Exclusive interview with Umek
Author : clubbersguide / Date : 08-06-2011 22:21
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For a long time, Slovenia has been known for its great electronic parties, but as the local scene is of boutique dimensions, everyone who wishes to take the art of mixing and producing to a professional level, has to go out there and enter the worldwide scene. Umek has done this step as early as in the middle of the 90s and so he became one of the most important techno players of the global techno scene, even before the end of the last millennium. Together with people, who shared the same views, he successfully captured the first era of researching and recreating the rules of the dance music in Recycled Loops, Consumer Recreation and Astrodisco platforms, which all put the sound of the Slovenian techno on the world map of electronic music.

In the beginning of the year 2007, Umek started a new 1605 Music Therapy - Sixteenofive, with which he marked the beginning of the second era of his music creation and what an era it is! After 4 years the label is tagged as a great success and is one of the world’s fastest growing techno labels, which spawns releases and new talents almost every week. Numerous Umek’s releases and remixes pounding the Beatport Techno and Tech House Chart (on 1605 and other labels) and compilations (Convention Of The Future Deaf, The Riot! and Spring Schlagers) on 1605 and one on Toolroom Records (Toolroom Knights Mixed By Umek), not to mention the vast number of already confirmed bookings for 2011, 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.

Nominations and awards on world's prestigious music contests seem to just pour into Umek's pocket In February, Umek gained not one, but two nominations on the Beatport Music Awards, this time as a best artist, overall, along with the likes of David Guetta, Deadmau5, Mark Knight and as a best artist picked by staff, which he latter won.

Clubbersguide: When did you start DJing and where was your first gig?

Umek: It’s been some 18 years ago and it was in a small club called Palma under the Tivoli sports halls in my hometown Ljubljana, where I used to do my basketball trainings. The venue’s been operating already in the late 60s under the name Stopoteka and it was one of the most important nests of beat culture in the 60s and the 70s and later, for the pop, rock and disco scene. Some of the earliest top deejays in Yugoslavia were their residents. After changing name and management a couple of times, this club opened again two weeks ago as the F club and we’ll see how it’s going to work. I’m much more attached to the student’s union club K4, which recently celebrated its 20th birthday and especially in the early 90s it was one of the most important venues for the alternative scene, from gay community to punk and various EDM genres, in the whole ex-Yugoslavia territories.

Clubbersguide: How big of an influence do you think dance culture had on society, if any?

Umek: Maybe the influence of the EDM culture on society isn’t the same as it was in the early 90s when borders fell and the rave culture promoted the messages of freedom, ecology, love, anti-HIV/aids awareness, brotherhood and similar. But then, in all this time the movement grew from alternative culture into one of driving forces in today’s pop culture and became a really big industry, too, so it’s something we live with trough radio, TV, movies, events, commercials, the way we spend our free time… And most of the big artists are treated as opinion makers in their local communities or even as global pop stars and that gives them power to influence people and their actions. Most of us are involved in good causes and social awareness programs, from speaking up for testicular cancer programs to helping single parent families raising their kids or in my case, helping to raise money for young victims of criminal acts. People look up to us and we can move masses, so at least in some way the dance culture does influence the social life, as an art and as a movement.

Clubbersguide: Where do you think electronic music is heading?

Umek: The scene already made the transition from minimal techno to tech-house in the past months, a minority of artists is developing the deep and micro house scene but as I see it, most of them are going in the direction of house. Beatport sales indicates that the trend of house is becoming stronger and stronger. Another trend on the scene that is also not novelty any more is deejays upgrading their sets into live shows and I can announce that I’m already developing my own, Umek Live Show, with my crew and some other creative people and hopefully we’ll be able to premiere it already this year.

Clubbersguide: Does your set differ if you’re playing to 10,000 people as opposed to say the 1000?

Umek: The size of the venue is not really important, that’s got much more to do with the crowd and the energy on the dance floor and how I feel that day, but I always live all doors open before I get in the deejay booth, so I can take the story anywhere I feel. I just played three club gigs in Detroit, Boston and El Paso in the past weekend. The first one was very funky, in Detroit I played one of the hardest and darkest sets in the recent couple of months and in Boston I played a typical 1605 set. The thing I want to point out here is that it’s interesting how differently I can play in just three days, although the pace of all three sets was more or less the same and on all occasions I tried to present as wide range of music as possible.

Clubbersguide: What's your preference - playing at festivals or clubs?

Umek: It doesn’t matter, I like to deejay whenever wherever as long as there are people ready to party. Each year I can’t wait the festival season to start but in three months we all get so fed up with them that we crave for the indoor venues again.

Clubbersguide: What do you think is more important for a DJ - the mixing technique or the track selection?

Umek: Those are both very important. I’m an old school deejay, raised on vinyl. I conquered the art of playing on three or even four decks simultaneously and basically I still do that – on an even higher technical level, although I use a DJ-setup built on two comps. New technologies can do a lot of things for you, the beat matching is really easy today, but no computer can mix two or more records as good as a really good deejay. And people also rather see deejays putting some effort in his or hers performance than "checking the email" all night long. If technology eases one part of your job, you have to use that additional time for other stuff; in my case, live editing and putting additional sounds and sequences into the mix. But as I said, the track selection and programing is also really important. I spend countless hours and days on Beatport, promo pools and digging trough the promos other artists send me to pick new tunes. It’s a hard job, especially as no one is doing the basic selection and there’s so much shit music online, but under that ballast there’s also a lot of really good music. And I build my sets on those tracks, regardless if the artist is known or totally unknown name.

Clubbersguide: What's been the best party you've DJed at? What’s the strangest thing that has happened to you at a gig?

Umek: I don’t really have a lot of bad experiences and even when something of that kind happens, my mind really helps, as I have the worst memory and I even forget the important stuff all the time. But one of the things I can’t forget is that last year, one of the flying companies lost a whole crate of my classic vinyls. I’m rarely performing with my classic set, especially outside Slovenia, and when I do it, I like to do it properly, with the original records on the classic gramophones. So it really hurt when they lost the whole crate stuffed with my original records worth few thousands of euros and many of them irreplaceable. But, what can I do …

Clubbersguide: What was your best, and your worst party experience?

Umek: I hate this question, so I’ll tell you a story to cover both categories at once. I performed at some rave in the Czech Republic some ten years ago. It was a mad party, I really got into it and totally forgotten that there’s a hole in the middle of the stage. It was a disaster waiting to happen. And it actually did. In the middle of my set I made a wrong move and fell right into it, landing on some metal records cases. As we were driving back home the next day – we were still traveling to gigs and back by car at that time – friends teased me I am hypochondriac pussy as I was moaning all the way because of aching ribs. But when we finally came back to Ljubljana, I went straight to the emergency room where they told me I’ve broken my rib. But all in all, that party was really good. Ask DJ Lucca for example - she was there and she remembers it.

Clubbersguide: What are some of the biggest lessons you've learnt while being a DJ?

Umek: Most of the questions so far were quite generic, but this is actually a very interesting one. I believe the lesson learned was: don’t sleep when you’re at the top – that’s when you have to push things forward even harder. Sometimes around 2000/2001 I’ve reached my first peak as a deejay and especially as a producer. I’ve released a string of really good records and I didn’t notice I’ve caught myself in the loop, being satisfied with my own sound but didn’t really took it any further from there. After a while, I thought I’m still producing good music but the people were starting to get bored of all the same and moved forward. And that’s what I didn’t realize almost ‘till it was too late. Routine is the greatest poison of art and creativity. The hardest thing is that you don’t realize the change of people’s perception at once. You still get a lot of bookings, you enjoy your success but at that point you already have to think ahead. So at all times, especially when you have a feeling that you’ve finally made it, you have to be focused on everything that’s happening around you and don’t allow to be left behind. That doesn’t mean you have to adapt to every breeze of new trends on the scene, but you have to develop your sound and challenge yourself as an artist. Sometimes it helps to shift the studio or the equipment you work with, but you have to challenge your own sound and the formulas you work by.

Clubbersguide: Being a producer as well as a DJ, how much does one influence another, are your productions more influenced by your sets and the tracks you play or is it vice versa?

Umek: For me, one doesn’t work without the other. Those are two sides of the same story. I’m always producing music based on my club and festival experiences and with a thought how it will work on the dance floor. And when I play music, I base my sets mainly on my own productions and remixes, stuff released trough my label 1605 and other releases from artists that are involved in the 1605 creative platform. And my whole DJ-setup is also designed in the way that allows me in-time manipulation, editing of the tracks and I underlay the mixes with my own loops and edits, which I cut and mix in the way that it’s almost impossible to repeat.

Clubbersguide: How do you describe your style?

Umek: I play techno of all shapes, sizes and colors. Sometimes the sound is a bit rougher, cold and dark, on the other occasions more melodic, warm and uplifting. I can take it toward tech-house or use a disco sample or even a snap from folk music, but those are just things that make my techno sound more rich and versatile.

Clubbersguide: Name some of your biggest influences ...

Umek: The greatest influence for me as a deejay and producer are the clubs and the energy on the dance floor. In terms of artists who influenced my career choices there are some who deserve to be mentioned and each of them influenced me differently. Todd Terry produced Royal House’s Can You Party – it was the record that really got me into house and electronic dance music in the first place. Westbam was the leader of the German techno movement in the early 90’s, so for me, it is a symbol of some music and a movement that has had a strong influence on me as a young person and got me from sports into music. As a young deejay I used to play everything with a good beat, regardless of genre, but later I decided to focus only on techno because of Surgeon and the rest of the 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 to fiddle with knobs and switches. I’ve learned then that every piece of equipment you are using is there to be exploited to the limits.

Clubbersguide: If you hadn’t become a DJ and producer, what do you reckon you’d be doing now?

Umek: I’d probably be a retired basketball player with a couple of champion rings and my own basketball camps for young players. If I hadn’t decided for music I’d probably become a really good basketball player. I played with and against players such as NBA champion Rašo Neasterović and Euro League star Marko Milić, as a junior. I trained basketball for eight years and when they selected me for a national team, I had to pick between basket and music, as I could not do both on a proper level. I decided to become a big international deejay and producer and I’ve never regretted that decision.

Clubbersguide: What do you do to relax? Any hobbies besides music?

Umek: I like to do sports. In the winter, I snowboard and I also go to the glaciers in the Alps in the summer, with my friends for a couple of times each summer actually. I also enjoy cycling. I don’t have a driver’s license but I really don’t need it as Ljubljana is a very small city. I also like to do carnage on my Playstation if I have time and I enjoy watching a good basketball game. This year my team Olimpija Ljubljana played some great games in the Euro League and Adriatic League. If I have time and manage to get tickets I go to our new Arena as I live nearby.

Clubbersguide: What piece of kit you cannot live without?

Umek: My mac book pro. It’s my portable studio, entertainment set and a global communication device all in one. It travels with me all around the world and we spend a lot of time together. I lose my mobile phones all the time, but I take really good care of the laptop as it’s really important to me. For example, we couldn’t even do this interview without Skype installed on my laptop.

Clubbersguide: If you were throwing a party and could pick any 3 DJs to play, who would they be and why?

Umek: Beltek, Christian Cambas and Phunk Investigations. That would be a proper 1605 party!

Clubbersguide: What are your plans for the future?

Umek: You’ve caught me just after the mini tour in the USA. On the flights between those gigs I started to work on the remix for Hertz and one of my new tracks. Last week I’ve finally finished the joint album with Beltek that we were working since the beginning of this year. And I can confirm it that it will be released trough UK based Toolroom Rec. in the following months. Regarding the gigs, I can announce I’ll be visiting some very good summer festivals including Mayday Ukraine, Isle of Summer, Dance Valley, Nature One ... and Carl Cox invited me back to support his Revolution Continues residency at Space Ibiza, with four gigs trough the summer. Oh, and watch out for the upcoming Umek Live show.

Clubbersguide: Where do you see yourself in 30 years from now?

Umek: I’ll be 65 and hopefully I’ll be vital enough to do some party ship cruises. Hopefully other means of transportation will develop so much that I won’t have to fly any more as I really don’t like traveling by planes. Or even better in that time they could already introduce the teleportation as a mean of really quick transportation. In any case I believe I’ll be discovering some new places. Now I’m performing mostly in and around big cities but I’m sure there are still a lot of interesting smaller places worth visiting all over the world. I’m already doing that. Sometimes I get in the car with some of my friends and we just go from one cross road to another and we flip coin to decide where to go. You’d be amazed how many beautiful places you can discover this way even in your backyard.

Clubbersguide: Anything else you would like to add?

Umek: Summer is just around the corner, enjoy it, take time to relax and party, go to some great festival or club and have the best time of your life with the people you like!

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