UMEK: "I have to try new things all the time."

It would take a long essay to fully explain UMEK's meaning to electronic music. The Slovenian born producer and DJ has been setting trends and rocking dance floors for more than two decades now - and still shows no signs of slowing down. He's tireless in his techno and tech house production and with more than 100 gigs per year, probably one of the busiest techno DJs out there. He devoted his life, his heart, all of his passion and energy, to the sounds he discovered as a teenager. Pioneering the genre he became one of its most appreciated ambassadors. Throughout the years he has managed to attract a faithful worldwide audience to which he is simply known as "The Father".

Although he is now a very established technician, master of three decks and FX performances, it wasn’t easy for UMEK to get acquainted with those needles and mixers in the first place. You have to bear in mind his home country was part of the former eastern block. Most of the small clubs could only afford cassette and CD players at that time.

In the early 90s buying techno records seemed almost a mission impossible for someone living and working in Slovenia. Closest shop with that kind of music was in Germany, almost 500 kilometers away from Ljubljana. Germany was also the place where UMEK got in touch with the rave scene.

 


He made his name in Slovenia by hosting some of the best club nights in the country. Clubbing scene in Zagreb, Croatia was much stronger in the beginning of 90s, but it was him and his peers that changed that in just a few years by turning their home turf into most prolific party scene in the whole region. Just looking back on all the projects which were the fruits of labor taken on by UMEK and his esteemed and trusted peers - we have had too many club nights, outdoor festivals and nation-wide charity events to count.

And list them all in just in one paragraph would be a bit overwhelming. It was also the time of experimenting for UMEK. He was mostly known as techno deejay but also loved to play underground house, especially at the after parties. And since he had the biggest collection of house records in Slovenia, he quickly became involved in building the house scene as well. At some point he was so much into house music, he played four gigs a week, but only twice a month he would actually blast out a banging techno set. 


House music started to suffocate him, that is why he decided, one night playing in Ambasada Gavioli, he will not be playing house music anymore. He grabbed some Chicago house records, pitched them, played a really banging set and gave farewell to the club. He then returned to Klub K4 to focus on playing techno again. UMEK is currently artistically involved in running his 1605 – Sixteeenofive concept, which was launched in early 2007 as an international platform for promotion and development of new electronic sound structures and approaches to deejay performances.

The launch of 1605 marked the beginning of a new chapter in UMEK's music career. He spent an enormous amount of time and artistic energy bringing his characteristic sound to the whole new level. Through his 1605 Therapy, UMEK successfully spreads a mixture of brute alternative sounds on one hand and anthems for the biggest venues of the world on the other.

Meeting top techno DJs from all over the world, establishing new friendships and gathering contacts he started performing at the best venues all over the world. It was his special blend of music known as “Slovenian Techno” which has put him on the map as one of the top names in the genre. Already a favorite among the millions of listeners across the globe – his own radio show “Behind The Iron Curtain” features upcoming talents, legendary tracks from the past, standout tracks from 1605 and more.

All these facts, along with the vast number of tour dates are the best proof, that UMEK stays focused on his primary goal – making and selecting high-quality productions that stand out from the rest and bringing his sound closer to people all around the world.


Hello Uroš, thanks for taking the time to chat with us, where in the world are you right now?

Just chillin’ at home on the sofa in front of a TV. I’ve just watched our ski jumpers winning the first and third place in Zakopane, so it was a successful afternoon doing nothing for me. :)

You are without a doubt one of the hardest working DJ's out there. Having flown around a hundred times the last year, how do you still have so much motivation and energy to do your job so passionately after almost 25 years in the industry? How do you manage to keep your private life separate from your work?

Sometimes I wonder just the same. :) To be totally honest, moving between the gigs is getting to me. That’s the hardest part of this job. I still enjoy playing music for people on the dancefloor as the first time I’ve got in the DJ booth and started mixing records, though. I’ve never been keen on airplanes, with hard work and dedication I’ve managed to get my phobia of flying under control, but I’d really be happy to fly less if possible.

But since this is still the only way to get quickly to the other side of the planet I’m coping with it as it’s still worth doing it to get to my fans. The moment the first bass hits the sound system I forget about the logistics and just go with the flow and truly enjoy it. About the last part of your question: it’s hard as this is not a regular 8 hour a day job, rather a lifestyle, but I do try to keep as much of my private life as possible out of Instagram and Facebook.

The year 2017 brought new beginnings and also an end of an era. Last December you played at the first Viberate event at Kurzschluss in Ljubljana and also closed one of the most renowned clubs of the region – Ambasada Gavioli. Could you reflect on your experience and importance of both gigs for you?

Well, it’s hard to add much to this as you’ve said it all already. :) Viberate is a new exciting project that I’m really into right now. Parting with Ambasada Gavioli, where I’ve had my first big residency and from where I’ve started my international journey, was quite an emotional thing though. Not because I’m sentimental, rather because after over 20 years we’ve lost a very important club, an important part of the global network, we’ll probably never again have. It was an honor for me to play at the closing event.

People were sad about that, crying even and a couple of days ago when I gathered with a smaller group of Ambasada Gavioli team and their close friends for “the last supper” I’ve even noticed fans are lighting candles in front of the club mourning the loss of their favorite venue. This shows how popular this club was, how important it was for fans and how much we’ll all miss it. But at the same time, Ambasada Gavioli closing will open some space on the scene for other promoters and hopefully, something new and exciting will grow out of this.

Aforementioned project Viberate is steadily becoming one of the industry's best tools. Please explain more about your team's achievements and current progress of the project. When did you first think of this idea?

We wanted to track social media popularity for DJs first. And then we decided to make a business out of it. We raised $1M in seed capital and then went on to execute one of the most successful ICOs in the music industry to date, raising $10.7M in under five minutes. In a little over four months, we managed to hit every deadline set on our roadmap, so the project is going as planned. Aside from over 160.000 artist profiles we are now tracking stats and featuring information for 60.000 venues, couple hundred thousand events, and around 2.000 booking agencies.

It is an open-sourced database, so users add around 2.000 new profiles to Viberate every day. And in exchange, we are giving VIB tokens to the contributors. We won't stop until we change the music industry for good.

Musically speaking, we've heard a lot of great music through your aliases Alba Patera and Zeta Reticula in the last couple of years. Was this just a phase or will you be putting music out only as UMEK?

Zeta Reticula is in a full swing. I have four new projects scheduled for the release of some of the best electro labels. This is my love child and I still have plenty of ideas I’d like to develop under Zeta Reticula moniker, so this is far from being finished. I’m drifting between two worlds all the time, developing boutique electro stuff as Zeta, while the main focus of my music activity was, is and will be Umek.

As I’ve again moved to a bit harder, louder, darker, a bit more melodic sound there’s no need for Alba Patera right now. I’ve revived it, as I wanted to do this kind of music again, but quickly noticed that the whole Umek sound is leaning more and more towards this side so there was no need for Alba anymore.

We've heard many of your musical visions as an artist, you've produced in many genres and a lot of your crowd has seen you grow and develop throughout your career. How did you face all music trend changes during all these years? Are you satisfied with the sound you're putting out at the moment?

I was actually always satisfied with what I was releasing and playing – or I wouldn’t do that. When I listen now to the tracks I’ve produced as a teenager it’s obvious the production was very poor. But I’ve made those without any background in music, basic knowledge, skills, equipment and almost without help by trying and making errors. Influential labels bought them as they sounded different and interesting to them. And that music has put me on the map. I’ve always done what I liked and as I get bored of things very quickly. I have to try new things all the time. Time will tell what really stands out in my opus but I’ve always felt I was doing something interesting and released only a tiny share of everything I’ve produced, as there must be some selection and quality control.

I’ve produced techno, tech-house, house, electro even hip hop beats and I always did that very excited and fully dedicated. Two things that are constant in my career are that I always move forward trying new things and that I uphold a certain level of quality of my releases and performances. Whatever I’m interested in I study it deeply and work hard in the studio until I’m satisfied with the sound. And that can take years.

With vinyl regaining popularity we see so many labels going with the 12-inch trend. You've run your imprints and released through both vinyl and digital. Would you ever return to vinyl even though your setup revolves around digital? How many records are there in your collection?

I’ve passed forward lots of my vinyl so there are only some 5,000 pieces left in my collection right now. At 1605 we actually release approximately half of our catalog on vinyl as well. I’m not dedicating much of my focus to this form. But we do provide tools for the artists that prefer to perform with vinyl. At the aforementioned party in Ambasada Gavioli, I’ve played a couple of records at the end of my set. But that’s really not any kind of a challenge. I can do it without any struggle after a ten years long pause.

Beat-matching two or three records is like riding a bicycle: once you learn it you can do it for life. And there’s just so much you can do with this media – so that’s the reason I’ve moved to the digital platform. But yes, there is something romantic about playing vinyl. It's a craft, manual work and that’s why I release my music on vinyl as well. Although there’s no business in it, rather we lose money doing so. I do respect DJs who excel in the craft of playing vinyl.

But at the same time, I miss the same respect from the other side for us, who excel in the digital world. I’d like them to try doing it my way sometimes. And maybe they’ll see it’s not that computers are doing everything. This is just a different set of tools that opens additional options for performance. You need much more knowledge and skills to do that compared to beat matching, scratching and pitching vinyl.

Compared to the times when you started your musical journey...  Would you say that being a good DJ and producer is enough to break through these days? What is your advice to the next generation?

No, but I believe it’s a strong foundation you should build your career on. Nowadays deejays can break through just because they know a couple of people who can push them on the scene. And all that even just based on their looks,  social networks, and managing skills rather than the quality of their production and performance. But I still believe in patience, quality, and hard work. If you have at least some talent and you do it good long enough it has to bring some results.

We have heard the new EP “Certain Trace” on Tronic which is due out on the 19th February. And we love it! Very strong EP with two fantastically produced tracks. Can you tell us a little about your history with Tronic? What was the inspiration for this release, and why it’s an important one for you and the label?

We go way back with Christian Smith and his label. I’ve played a lot of Tronic releases already in the 90s. I liked the sound they’ve promoted after the Millennium and they’re still one of the best techno labels. Or at least they cater to my taste regularly. In the past, we’ve licensed music from Tronic for out compilations, booked Christian for our festivals and we’ve become friends.

When I was producing these tracks I’ve suddenly realized that the synth sounds I’ve used should fit perfectly in the sound of Tronic. Which was great regarding we were talking with Christian for quite some time that I should produce something new for his label. It’s been ages since my last release on Tronic. I’ve sent them this EP for consideration, he liked it and we’ve set the date.


UMEK's 'Certain Trace' EP is forthcoming on Tronic on the 19th February, but you can pre-order both tunes below!


Last but not least. We know this one isn't possible but still... As yourself being a big basketball lover, would you change your music career for one in professional sports?

Believe it or not, after a quarter of a century I still often dream of playing basketball. Two days ago I dreamt I was accepted to NBA regardless of my age. I was the oldest pick in the NBA draft. I’m not sure which team picked me though. I woke up laughing, as it was so surreal haha. I follow basketball, I watch NBA games daily. I’m a bit afraid how my life will turn once Luka Dončič gets in the NBA. As then I’ll have to follow two teams. The best scenario for me would be that Miami picks him.

By Andrej, edited on 06 June 2018