Techno and Umek go together like salt and pepper. Check out our exclusive interview with the Slovenian techno king and read about everything from his revolutionary label 1605 to his past aspirations of becoming an NBA champion.
Umek & Tomy DeClerque - Original Challenge (Original Mix) [Cr2]
LessThan3: Talk to us about your well-known label 1605 and its direction.
Umek: I started this label as a platform for releasing my own music, collaborations, and music from some very creative young artists that were not getting the right support from other labels. Our music philosophy is very simple: it doesn’t matter who you are and how big your name is; if the music is good, we support it. The label is a part of wider networking platform that includes event production, visual art exhibitions, special music showcases, and even environmental/charity projects. In just a couple of years, 1605 Music Therapy became a very powerful project that brings together totally unknown artists with the biggest names in the EDM scene who get in touch through it, exchange ideas, collaborate, swap remixes and bookings, and release each other’s music. That’s why the label gets so much attention. Though it’s only been operating for a few years, the number of releases has already passed the half-century mark. Many of them were the bestselling releases on Beatport and other music outlets. So, I’m proud to see how this project is growing steadily; it has already grown into a little techno monster.
LessThan3: You are known for your tireless work ethic that has enabled you to create an impressive amount of productions. What drives you to work at such a furious pace?
Umek: That’s really simple: I like music. It’s still the same as the first day I decided I get involved in music, it’s just now I have much more knowledge and better equipment, so I can take things further. I like producing music, looking for fresh sounds and new artists, and performing at clubs and festivals. I produce music based on the energy, emotions, and feelings that I experience at my gigs, and I produce music for people to dance, party, go mad and have a good night out. It’s a circle: I’m inducing the activity on the dancefloor and I get the inspiration from the crowds to make even more music for them.
LessThan3: Tell us about your collaborations with fellow Slovenian Beltek such as Army of Two or this year’s big hit Back In The Race?
Umek: Yeah, Beltek and I really hooked up in the studio. We’ve finished another track and we’re already working on a new one. We always have a lot of fun in the studio and we learn from each other all the time. Sometimes we can just sit there and talk about the music for hours before we even start working on anything. He’s a decade younger than myself and a very different artist than myself, but the fusion of our styles sounds really good. Sometimes one of us is totally against some idea in a track, but we talk, try to do things differently, compare the results, and at some point one of us has to step down. It’s not easy, but it works. This is a very technical thing, but he always tells me how to do the breaks, so that deejays will know where the melody starts. That opened my eyes; back in the day I used to have the same problem. I had trouble counting the start of the melodies–the part before the first bass kicks in.
LessThan3: Tell us about the Slovenian music scene and how it compares to that of the US.
Umek: New York City has thirty times more people than Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. But the weird thing for me is that the techno scene in Ljubljana is five times bigger than in NYC! There are not many things that are bigger here than in the USA, but techno surely is one of them. I perform in Slovenia five to seven times a year and my annual performance in the Ljubljana central park attracts more than 30,000 people each summer. I can easily sell the 2,000 capacity clubs in Slovenia, while there might be only 400 people coming to my gig at a good club in New York. Traditionally, techno is the dominating genre in Slovakia. The house scene is also strong. Progressive and breakbeat are almost non-existent, and trance is very small but growing. Other styles are nurtured as niche, underground scenes. We have big outdoor and indoor events, as well as very good underground parties. We get all the big names and fresh artists and we have a lot of good home-grown deejays.
LessThan3: EDM is experiencing a huge transformation, especially in the US where it seems to finally be gaining some traction. Do you foresee techno and tech house appealing more to the masses?
Umek: I performed in the USA for the first time almost ten years ago and I didn’t like it at all. I felt like a weird alien lost in space, so I kept away for a long time. At the end of 2008 I returned for a small tour and I could already feel the difference, and last year things really took off. The states finally accepted the EDM culture and now the US territories are one of my favorite places to perform. Last year I did four American tours and I enjoyed every single gig. You can really feel how much the US enjoys this music right now. In America everything’s really fresh and people are genuinely excited about the music, which is something that we kind of lost in the Europe where this scene has been part of the pop culture for the last two decades. I can’t wait to be back this spring.
LessThan3: What do you think the future for EDM in America is? Will it finally break through like pop and hip hop have done?
Umek: For the last two decades the US market was almost impenetrable for the EDM producers, who were huge all over the rest of the world, with the slight exception of a big cheesy pop-dance track now or then. Dance music was always seen as something for the kids, inferior to guitar and hip hop music. Now the US is finally getting to know what they have been missing all these years, and it seems they are trying to get the best out of it. Listen to Rihanna’s Only Girl (In The World), Britney Spears’ new track Hold It Against Me, or Chris Brown’s Yeah 3x. Those are all dance songs. It’s not just something that’s limited only to the clubs anymore. The mass audience got hooked on it and that opens door for a lot of us more underground artists to show the more alternative side of EDM. Now that there is something to compare, people can really hear the difference between techno, tech house, house, electro, and breaks. So many big pop and hip hop artists are collaborating with the world’s best EDM producers, from Swedish House Mafia and Bob Sinclar to Tiesto, Dizzee Rascal, Magnetic Man, and many others.
LessThan3: You have worked with tons of labels. How have your experiences varied between them?
Umek: Like elsewhere in the business you have people who stick to agreements and you have some shady guys. There are still some labels that owe me a lot of money but they act deaf when I call them. What’s even sadder is that some artists who came to me and asked for favors when they needed me forgot about the deals once they become big names in the industry. You’d be surprised who those guys are, but I won’t name them as karma always evens those kinds of things.
LessThan3: If you were not a DJ/producer what would you be doing right now?
Umek: Probably finishing my basketball career or already enjoying retirement after some major successes in the Euroleague and NBA championships with couple of rings on my fingers, and maybe running my own basketball school for the kids. I was a really good basketball player in my youth; my colleagues were NBA champion Raso Nesterovic and Marko Milic, one of the best players of our generation in all of Europe, but when I was invited to the national squad I decided to quit as I could not do music and sports at the same time.
LessThan3: If you had LessThan3 minutes to live, what song would you listen to?
Umek: All I can think of right now is Requiem for a Dream by Clint Mansell.
LessThan3: Describe your sound in LessThan3 words.
Umek: Strong, precise.