DJ UMEK :: biography
Uros Umek is internationally acclaimed deejay and music producer from Slovenia, seducing the masses with his own music blend for more than a decade. Always on the look for new sounds and determined to challenge every existing cliché in music industry, he managed to define his own vision of vanguard techno. Sure, this would not happen without the support of his loyal peers who’ve joined him on the production platforms such as Recycled Loops, Consumer Recreation and Astrodisco, with which they defined “Slovenian techno sound” and successfully it as an important driving force on the global club scene.
He started his journey to the stardome as an excellent athlete, running between two baskets, but it was Euterpe the Muse of music and poetry that paved Umek’s life-path. She got him totally unprepared, seduced him with no further notice, so he had no chance of getting out of her treads. He devoted his life, his heart, all of his passion and energy, to the sounds he discovered as a teenager. Pioneering the genre he became one of its most appreciated ambassadors with faithful worldwide audience simply known as The Father (of Slovenian techno).
Sleeping on past achievements was never Umek’s thing. So it’s no surprise he decided for complete renovation of his sound and live set performance though being steady member of Top 100 DJ lists for almost a decade. The year 2007 marks beginning of a new chapter in his music career. After spending enormous amount of time and artistic energy bringing his characteristic sound to the whole new level, he presented new international music therapy called 1605 – Sixteenofive. No doubt this was a very risky move. But it was the only way for him to stay on top of the game. And it seems he made the right decision at the crucial time: the response to his new vision of electronic dance music from his peers, critics, media and most importantly his fans is great and his production is supported by some top names in the industry.
FALLING IN LOVE
“As far as I remember, my first serious contact with music was trough pop artists such as Michael Jackson, Modern Talking, Falco and Yugoslavian singer Daniel, who rocked the Eurosong audience in the early 80’s with the infamous hit single Djuli. (Laugh.) My mother is the one to blame. She bought me my first radio which I’ve listened to ‘till exhaustion,” apologizes Uros.
He brought his music passion to the next level few years later, discovering the record button on his first double cassette player/recorder. "That enabled me to start my own music collection. I’ve recorded songs from Slovenian disco chart program, which presented top commercial tunes on weekly basis. I also managed to get my hands on some rare pirate
cassettes with dance and techno tunes, but even few years after Slovenia became independent I didn’t really know where to look for that modern electronic sounds that I liked so much. I didn’t know anyone who listened to that stuff. Until I discovered Cool Night, specialized broadcast on Ljubljana’s alternative student radio station. The Monday evening slot was run by original pioneers of electronic dance culture in Slovenia, Primoz Pecovnik (now boss of indie label Matrix Music), Brane Zorman aka MC Brane of Beitthron and Aldo Ivancic of Borghesia.
HE’LL BURN IN HELL
If there’s any symbolism in the beginning of his clubbing career, DJ Umek won’t escape burning in Hell for at least few decades: "I’ve told my mother I’m going to church to attend festive midnight mass on the Christmas night, but I was determined to visit MC Brane’s party at Ljubljana’s underground club K4 for the first time that night. I was expected to be home at 1 am, but wasn’t ‘till 4 am, so the curfew was imminent,” Umek remembers popping his club cherry.
When the martial law eventually lifted and his mum decided to soften the regime, he found himself dealing with new challenge. He was allowed to go clubbing at the weekends but was expected to be home at 3 am. The trick was, as it usually is, that the first morning bus to his home neighborhood departed from the centre of the city fifteen minutes later. Solving problem wasn’t easy, but being young and determined there was no problem for him running through the half of the city twice a week: "Running few kilometers in the middle of the night after clubbing really wasn’t as hard as it seems. I was training basketball at that time, so I was really fit.” It’s more than a decade since he traded career of basketball superstar for the nightlife debauchery. It would be interesting to see what he could have achieved as an athlete. Namely, he was selected for the junior national team just as he parted from the sports, and some of his former colleagues became key players in the top USA and European basketball leagues.
HE GOT HOOKED
The industrial designed K4 club in the basement of Student’s Union HQ in the centre of Ljubljana is still considered to be Umek’s resident club, although he’s not an official resident deejay anymore. But since his most loyal fans are still gathering there, K4 remains the playground for testing new productions, concepts and sounds. "It’s where everything started. This is the place where I’ve got in touch with first Slovenian electronic projects such as Anna Lies, Clox or Random Logic. Some of those guys were and still are important part of my life. It was Jure Havlicek who ultimately influenced my decision to get involved in professional music production. Gregor Zemljic is mastering all of my tracks. And I’ve
founded my first band Mouse Trap with Uros and Vid, who have opened my eyes and ears to this culture.”
It was his friend’s Uros home where Umek got in touch with UK based pirate radio stations such as Green Apple/Dance Nation. "We picked up this programs via satellite dish. They played hardcore, breakbeat and techno non stop at the weekend, and even though we were recording it, we never left the house so we would not miss anything!” His friend was also the one who introduced him the Screen Tracker. "It was the very basic 8-bit resolution production tool with four mono channels, but that’s how everything started. After I’ve finally managed to save enough money to buy proper sampler, the outside World ceased to exist. I’ve became totally obsessed with that box. I’ve spent up to sixteen hours a day working on that machine."
AND SO HE BEGAN
Although he’s established technician, master of three decks and FX performances, it wasn’t easy for Umek to get acquainted with those needles and mixers in the first place. You have to bear in mind his home country was part of former eastern block and most of the small clubs could only afford cassette and CD players at that time. “I could only dream of having my own decks in the beginning of 90’s. As a single parent my mother could not afford that kind of expense. But I was lucky I’ve met few guys that recognized the talent in me and gave me the opportunity to start.”
Umek was regular at club Palma matinees at that time. He spent most of the afternoons standing in the corner watching deejay mixing records, until one day resident DJ Alf offered him to finish his set. He seized the opportunity, somehow managed to get through the night and they’ve agreed he can practice on that decks and mixer for an hour or so before the weekly matinee. "After I’ve conquered the technique and performed for a few times in Palma, I’ve got offered opening slot at Aldo’s night in K4. It only paid as much to buy one CD, but it was a steady job and I really liked it." It was also the time when he decided to sell his collection of 200 CDs. "It’s something I still regret, but it was the only way to earn money I needed to buy vinyl.”
In the early 90s buying techno records seemed almost a mission impossible for someone living and working in Slovenia. Closest shop with that kind of music was in Germany, almost 500 kilometers away from Ljubljana. “We heard there are some records shops in Munich. So we’ve booked the weekly shopping bus, drove to Munich, and found that shops on our own. It wasn’t easy but we’ve successfully finished that adventure. I’ve only had enough money to buy eight records, but this is how my collection started.”
BUILDING THE SCENE
Germany was also the place where Umek got in touch with the rave scene. “It was an amazing experience, when I attended my first Technomania party with 15.000 revelers on seven floors placed in a hangar on the outskirts of Munich. And when I’ve entered twice as bigger Mayday arena for the first time I knew I want to be in that deejay booth one day. Few years later I was. Although I’ve thought to myself what the heck am I doing at that commercial masquerade in the backstage, I’ve changed my mind when I’ve finally stepped into the deejay booth. I’ve seen all those kids waving hands and shouting to me as being their god, and I’m sure some of them thought just the same as I did years before them. So, I’ve just smiled and performed one of the best sets of my career that can still be found on the internet."
Totally hooked on exploding ravemania, Umek and his peers started organizing bus transfers to rave parties in Germany. They were enyoing themselves and they were learning along the way. So it was just a matter of time when they decided to start putting up their own events. “The first one was total disaster,” remembers Umek. “We’ve leased the local fireman’s hall for the night but only managed to attract a hundred revelers. We were so broke, we couldn’t even afford cleaning lady the morning after.” But they could not be stopped by that debacle. They worked their way from event to event, got in charge of small club in the outskirts of Ljubljana and gradually became one of the leading promoters in the country.
"I still remember the illegal rave party we’ve organized in the countryside outside Ljubljana. It attracted surprisingly big mass of people and one of the main national newspapers reported of the incident, since we were dispersed by the police. And there was the local politician, real smart guy that made us all laugh: he stated that the cows in the nearby village stopped lactating (i.e. giving milk) because of the stress induced by loud techno music. … No, I’m not kidding. This really was in the papers and can still be found in the archives.”
THE BIG BREAK
DJ Umek made his name in Slovenia by hosting some of the best club nights in the country. Clubbing scene in Zagreb, Croatia was much stronger in the beginning of 90s, but it was him and his peers that changed that in just a few years by turning their home turf into most prolific party scene in the whole region. It was also the time of experimenting for Umek. He was mostly known as techno deejay, but loved to play underground house, too, especially at the after parties. And since he had the biggest collection of house records in Slovenia, he quickly became involved in building the house scene as well. At some point he was so much into house, he played four gigs a week, but only twice a month techno set. “I felt really suffocated as an artist with all that house, because I couldn’t focus on techno, my main genre. One night at Ambasada Gavioli I decided I won’t play house anymore. I grabbed some
Chicago house records, pitched them, played really banging set and gave farewell to the club. I’ve returned to K4 and focus on techno again."
He returned to Ambasada Gavioli the next year, this time as a techno specialist. Since he was treated as the second resident, the favorite of club management always being his good friend Valentino Kanzyani, Umek had no competitive clause and could take bookings wherever and whenever he desired. Meeting top techno DJs from all over the world, establishing new friendships and gathering contacts he started performing at the best venues all over the World. Quickly he assembled crowds of faithful fans from Berlin to Tokyo, making impression as a great technician and programmer, but it was his special blend of music known as Slovenian Techno which has put him on the map as one of the top names in the genre.
As the founding pillar of Slovenian electronic music scene Umek co-founded his first label in the mid 90s. Absense (and its sub-label Expire) was the first specialized techno label in the region, home to artists such as Umek, Anorak, Random Logic, Brother's Yard or Clox, quickly becoming popular with artists such as Laurent Garnier or Sven Väth because of its unique sound.
But it were the Recycled Loops and Earresistible Musick labels that really established Slovenian electronic dance sound as one of the driving forces on the global scale. The first mentioned joint venture with Valentino Kanzyani was and still is reserved for underground techno releases, while the second serves as a platform for hard, electronic house experiments. "The idea for starting our own label wasn’t originally ours. The plan was to launch Next Wave imprint as Ambasada Gavioli offspring. Everything was set up, we’ve recorded our first record, but then suddenly Valentino terminated his partnership with the club management, and since I was performing there solely as a favor to him, I left too. But we were determined to release our production and decided to start the label on our own. The first release was distributed by Prime and since it sold good they’ve supported the launch of our own label. The name was picked up as a statement and description for the sound we were promoting at the same time. Namely, that was the time when we recycled old techno loops.”
Umek is currently involved in running another two independent labels. He is one of four guys behind experimental Astrodisco project, which is Slovenia’s unique answer to “minimal” explosion. The other one is the extension of his new 1605 – Sixteeenofive concept, which was launched in the early 2007 as international platform for promotion and development of new electronic sound structures and approaches to deejay performances.
Guy Gerber, Extrawelt, Gregor Tresher, Billy Nasty, Mikkel Metal, Mike del Saar, Matthew Hoag, Alex Long and other artists are already involved.
WANT TO RECREATE?
Although not so known to international crowd Consumer Recreation project played major role in Umek’s career and was really important for the progression of Slovenian electronic music scene, which is still developing nicely. The incentive which includes deejays Bizzi, Dojaja, Psiho & Plotz started as a promotion crew behind some major techno events in the country. It became even more important as the weekly radio show and label of the same name were lunched. "The basic idea behind this project was to promote the freshest stuff on the scene. At that time I was already household name in the global techno circuit, so I was sent a lot of promos which we played in our radio show and at the clubs. For example: our radio policy was to never play any record more than once, since we didn’t even have enough time to play everything we wanted.”
When Consumer Recreation joined forces with Taotech and some other guys Explicit Musick was born. It brought the organization part of Slovenian party scene on the whole new level. Big open air festival series such as Meet Me and Sindustry, indoor parties such as EUrora and the string of smaller club nights marked the beginning of new millennium in the whole region, not only in Slovenia. In 2005 Explicit Musick was dissolved and Futuristing Music crew stepped into its place continuing the legacy. The productions of FM crew include major annual events such as DiscoNautica gathering, Umek’s solo action in Ljubljana’s central park Tivoli and The Day of Electronica festival.
The Astrodisco project is original Slovenian answer to “minimal explosion”. It’s designed as a test-platform for creative multimedia boutique club nights wrapped into futuristic electronic sounds. It builds on the whole club experience, authentic music production, unique décor, exclusive VJ performances and unusual combinations of arts and crafts such as building real moving Astrobots. Another novelty that Astrodisco introduced in Slovenia, was clubbing during the working week. Nevertheless, concept of Astrodisco exists also as a record label with Umek’s releases 16th Century Japan and Before Violence as most recent.
The launch of 1605 – Sixteenofive platform marked the beginning of a new chapter in DJ Umek’s music career as he spent enormous amount of time and artistic energy bringing his characteristics sound to the whole new level. No doubt this was a very risky move. But it was the only way for him to stay on top of the game.
Through the 1605 Therapy, Umek successfully spreads a mixture of brute alternative sounds on one hand and anthems for the biggest venues of the world on the other. The first group is formed of records such as Ricochet Effect, Another Matter Entirely and Utopia, while the second group includes famous Posing As Me and Carbon Occasions, the two records, which broke the club borders and conquered radio waves, with the accompanying videos played also on MTV. Cooperation with record labels such as Renaissance, Little Mountain, Ultra, Pacha, Armada, constant presence on dozens of radio stations all over the world, Essential Mix, appearances on Primavera, Monegros and Dance Valley festivals, appearances on numerous compilations and constant support of many colleagues such as Sander Kleinenberg, Fergie, Tiësto, Judge Jules, Eddie Halliwell, John Digweed, M.I.K.E. and Carl Cox confirm that the 1605 Therapy is showing results.
After the launch of the content-rich websites www.umek.si and www.sixteenofive.com in the year 2008, the 1605 Therapy also began a journey in the form of a record label. The launch of the record label was announced on the second day of the »Day Of Electronics 08« in May, while producer VoRr with his premier release of Outlaws / Project 1.333 successfully prepared the ground for the re-release of the classic Gatex, which came back in the form of a new remix by Fergie. With countless EPs released so far that had a lot of support by big names such as Carl Cox, John Digweed, M.I.K.E., Paul Hazendonk and many others, 1605 has become a synonym for high quality electronic releases.
In May 2010, Umek’s traditional “Electronics Day” event in Krizanke (Ljubljana, Slovenia), which marked his 34rd and 1605’s 4th birthday, came out as a huge success much like last year’s “Disconautica” summer festival (Koper, Slovenia) which featured 1605 Main Floor and had over 50.000 people attending.
Nominations on world's prestigious music contests seem to just pour into Umek's pocket – he was voted to first place on Beatport's world Music Awards in techno category, not to mention he was one of the 2009's Best Sellers on Beatport. On last year's DJ Mag Top 100 DJs he was placed on 3rd spot in techno and on 39th spot in overall category. What holds for this year’s DJ Mag polls we can only imagine.
Even more impressive stuff is cooking in Umek's oven for the summer. He will be a resident at Space, Ibiza on Carl Cox's Tuesdays. Alongside Ibiza residency, Umek will also reside in a popular Croatian club Byblos, with some special guests – Dubfire, Sébastien Léger and Christian Smith being only few of them.