EDMANIA OPEN AIR 2018 will host 40+ DJs from around the world in Trenčín (SK) during weekend 22.-23. June 2018. Legendary Slovenian DJ Umek will be headliner of Underground stage on Friday.
Hi Umek, undoubtedly we can say you are legend on techno scene. But tell our fans how it all started?
I’ve began my career in the 90s when Internet was just starting to emerge, but wasn’t used for file sharing or broadcasting long after I was already working as a DJ and producer. As I was growing up in Slovenia there was not even that much electronic music on a radio at the time, maybe a track from Kraftwerk now or then or some hyped dance tune that just stormed the international pop charts. Then we’ve got MTV with Party Zone and a nice CD rental shop in Ljubljana, when I could get in touch with more and more of this kind of music. At the same time I’ve also discovered Cool Night show on Student radio. They’ve played all kind of electronic music, from trance, rave, techno, EBM, some really dark stuff … and they hosted parties in the student union’s club K4. I became regular there, got in touch with some Slovenian electronic pioneers and they introduced me to music, machines and process of creating this music.
When I started getting into this new electronic music, the scene in Slovenia was literarily non-existent and we’ve had to build everything from the scratch: there were no proper record shops in Slovenia at the time, so we had to drive 500 kilometers to Vienna or Munich by shopping bus to buy couple of pieces of vinyl each time; there were no party infrastructure, so we had to make our own raves and learn everything about event management on our own. We had no idea how and with what machines this music has been made, but we improvised a lot and learned along, thus creating our own sound; and we had no media to support he scene, so we put together our own EDM monthly, developed our own radio show and so on.
You are running your own label, podcast, tour around the world? Is music still what you love and want to do? Aren’t you tired sometimes?
Sure, sometimes I do get tired of things like meetings, some media activities and especially travelling, especially flying to and from the gigs as I have quite an aerophobia. After a decade of trying different things to overcome it I’ve finally found a way to at least cope with it couple of years ago but it takes a lot of energy, so flying is more tiring for me as it is for an average person. Though it’s worth doing it because of the music. Honestly, I still like playing music for people on the dancefloor as the first time I’ve got in the DJ booth and mixed records for those ravers in front of me. When I get on stage and the energy from the dance floor hits me, I establish the connection with the crowd and I start moving it with my music…that’s a really pleasing thing and I still love it.
If you have to choose one of your most memorable tracks which would it be and why?
Some say that my best productions are Gatex and Lanicor, but I have probably felt the great personal satisfaction when I’ve finished Ricochet Effect and this track still works. That’s a track from Print This Story EP that was released a decade ago. It’s really interesting that I still enjoy listening to it at least couple of times a year – which is something that I don’t do at all when it comes to most of my productions. I practically never listen to my music after I stop playing it. But producing this one I developed some intensive feelings and I can still always recall them by listening to Ricochet Effect. I really like emotions, melody, arrangement in this one … Though I don’t believe I’ve already produced my best track, so there will be one even better than this one at some point of my career.
As someone who is really experience, do you have any advice for beginning techno / tech-house producers?
I won’t lose time regarding technical stuff as you can learn everything about that online, but do work hard, be persistent and be patient – if you’re working hard and you’re good at it, you’ll break through sooner or later. And when you think you’ve made a break, work even harder. In this day and age it’s all about being as original as possible. That’s about the state of mind, being resourceful and finding ways to develop sound and structures in a way, others don’t. That’s very hard as almost everything was already done, but not totally impossible as there’s still some room for doing things differently. Every now and then a new synth, software or a piece of hardware triggers a revolution that results in a new subgenre. Young people hear music in different way as we do, who are in the game for ten, twenty years or even longer, and they have a different mindset. When Native Instruments’ Massive synth came out that instantly reflected in the rise of the dubstep scene, which used and abused its cold, clinical, spacey sounds. The same happened with progressive-electro house after the Silent synth was introduced. Now or then a piece of gear or software like this comes out and kids find the way to use it a bit differently.
Do you have any dream b2b? Why with that person?
No, not really. I’ve done a lot of this in the past, I’ll probably do some more, but I don’t think about it and I do not have a particular colleague in mind to do it with. On the other hand I guess it would be lots of fun doing a b2b DJ set with Shaquille O’Neal, who is performing as DJ Diesel. He plays totally different music than I do, so I don’t know how our styles would blend, but he’s a very funny person and as I also have background in basketball (I’ve been selected to Slovenian national basketball team in my teens and dropped it on account of DJing as I could not do both at the same time on top level) I’m sure we’d click and at least laugh our asses off.
What do you think of evolution of underground / techno scene? Is it moving to the right direction?
In the nature of the evolution is that it works on its own terms. J Music comes and goes in cycles, so after minimal era and tech-house it was expected for techno to emerge stronger again. In techno I prefer darker, rougher, edgier sounds, but right now the melodic techno is on the rise and I hear a lot of tech-trance production, which again was something to expect to emerge after years of trance struggling on account of the rise of EDM and most of major trance artists abandoning trance to be part of EDM fever. As I’ve said, I still prefer to create and play a bit harder, rougher, darker techno, but I’ve recently created a folder for melodic techno on my computer and when I play longer sets, I do check what’s in it and I play something from that folder as well. Though I channel my melodic frustrations mostly into my side project Zeta Reticula. This is my love child, a moniker under which I produce and play electro and the rules of that music are different than in techno, so I can play a bit more with melodies and emotions. If you’re interested in that follow my socials for a broadcast from Miami Music Week, where I’ll play one of my rare Zeta Reticula sets at Viberate’s event. It’s a bit niche scene but a very passionate one and you may discover me in a bit different story.
You are coming to Trenčín, Slovakia to play at the underground stage of EDMANIA festival. What can we look forward to? Do you have any message for your fans out here?
The easiest way to get a feeling what I play these days is to check couple of my latest releases, the Behind the Iron Curtain Radio Show and recordings of my recent performances. I play energetic techno my mission is to move people on the dancefloor and I play a lot of my own music in the set: release, remixes, unreleased stuff and special edits of tracks you’ve probably heard before but not in these versions. And on top of everything I’ll probably feel like at home – they say Slovak language is the closest to Slovenian and people who are not from Slovenia or Slovakia tend to mix our countries a lot anyway.