UMEK, a DJ and a Producer with more than 20 years’ of experience playing everywhere – from dark underground clubs in Berlin to shiny stages of EDC Las Vegas.
Running his own successful imprint 1605 and also releasing on labels such as Toolroom, Spinnin’ records, Great Stuff, among others, we had the chance to talk with him in anticipation of his winter United States tour.
Electronic Groove: Hey UMEK, thanks for the time to chat with and welcome to the new year, looks promising! What excites you about 2017?
UMEK: I might say breaking my routine! Usually I take the first 4 to 6 weeks of the year off to rest a bit, spend time without touring and to check what I could change in my studio and production process, ride some powder with my snowboard, pampering myself at spas and just chill. But I’ve started 2017 breaking this more than a decade long routine by spending New Year’s Eve in Australia, I’ve made a quick stop in Hawaii, I’ve finally agreed to play the BPM Festival at Playa del Carmen in Mexico where they’ve been inviting me for years, and I’ll continue with my first American tour of 2017 that I’ll finish in Caribbean on a Groove Cruise. I really like how this year started and as it looks very promising.
EG: Tell us more about the US tour you are about to start?
UMEK: I always like coming back to the United States. As I said, it will be my first ever US tour at the very beginning of the year. Gigs there are always great and people respond amazing to my sets, so I really can’t imagine how these parties could get even better – but I have to check in person if it’s true that parties in January are the ones you shouldn’t miss as they say the energy tends to be even better as at those held at the end of the year. This time I’ll do gigs in Washington, New York, Boston, El Paso and Phoenix to finish this string of gigs on the Groove Cruise. In between I plan to see at least one NBA match – I’m a former basketball player and as such huge fan of the game, passionately supporting my fellow countryman Goran Dragic. This could only get better if I make it to some ski resort for a day or two to hit some slopes, but I guess I’ll have to indulge in this at one of my next USA tours.
EG: How was the The BPM Festival experience?
UMEK: It was a nice experience. I’ve played two gigs with my friends from Toolroom and Tronic. The later was broadcasted live by Be-At.tv, so my American fans can use this recording as a warm up for the parties we’ll be doing in their country in the next couple of weeks. The BPM is one of the most hyped festivals in recent years and you can feel a lot of excitement from the crowds going large already in the afternoon. It’s not held at the top destination, so maybe it lacks a bit of comfort, but on the other hand this hippy feel only adds to the relaxed vibe and the entire experience. It was a really nice atmosphere.
EG: You released a steady stream of pretty tough techno tracks in the last few months, can we expect more of the same this year?
UMEK: Yes, this is the direction I’m exploring right now as a Producer and we’ll continue to release a lot of my music in the months to come. In 2016 I’ve focused again on my label 1605 channeling all my releases though my own imprint, which sadly means there’s not many slots left for other artists, but remain dedicated to looking for and presenting fresh talents. I’ll continue to have fun with my electro side project Zeta Reticula, but the main focus stays on UMEK productions, which is again a bit more dark, rough and hard than in it was in the last couple of years. I’m producing music all the time and although I’ve spent the last couple of weeks moving through tropical paradise my music will remain dark and energetic. I’m in my ‘lone wolf’ phase right now so don’t expect any collaborations as UMEK just yet – although that may change suddenly. If anything is constant with me it’s that I’m changing my mind all the time and doing everything the way I feel I should do.
“I always like coming back to the United States”
EG: Are you enjoying making music as much as you did when you first started? Has anything changed in your approach during that time?
UMEK: Of course, and right now I’m at the point of my career searching for particular sound which is always very intense as this can take couple of years to really develop my ideas to their full potential. I’m releasing music regularly but I’m struggling a bit as it takes a little more time to get where I wanted to be as I’ve expected. Some of the tracks I produce now are really good while I had to throw away some others projects where I got stuck developing a particular sound that I have in mind. It’s been a while since I’ve had to work so hard in the studio to get to the results I wanted but that’s a challenge and I like them, after over 20 years of career they make this exciting. Though that’s nothing new: when I stared focusing on tech-house sounds a couple of years ago I was in similar situation. When I’m in transition from one sound to another it always takes me some time to develop the sound I’m looking for.
EG: You’ve previously said that you found it difficult to find electronic music initially as there wasn’t a scene in Slovenia. Do you ever feel like you have the opposite problem now, that there’s simply too much music to get your head around?
UMEK: To be honest there was always too many releases. Yes, it was harder for me to get to the records, especially as the closest decent record shops were in Munich, 300 miles away, which took the whole day travelling by shopping bus back in the day. But we’ve had to spend hours listening to new releases and white labels to get to the music we really wanted. I still remember having black dirty hands from all that vinyl. There was a lot of crap being released then, as it’s the current situation, only that now the whole amount of music is even bigger. Luckily I find most of the music I need on Beatport and through promo pools. Of course, there are a lot of indie labels that I could spend hours checking but as the vinyl used to be a certain filter of quality so are the major labels who don’t sell just every crap available. So, yes it takes a lot of time to select music – but that’s my job and I like searching for new tracks. Sometimes it gets hard, but in general you have to like this part of the process or you’re not cut for this job.
EG: You’re also involved in Viberate, which is linked to music but with a different perspective, can you tell us a little about it?
UMEK: The idea for this APP came up within my management team, because they were always curious how other DJs are doing in terms of popularity. Also, we wanted to know how different campaigns and tours are influencing my online popularity. We decided to start a website named Topdeejays.com, where we offered basic social media analytics for 30.000 DJs. The site became extremely popular, monthly analyses with a regular feature on Mixmag for example. After that we decided to make a business out of it. We retired Topdeejays and launched Viberate, which is a thousand times more powerful in terms of analytics and offered features.
There we analyze data from various online sources, such as social media, streaming sites, music stores and gig calendars, and we present it in a way that music professionals can use it for better decision-making. We’re analyzing popularity of gigs, production, social media strength and many other important factors. It’s targeted to music professionals and we’re trying to build a standard for our industry. Picture us like Google Analytics but for musicians, labels and venues. Right now we are offering analytics for over 37.000 artists but we will gradually update the service with analytics and other cool and useful features. After we’ll cover enough of the electronic music, we’ll spread out to other genres. Actually, we want to take over the music world, nothing less than that!
“I’ll be touring a lot. I’m fully booked, which means I’ll do around hundred of gigs all over the world”
EG: Do you think electronic music industry needs changes? What would be for you?
UMEK: Aren’t they happening in this art and business all the time organically? Changes are part of electronic music culture’s DNA, with saturation on one part of the scene there are already new trends on the other side of it. Changes are the engine of this scene and that’s the only way it can grow. We’ve had waves of harder techno, minimal, tech-house, EDM, deep house, tropical house … People are complaining, but there’s always a couple of dominant trends on the scene and there are fresh niche genres building their own niche scenes and nothing stays the same for more than a short period of time.
EG: Talking about hobbies someone told us you have a pretty impressive sneaker collection. How many do you have? When did you started to feel that interest for them? Any special brand you like most?
UMEK: There’re some 300 pairs in my collection, including some very rare editions. I’ve always worn a lot of different sneakers, various brands, but Nike is my favorite. Probably that’s because of my basketball background. I grew up in the era of Michael Jordan and as all this nice footwear we were admiring as kids was unavailable to us because it was expensive and we were living in a communist country, I bought some of my favorite editions now that I can afford them. Jordan 5 is my favorite model because it’s a nice shoe and I couldn’t have it for a long time. And usually in life is that we like the most the things we can’t have. My personal sneaker-mania started a decade ago in 2006 when I bought the first pair of then sold out sneaker in a consignment shop – and that was Jordan 5 Fire Red. There was a time I really got into this developing my own designs, coloring and pimping up my own sneakers but some year ago I came to the point I would need to obtain serious shoemaker skills, so I’ve stopped. That’s something I don’t want to learn. My calling is still music!
EG: Besides the tour what is in the pipeline for you in the first semester of this year?
UMEK: As we’ve already pointed out I’m busy in the studio, so expect a steady stream of my fresh releases as Umek and Zeta Reticula, there may be a release or two from other artists on 1605 label and I’m still presenting new talents and hot releases in my weekly ‘Behind the Iron Curtain’ radio show that is syndicated to over 130 FM, satellite and web radio stations all over the world. And of course, I’ll be touring a lot. I’m fully booked, which means I’ll do around hundred of gigs all over the world. It will be business as usual!