really build the scene, which is still very small in comparison to German, Spanish, Dutch, British or American.

UMEKEDM Sauce: Who was one of the artists who inspired you to where you are today?

UMEK: There were couple of artists who influenced me each in his way. Todd Terry produced Royal House’s Can You Party was the record that got me into house and electronic dance music in general. 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 and he still does that today. It was really amazing watching this 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.

EDM Sauce: With over two decades of experience now, what would you say is some of your most memorable experiences?

UMEK: I’ve recently celebrated 20 years of my professional career and I was thinking how much effort and hard work it took me to break trough on international scene from this tiny homeland of mine. How much time have I spend on road touring and working in my studio almost every day in this two decades. That all is one big experience and I’m really glad I walked this path as it made my life so far very exciting.

EDM Sauce: How would you describe your style of music and where do you see it progressing to?

UMEK: The interesting thing is that a lot of techno artists hear my productions as house and that people, who are more into house and tech-house hear the same productions as techno tracks. Sometimes I have a feeling nobody really wants me to be part of their music scene. So I guess I’m stuck somewhere in between, though I’ve always felt it’s techno what I produce and play. I really don’t pay any attention to formal definitions of the genre. I just do what I feel and my lifestyle and music taste is such that I fell I belong to techno. That’s all about the energy of the music, the environment it creates on the dance floor, that special attitude … And I like variety. That’s why sometimes, especially in my own productions, you can spot elements from other genres, be it disco, house, some sample from a pop track or a TV show or even ethno melody. But it’s always done with that rebellious techno attitude and even when I produce or play a tech-house record, I’m more into techno than house parts in it, as it’s techno what serves me best to express myself as an artist.

I have no idea where this game will take me next, but I like the fact that music is live organism, and that it constantly evolves. Fresh artists are popping out all the time, I’m finding some intriguing sound or track almost every day, trends are coming and going in cycles but it’s fun and it never gets boring.

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EDM Sauce: Are there any new up and comer DJs you have your eye on?

UMEK: I can’t say much about deejays as I’m focusing mostly on producers. Lately I play a lot of stuff from DJ Frontier from Colombia who has already released couple of productions also on my 1605 label. There’s Ant Brooks, who is not a newcomer any more. And there’s my fellow countryman Mike Vale who is for some time now producing killer remixes and track one after another and I’m glad he’s finally breaking trough on the international scene also as a deejay – which is fair as he is at least a good a deejay as he is a producer.

EDM Sauce: Who is your favorite non electronic music artist?

UMEK: I can’t really say. I’m in the studio and on the road all the time and that’s when I’m focusing on electronic music. When I have time off I don’t even turn on the TV or radio. I’m too saturated with music that I really like to spend free time in silence or at least without additional noise. I’m on tour for the last two weeks and I didn’t turn on the TV even once in all that time.

umek interviewEDM Sauce: Where has been your favorite venue/fest to perform at?

UMEK: I can’t pick just one as there’s so many great places to visit and perform at. J I like discovering new clubs and festivals as well as coming back to one I’ve already been to after a while. Although I’m not really keen of flying, actually I have quite a phobia, I like the fact I’m performing at the best venues and festivals all around the world almost every Friday and Saturday and sometimes even in between. Nowadays the standard of clubs and festivals all around the globe is pretty high, people always treat me nice wherever I come and fans always create amazing energy on the dance floor.





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EDM Sauce: Since Ultra is coming up here, do you plan on spending any extra time in Miami and take some time off to relax?

UMEK: Exactly. I’m touring South and North America right now and I plan to spend almost a whole week in Miami. That will be a nice opportunity to meet some of my friends and have fun. I’ll be performing at the UMF and we are also hosting our own 1605 night with me, Stefano Noferini, Pleasurekraft, Anthony Attalla and Mike Vale at Mokai on 20th.

EDM Sauce: What can you tell us about any upcoming releases coming up here?

UMEK: I've just finished my new DJ-mix compilation for Toolroom Records. I've also started working on a sample CD and I'm finishing my new single for Carl Cox's Intec label. There will be a single release I’ve produced with Spektre, we’ll do another combo with Stefano Noferini, I have to finish the one I’m doing with Koen Groeneveld and I also plan to produce my first track with American DJ Dan.

EDM Sauce: If you weren't producing and DJing, where would you be?

UMEK: Now I’d probably already finishing a successful career as a professional basketball player with at least one champion ring on my finger. J I’ve been selected in national team along great players such as European and NBA champion Raso Nesterovic in my teens when I decided to abandon sports and drop high-school to focus on music.

EDM Sauce: What is something you always have to have with you while on tour?

UMEK: I can’t imagine globetrotting without my computer. That’s my working tool on stages, I produce music on it while on road and it also serves me as a full entertainment center with music, series, movies and connection to the Internet.

EDM Sauce: We hear you have a big heart for charity, can you tell us about any charities or fundraisers you have coming up?

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UMEK: I’m involved in the Party for the Cause for almost a decade now. It’s an annual charity campaign with a big outdoor party in the Ljubljana central park with me as a sole headliner and we attract up to 30.000 people to dance with us every last Saturday in august. If you want to attend this party, you just have to send a SMS to donate 1 euro for charity fund and the SMS you get back as a confirmation of donation is valid as a ticket for this great party. We do this in partnership with a big telecommunication company and it’s always supported by a giant national media campaign that last for at least three months. We promote non-violence, social awareness and solidarity among young people, gather money for various charities helping young victims of criminal acts, kids fighting cancer; we also give scholarships to kids in need. As we have support of mayor, the president of state and many big companies we can really make a statement and get the message trough. Everybody in Slovenia knows this project and many get involved, so we already gathered couple of hundred thousands euros for our good causes.

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