Slovenian techno titan UMEK has found a new friend and collaborator in up and coming house producer Groovebox. Partnering together yet again on UMEK's label 1605 for a tech house release entitled "Rock it Out," the guys have come to a happy medium between the rocking hip hop and the dark, dirty and deep. The track winds through with a hint of hypnotizing melody, ending up in a place that'll make your head bob for the next 7 minutes and 17 seconds.
Just as important as the release itself is the motivation behind it. Check out one of the more provocative and inspiring interviews we've had, detailing UMEK's personal journey with music out of his native Soviet state.
Earmilk: What inspired your interest in music growing up?
UMEK: I guess everyone grows interest for music at a certain point of growing up and I was no exception at this. The only thing is that I was sucked into this whirlpool much stronger and my passion for music was so big I've made the lifestyle and living out of it. I always liked music so I can't pin it to a certain point in time when this became so serious. But it was at quite early age I already knew that my life will be bound to music. I don't know how to describe it. At some point something clicked and it was just like that – suddenly it was all about music for me.
EM: How did you decide this is what you wanted to do for a living?
UMEK: At the age of 17 I already had a pretty good idea what I wanted to achieve and do in my life, which is not that common with teenagers today. And that was much more than usual kids dream like if I was prepared to put on stake a promising career in sports as well as education. Deciding to put everything at stake to become big international DJ seemed a bit crazy at the time as this was in the early 90s when DJs weren’t pop stars as today, especially in a post-communist Slovenia, where this was not considered a serious a job or a career. There was no infrastructure, you could not buy techno on vinyl in Slovenia at that time, there was only a scarce of information of this rave scene and I decided to become a DJ. It was daring but I’m glad I did that move. :)
EM: How has your heritage influenced your music?
UMEK: Mostly in the way that I always liked a bit more alternative, darker, dirtier sound, which was strongly present in my early productions and first successful international releases. I was born in the 1970s, but I'm a kid of 80s. At that time we were still part of Eastern Bloc and we didn’t have as rich of a pop scene as in the west. Punk and new wave were strong back then in Slovenia and there was this rebelling, revolting spirit present in every aspect of our lives, especially in culture as the whole nation wanted to break free from communism. This is definitely something that still inspires me. I’ve made everything in my life on my own, with the help of my mum and some friends, but I put my life at stake and I know how it is doing things on your own, pissing against the wind. I am a rebel. Just the other day I was thinking about my teenage years when I was starting my career and I remembered how everything seems so grey and cold back then. I mean the architecture and colors of buildings, our clothes and things we were using every day. Everything was dark, grey or in pastels. There was a big lack of colours in our lives. There was no joy. Everything felt so moody. And that must have influenced my taste in music. In the last 20 years my hometown Ljubljana became a really nice city, full of colours and green spots but back then it was dark and gloomy. We didn’t even know how things were outside Slovenia and Yugoslavia but we knew something was missing. The resolution of the picture was really bad and there was no contrast.
EM: What's some of the music you're listening to right now? Both electronic and not?
UMEK: Outside of my career I try not to listen to any music at all. I’m checking heaps of new releases for my DJ sets, Behind the Iron Curtain radio show and my 1605 – Sixteenofive record label and I’m also working on new productions for couple of hours a day every day, so it’s not surprise I started to cherish moments when I can enjoy some silence.
EM: Tell us a little bit about your record label, 1605, and how that came to be.
UMEK: We just celebrated the first 5 years of our operations in the beginning of the summer with a special compilation titled 1605 *5. I started this label originally to have a polygon for my musical experiments and collaborations. The label is part of wider platform that was developed to connect various artists and it also includes festivals, exhibitions, charity events and so on. At the same time the whole projects reflects what I do and what I stand for, so the sound we’re promoting is something that you can also hear in my DJ sets or on my Behind the Iron Curtain radio show. And even though I have a label manager and there are other guys involved in artwork, promotion and sales it’s a very personal project (1605 stands for 16th that I like. I am the label boss and I say what’s getting released and what not. Our policy is simple: we focus on good music, no mater who produced it, be it a known or totally anonymous producer and we focus specially on artists from our home region and Easter bloc, though artists from all world contribute to 1605 sound.
EM: Where do you see dance music headed in the few years? What's your take on its recent popularity?
UMEK: Many artist are ranting about how music has gotten "too democratic" in the recent years, from every kid being able to produce music on his laptop and releasing it on the internet to electronic dance music becoming major part of American and global pop culture. I don’t mind that. I’m glad more and more people are listening toe electronic music as this means my playground became bigger and I can expose wider audience to the sound I like and promote. I still strongly believe electronic music, especially techno, is the most advanced music – at least in the way that it has always used and abused every technical novelty. It’s younger than pop and rock and it’s made and performed mostly with computers. The possibilities how to build and play the guitar are very limited and I can’t see how you can push that even a step further. Computers and electronic equipment on the other hand are still evolving and now or then somebody still builds a piece of gear that changes how the music sounds. I believe electronic music will further evolve but it’s future depends on the creativity of engineers. Sometimes it’s enough just to physically redesign the synth. There are a lot of synths that sound amazing but if you design it a bit differently you may inspire people to use it in a totally new way. The progress right now goes mostly in a direction of better resolution. The same way the picture is getting better and better on TV and phones are getting smarter all the time or colours are more intense, the sound is getting better. We are aiming on all senses and it’s all about the show right now. Sometimes I have a feeling we are trying to send all our senses on fitness on steroids at once.
EM: What's your favorite part about touring?
UMEK: I don’t really like the part of traveling, especially flying. But this enabling me to perform in the best clubs and festivals all over the world makes it worth. I still enjoy producing music and getting on the stage to rock the crowd on the dance floor as the first time I did this more than 20 years ago. Being able to get in touch with my audience is the best part as well as being able to get away from the everyday routine for couple of days now or then. The current tour is a totally new experience as I’ve moved my base to Los Angeles for almost three months and I’m spending time between gigs in sunny California. Most of the people probably imagine touring is one big debauchery, with one non-stop party, drugs, alcohol, loose women and so on. But for most of the top DJs it’s all about hard work and good discipline if you want to do this on a long term basis. Weekends can be wild, especially in my birthday month of May, and since we only release music Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday when you usually don’t have any obligation, you can do with this time whatever you want, as you can not go to studio as your far away from home. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I really started to enjoy days when I wake up and think what I can do with all this free time away from my studio and office. And the best think is that I can do nothing if I decide to do so. I can spend the whole day in the bed watching movies and TV series if I want to. I can go to the beach, just walk around or treat myself with a good meal. I can rarely do that when I’m in Ljubljana as somebody always calls me to get to the office for some really important meeting. Now they can’t. Here I’m a master of my time at least three days a week, which is a really great experience – especially for a workaholic as I am. :)
EM: What's something that we would be shocked to know about you?
UMEK: In reality I’m totally uninteresting person.
UMEK & Groovebox
Rock It Out