Umek Live @ Inbox in Ljubljana Slovenija
As you may know by now Rumor is a new club in Philadelphia that prides itself on bringing the heat when it comes to EDM, but certainly has a lot to prove—being a new club and all. So far so good, I’ve been there once before to check out what it’s all about and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Bringing Slovenian DJ Uros Umek or simply UMEK is positively a step in the right direction in putting Rumor on the map.
I was playing fast, dark and raw music. It was much different than what I play now, I play much more softer now. It has changed so much in all these years...
I don’t think the crowd knew what they were getting themselves into as they walked down the stairs at Rumor. It isn’t everyday that a Slovenian DJ invades Philly—but it happened on this night. UMEK’s beats began flowing around midnight and if it weren’t for the immature laws of Pennsylvania I’m sure they would have went further into the morning, but I digress. The show concluded around 2 am sharp with the crowd still yelling for more. His style could be felt through his music, the melodies were crisp and the bass was deep. UMEK seemed to be altering his music in terms of how the crowd received the beats; he was truly in touch with his audience. His intricate and definitive style was a great compliment to the intimate atmosphere of Rumor. This was the first time I’ve experienced UMEK’s sound and I hope I get to check the man out again in the future.
UMEK is currently on his world tour, crisscrossing around the globe making stops in the US, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Holland, Russia, Israel, Italy, Hungary and Spain—and hopefully coming to a city near you. It's been a pretty damn good year for the man—this past August he launched his global radio show Behind The Iron Curtain and is premiering his record label 1605 at ADE.
I caught up with UMEK at the Westin Hotel before he took Rumor by storm for a little Q&A session. Of course music was talked about, but that wasn’t the only topic. I found out that he was blown away by the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, loves special effects and takes naps before shows to get in the right mindset and he just might have been in the National Basketball League if not for his love of techno.
Umek Live @ Chinese Laundry in Australia
What was your music like when you first started playing?
I was playing fast, dark and raw music. It was much different than what I play now, I play much more softer now. It has changed so much in all these years, when I hear a record that I recorded in ’96 or ’97, I was like “oh my gosh this is some other guy.”
From hard to soft…why the change in sound?
I don’t know… it’s maybe just me. There are a lot of guys doing the same style I did at the time, but for me I was so excited at the time, but then I guess I just got bored of all the same sound—even though at that age, in those years, I was saying I would never play anything else than this dark techno music. I was wrong—I’m changing constantly. And what I know now for sure, the only thing I’m sure of, is that I’m going to change.
Is Carl Cox the biggest influence on your tone and the feeling of your music?
Yeah, exactly. I would say what I really like with Carl is his energy that comes from the speakers, the intensity of the music. I still remember the raves in Germany; we were all waiting for Carl to come on stage because he had this special energy. The mixes that he was doing were unbelievable compared to other German DJs at the time [no disrespect to others] they were really slow mixing—the music was quite flat. When Carl came on it was a different. It was just a different thing—a wall of sound came out of the speakers. I just loved the energy; I felt the connection even at that time.
Is there a defining moment in life, what made you who you are?
Not the moment that defines me as a DJ but as a person. I used to play basketball and was actually quite good. I stopped when I was 17 years old and there is only one question in my life, “What would happen if I didn’t choose music?”
You’d be in a lockout right now. Is basketball your favorite sport?
Of course. I had a few of my colleagues play in the NBA. One was Marko Milic, the first Slovenian to play in the NBA. The second was Rasho Nesterovic. I’ve played basketball with those two. I was on the national team when I was 17 for a short time.
What’s the meaning of 1605, your record label?
It’s my birthday, 16th of May. I’ve had a few labels before but 1605 is my own project—I mean there is a group of people working on it. I feel that this is my closest, biggest project to date. For me it’s really personal, I’m always involved in choosing music. I’m working on the label on a daily basis. I’m always in contact with the label—it’s quite intense.
You’re getting ready to premiere 1605at the Amsterdam Dance Event.
We’ve done a few 1605 parties—not a lot, because we have certain standards. At the moment clubs cannot fulfill yet because the label is young. We don’t want to do really small events where nothing special happens. We don’t want to just book one DJ and put 1605 on a flyer and that’s it. I don’t want to do that. When we do it we want to bring our own installations. For example, in Amsterdam a group of 35 people will be there, we’re going there with a bus, with all our friends, designers, video guys, the whole office is going to be there and work. I would hope in the future our label is going to grow and attract a lot of people, so we can bring the whole thing and show what we can do.
Why did you choose to play in Philadelphia?
Because I’ve never been here.
What’s your favorite part of the city?
I was walking through city hall, [occupy Philly] was quite interesting. It was the same in New York yesterday. I really wanted to check out the Masonic Church, but you cannot enter anytime you want, so maybe if I’m not going to sleep, tomorrow I’m going to check it out. I want to see the museum with all the stairs where Rocky was running up.
Do you have any favorite American movies?
Of course, I watch all the new movies all the time. I watch everything from pop movies to a bit more crazier movies. I watch all sorts from feel good movies to sci-fi. I’m a big fan of sci-fi. I just saw all six movies of Star Wars, because I wanted to see them all in a row from number one to six. I am a huge fan of Stargate. I love the idea how they travel; this is how I would love to travel [teleportation]. I hate planes. I would love to have a teleportation device. Can you imagine one second your home having a dinner with your girlfriend to next halfway across the world.
How much would you pay for something like that?
A lot! For me the fear of flying is the biggest agony in my life. I would pay a lot.
If you gave your music a scent, what would it smell like?
(Thinks for a second) Oh my god...a cheesecake. Does a cheesecake smell? Not a lot. Hahaha.
It smells like cheese and cake. What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?
I don’t drive; I don’t have a driver’s license. I love to ride a bicycle. I really love it. I cycle everywhere I go—to the studio, up the mountain, here and there.
What’s your motivation?
Actually, constantly fighting with myself. Technical things are changing all the time; music programs and equipment are changing all the time. This is why I will always try to be better and better and better. When you make a certain standard with a sound and somebody else comes along and puts the bar higher—that is my motivation. You cannot sit down and say now I have the best sound in the world. Maybe in that moment, but the next morning you’re going to hear a record with a better sound—there’s the motivation. I want to make a bigger track, better sounding, better ideas, better in structure. That is the motivation.
Why did you choose to produce techno or electronic music?
I guess because I felt it like that—it’s heavy to explain. We were living in a communist country with no electronic music at the time, I felt something different and my ears heard something different. In our country there were not many electronic DJs or acts and I was searching for friends who were listening to electronic music for many years and I could not find them. I was alone. It felt right. Before [techno] I was listening to house stuff, whatever I could get on cassettes. I love house, I was doing house nights in the early ‘90s for fun, 14 times a month. Suddenly I realized that [house] wasn’t me and at that moment I said I was just going to focus on techno. I will always have a love for house music but I think techno is going to stay number one. It depends where techno is going to go and how it will sound.
Where do you think it’s going to go?
This is the question everybody is asking, it’s really heavy to predict. I guess it’s going to recycle again, because music is always cycling and re-cycling itself. All the old ideas come back with a new shape and new arrangement. Once in a while one guy pops out in Germany or England and shows all these new sounds and a new approach to music and the whole scene looks at that track and the movement starts. But I don’t know exactly where it will go.
What do you think of the current electronic scene in America compared to what it was in the past?
It’s completely different from when I toured North America 10-years ago. I really didn’t like it then, my music at the time was really fast and more aggressive compared to what it is now. The gigs that I played then really weren’t that good, but the last two years were nothing short of amazing; all the festivals and all the clubs, the feedback is really good. For example, I never thought I would play a club like Mansion; honestly the first time they booked me I thought it was a mistake. It was an honor. My sound changed and the world’s sound changed, I’m happy to come back and play all the clubs and festivals. It’s really exciting for me. What we see in Europe is that all that all these guys, David Guetta and Afrojack, are taking over the hip-hop scene—making beats for all the rappers. More people are listening to commercial sounds and wonder where it came from and dig deeper and deeper and start to listen to more serious electronic music. I like it… I like it a lot.
How do you feel about Swedish House Mafia selling out MSG in less than 10 minutes?
They’re such a huge phenomenon at the moment that it doesn’t surprise me.
Have you ever seen a ghost?
No, not really. I’ve never seen a ghost but I’ve heard so many crazy stories that there must be something going on. A lady I know, a very cool person, she directs energy from the universe to heal your body and has told me, “Son’t be afraid, they’re just lost and need to find their way.”
Couldn’t agree more. The artwork that’s associated with your label, who is behind it?
Gregor Zakelj. Check out his design company vbg.si (seriously, check it out). I’m really glad that I met him, because finally I have a designer who can express crazy ideas. I trust him completely; he can do whatever he wants. Our policy, and my policy, is I’m making music so I’ll make this good and don’t tell me what to do. The same thing goes with design, I don’t go over there and say “change this, change that, change this.”
What do you think the next big city is going to be, in terms of EDM?
A lot of people are talking about Croatia. Croatia has a beautiful sea, if you ask me one of the most beautiful seas in the world. The nature over there is amazing, you have thousands of islands, it’s not polluted—it’s absolutely amazing. The party scene is growing up so big that I’m guessing it’s going to explode. Especially when Croatia joins the European Union I think a lot of foreigners will invest a lot in the country.
Is Ibiza your favorite place to play?
For sure, I’m a resident with Carl [Cox]. It’s so funny, I’ve been around the island on so many nights and usually it fills up at 3 o’clock in the morning, but when I play for Carl they open the doors at 11:30pm and there is like 300 people immediately inside, at midnight or 12:30 the place is full. The crowd that Carl has is, I guess, the most loyal crowd ever. It’s so cool to play over there.
What do you do to get pumped up to play, to get in the right mind-set?
You’re going to laugh now. For me what really works is to go to bed before the gig. I just want to go to bed and wake up filled with calmness and peace. I’m prepared and focused, the vision opens a little bit and I gain more control. Of course, that’s only if I have time. I’m never nervous before gigs. I just go to the club, take my jacket off and start playing. It’s so automatic, so fun, just 100%. It’s hard to describe.
Ok, thanks for your time. Get some sleep and I’ll see you at the club.
Photos by Brian Walters