Friday, April 20, 2007

eating candies while mixing, Dj. Umek

While Berlin and Cologne are regarded as the hot pot for all things minimal techno, few might be aware of the slew of emerging artists from countries like Slovenia and Serbia pushing the harder, tribal, party end of the sound.

Indeed the dissolution of Yugoslavia has given birth to a number of techno DJs and producers including Valentino Kanzyani, Marko Nastic and of course Slovenia's first superstar DJ, Umek.

Entering the Top 100 DJs Poll for the first time in 2003 at No.45, it was a track under his Mumps moniker that first saw Umek thrown into the international spotlight when it was released on Billy Nasty's Tortured label. Further releases as Mumps and Zeta Reticula, on Tortured's sister label Electrix soon followed as well as remix work and original tracks on other labels including Primate, Primevil, Wet Musik, Tiesto's Magik Musik and Black Hole Recordings and more recently Carl Cox's Intec imprint.

Part owner of the Recycled Loops label with fellow Slovenian rising star, Valentino Kanzyani, Umek has well and truly illustrated he has an ear for a good tune and established himself as a respected DJ with compilations on Monoid, Tortured and TimeWarp and a steady stream of international bookings.

Despite having recently broken two ribs in a minor accident, Umek is still hard at work in the studio, finishing off a new EP forthcoming on Intec next year and laying down funky techno in DJ booths around the world.

RA recently caught up with Umek before his set at The Forum in Ireland to find out a little more about the Slovenian DJ and producer.

So have you had a busy schedule DJ-wise lately?Where have you just traveled from?

Yes I have been on the road for the last five years actually, every Friday and Saturday. It's totally crazy travelling all around the world. I haven't played in Africa but have played on all the other continents. It's amazing so I cant complain.

Yesterday I played in London at the Gallery at Turnmills. Actually I've played there 3 or 4 times before but last night was the best night. I played an early set from 12 till 2 so I could build up really nice and slowly and there was an amazing reaction from the crowd - just unbelieveable.

Where have your gigs taken you recently?

Mainly Europe because I really hate flying. I get offers for all around the world but I dont always want to go there. I have been to Japan for the second time this year although I have had so many invitations. But I only want to do it every few years. Also I haven't been to Australia for ages and I dont know when I will be going there next. I love Australia but it's so far, far away and there's always a lot of turbulence on the plane which I really, really hate.

If you were to look back on your early musical influences, who or what would you say got you first interested in electronic sounds?

It's funny because in Slovenia when I started to listen to this kind of music it was impossible to buy any CDs because it was a Communist country but I had some friends who were listening to this music so we exchanged tapes or we got it via satellite.

I listened to a radio station called Green Apple and Dance Nation was a satellite radio show where they played techno and all kinds of electronica every weekend from Friday till Sunday. That's where I got a lot of influence at the beginning of my career and then I started to DJ professionally in '93 when the scene was just starting up, progressing and building.

I was playing all sorts of stuff from trance to acid, some Detroit stuff and of course, techno but in '95 we were totally blessed with Surgeon's records on Downwards and Tresor. Those were unbelievable and completely changed my view of things. I had played stuff on Tresor before but Surgeon was doing totally different stuff at that time. It was fresh. In 2000 I changed to funkier stuff with more percussion.

Looking back at the early scene in Slovenia were there opportunities available to play at club nights? Was it difficult in those early days?

There was nothing. Actually there were only a few club nights where the DJs played CDs. There were bands like Brugasia and people playing EBM; all sorts of electronic music but I couldn't say proper techno.

How did you make the progression from DJ to producer and was there anyone who influenced you in that respect?

The thing is when I started to play music, I wanted to know how this music was done and I met some friends who were already into this kind of thing in Slovenia. Back then they showed me a lot of things. I didn't have a clue at the start and I wondered whether it was a live band or if they used machines. It was funny, so funny.

You had some earlier releases on Planet Rhythm, CLR and Missile before signings to bigger labels. How did the move from being a DJ/producer in Slovenia to getting releases signed for Tortured and Primate come about?

In the beginning I was sending around at least 100 demo-tapes a month to different labels. They didnt like it but then I got my first deal and bought better equipment with the money and then the bigger labels got interested and so on.

Your Mumps releases on Tortured gained you recognition particularly in this part of the world but you also released your "Voices of Africa" series along with other releases on Primate and also some electro releases under your Zeta Reticula moniker on Tortured's sister label Electrix in addition to your many other remixes. Your sound has changed as you've taken on different projects. Is that important to you as a producer?

I have been DJing professionally for more than 10 years. I think it's 12 now, actually. I'm sure a lot of people are changing and I will always change when i feel the need because some music doesn't give me what it used to give me.

It seems like you are looking to diversify your sound with each new project. Is it difficult to keep coming up with the next thing or next sound as a producer?

No, not at all because I'm always trying different things in the studio. This is the thing. I can do quite good house. I can do some crazy electronica stuff and I can do proper techno records. So yes, I am always trying new stuff.

Your DJ sets of late seem to have moved on from the more tribal sounding records that were for example on your Monoid mix cd in '99. Are you exploring different sounds at the moment?

I have done 3 official mix cds which sound, in my opinion, very similar - Monoid, Tortured and Timewarp. This is from when I started to play funky techno with percussion and this kind of thing. Now, it depends. I'm doing kind of minimal, electro, more downtempo techno which I play at a night in Slovenia which has gone on for a year and a half and is an amazing success. So I'm sure I'm going to do different things as well.

You work of course with fellow Slovenian Valentino Kanzyani on the Recycled Loops label. How did this collaboration first come about?

The collaboration started because we were both residents in a club called the Mesodicavioli. Valentino was just starting to produce and he didn't have much experience. The guys from the club wanted to start a label so we got some interested acts that promised they would do a record but then we left that club.

So Valentino came to my studio and we did some stuff together and this is it how it became Recycled Loops as a project on Primevil number 13, I think. From that release we started the label, calling it Recycled Loops.

The labels' tracks represent a funkier techno sound and have been championed by Justin Robertson, Slam, Adam Beyer, Carl Cox and Deetron to name but a few. Was the concept originally to release funkier material?

We were, at that time, recycling a lot of sample CDs and we got all these loops and were making new beats from that so this is where the name came from. Then of course we just started to released our stuff but then we signed Marko Nastic, Hertz and all of those kind of artists. Our music is changing these days but still not changing a lot if you look at the progression in the music.

Your work rate as a producer has been fairly prolific. Which other labels are you currently involved with?

I am going to have a release on Intec, a proper EP, finally and a new thing on Recycled Loops. For the last year I've been trying a lot of new things. They are not ready yet but I want them to sound fresh and be the bomb.

Do you intend to keep DJing just as much or do you see a time when you will concentrate more on studio work?

I love to DJ but I would love to have more time to spend in the studio as well because I'm n the studio from Monday to Thursday and then I go to a club, come back, then go to a club and then back home. I would really love, in the future, just to play two weeks in one month which means 4 gigs a month and then spend more time in the studio. Definitely!

Apart from your Neuro album on Tehnika in 2002 have you made any other attempts to record an artist album?

Actually this is a funny story. I made a similar styled album to Neuro but I had so many singles out, so many remixes, that I still have it at home. I didn't release it but now it's gonna be a kind of 'The Best of 10 Years of Umek' available as an mp3 file or CD, where there will also be all these new tracks along with the ones from the EPs I made.

Most DJs find it hard to make the transition to a recording artist. Have you had any difficulties or has this allowed you to experiment with sounds away from the usual dancefloor oriented stuff?

It depends how long you spend in the studio. Some artists do one album a year and are in the studio for 2 or 3 months and they can take their time. I'm in the studio almost every day when I'm at home so this is just a natural thing for me. I just go there and make music. I dont know if this is the proper way or not. Everyone has their own idea on how to make music.

Lately the growth and rise of techno has been more evident in Eastern European countries and particularly your own Slovenia. Can you see any particular reason for it being received so well at home?

Honestly there aren't many producers or acts who are exported from Slovenia. There's just Laibach, me and Valentino so this is probably why we have huge support. The young crowds realise that if you're a DJ from Slovenia you can make it and go all around the world.

Do you think techno has helped unify its followers or bring cultural diversity to a region torn apart by past conflict?

In Yugoslavia there were 7 republics. Slovenia had, if you can say it, a war. There were a few people killed but it only lasted 10 days in comparison to the other republics so I don't see that happening as much but if you ask someone from Bosnia i think they will tell you a totally different story. Slovenia is the only republic in the European Union which makes a big, big difference.

What have been the positive elements that this scene has given Slovenia?

Before there was nothing; no electronic parties. Now we have a big amount of people, mostly a techno crowd, a small house crowd and an even smaller trance scene. Techno is really number one.

So do you have any plans musicwise for the future or do you anticipate changes within the techno scene on the horizon?

Right now it's changing rapidly. In Germany there's really hard techno like Schranz and the minimal sound. It's going to change and has already already changed a lot of DJs perspectives on music. I've seen it.

Has the advent of digital mixing had an effect your DJ performance and has the growth of CD mixing affected the potential sales of your vinyl releases?

You can't work against it and you need to adjust. It's always about the music. I mean people are gonna download music legally or illegally. Actually I don't mind.
As long as we have crowds in the club and people want to hear you then there's no problem. For the last 10 years we haven't earned that much money from records. Maybe people like Joey Beltram and all those big guys who were making hits like 12 years ago made money because vinyl was selling at that time. When I started to sell on vinyl we made some money but it wasn't a big amount. So for me it's more important to see that the crowds at gigs are up for it and having fun and if the clubs are full. I'm happy then

What would you say have been your personal career highlights to date?

It's funny. For example, Gatex, a track I did which nobody expected to do well. I can't pinpoint one thing. It's everything - the production, the gigs, the festivals I've done. It's impossible to just pick one.

Has there been any one person in particular who has had the single biggest influence on your life, your music?

Yeah...of course,of course...but it's changed from time to time.There have been different guys over the years but the last one who really changed my view, music production-wise, was Surgeon in '95. Other than that my influences would be the club scene and club music itself.

Is there any country you would like to DJ in that you havent been to yet?

South Africa or somewhere in Africa.

Finally, where are you off to next?

I don't have a clue. My agents are taking care of everything and every Wednesday or Thursday I get my email. I get all the emails months in advance but I always erase them so I always only know on the Wednesday or Thursday where I'm gonna play that week.

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