Slovenian DJ and music producer Uroš Umek has been wooing crowds with his unique techno/tech house style since the '90s. Umek is considered to be one of the founding fathers of Eastern European electronica, and his record label, Sixteenofive, is one of the world’s fasting growing techno labels. In 2011, he earned the title of Beatport’s Best Artist and was ranked 29th in DJ Magazine's "Top 100 DJ’s". Umek's music continues to top Beatport’s techno charts, and he's been remixing major artists like Carl Cox, M.I.K.E., and John Digweed.
We got to go backstage with UMEK during the Ultra Music Festival to hear the techno-titan expound on music, studio time, and the club scene back home.
Amanda Mesa: How did you get started doing music?
UMEK: I actually started with an old PC together with two friends of mine. We had a really funny program called Screen Tracker, which was really bad at the time—I think it was 1991. Three years later we bought a sampler, and this is how I started. I think it was ’93 when we started to produce music a little bit more seriously. My first record release was in ’96.
AM: Why did you think to use a computer to make music, rather than a traditional instrument?
UMEK: I’m from Slovenia and we didn’t have any information on how music was made. So I hooked up with these two friends who were computer programmers and they showed me these programs and how to make music, so we just recorded sounds from anywhere we could, and we started to make “music,” which was really funny at the time because the quality was really bad. This was the only instrument we could get; I didn’t really like hard guitars at the time, or drums.
UMEK: Yeah. I remember when my mom bought me my first cassette player—I listened to music all day long, even when I was playing basketball, and everybody was laughing like, ‘You’re always listening to music, what’s going on with you?’ So yeah, I always thought something was going to happen [with music] and I’m happy it did.
AM: You said in another interview that you’re usually in the studio working on music from 8 am to 8 pm. Do you ever wake up some mornings and think, ‘I really don’t want to make music today’?
UMEK: Maybe twice a year. But for me, it's like eating, sleeping, or drinking water, because I’m always making music, so I feel really bad if I don’t do a track. It gives me a special pleasure when I finish…I’m really tired but at the same time so, so happy because I made something, you know? And it’s a special feeling; you cannot get it from money or doing some other job. This is a special thing, you’ve made something on your own and there’s a result. You’ve created something.
AM: Which track has been the most meaningful to you?
UMEK: This track called "Ricochet Effect". It's quite melodic and not really a typical track of mine, but it's really emotional with a lot of melodies inside. I still enjoy it when I play it, and for me it’s important that I enjoy my tunes, because a lot of them I can’t hear anymore because I’ve heard them so many times. But this one is still there; I can still play it and enjoy it at the same time.
AM: Do you ever worry your music will get overplayed?
UMEK: Not yet. [Some artists’] tunes are really big and mine are not even close to that, because my style is completely different. I doubt my tunes will be played on a radio as frequently [as some major artists’] any time soon. So I don’t worry about it.
AM: What would you classify your style as?
UMEK: My style is something between techno and tech house.
AM: That seems to still be a developing genre in the states. Is there a city where you feel your style really fits in?
UMEK: I kind of feel I fit in everywhere I play. Luckily I have a lot of fans around the world. Dubstep is quite big here in America—in Europe it's not. For example, in my country when you do a dubstep party, there are nine people maybe in the club, because that style is not popular at all. But then, I guess because I’m the most known DJ there, we have our own style, so people [at home] listen to different music than everywhere else around the world, and I like that.
AM: Have you ever played a show where you felt you lost the energy of the crowd? How do you get it back if you find yourself in that situation?
UMEK: It happens sometimes. Some days nothing you do really works; you try to do the best you can but something still doesn’t feel right…maybe it’s the energy, or the full moon…something’s going on. I try to change tracks, the style, everything, and nothing works. Basically the only thing that works is to stick with your plan and eventually…maybe in half an hour, maybe in an hour, they will get into it.
AM: When you DJ, are you primarily digital or do you like to do some things manually?
UMEK: I DJ digitally, but then again I have a drum machine and I program my beats live. It’s quite fun. So I am digital, everything’s computer, but then I have this thing that I can play with my hands and it’s a special feeling.
AM: What do you find are the biggest differences between the culture and music in the U.S. versus in Europe?
UMEK: In American cities, everything is more business. This is how I see it: the style in America is a bit different…underground is not as strong as it is in Europe…I guess because in Europe this electronic music was popular before it was in America. It was made in America but it was more popular in Europe. This is the main difference. There’s a strong underground scene in Europe and a very commercial scene here in America, but still very big.
AM: Any events you really enjoy playing?
UMEK: One of the best shows that I play is at ElRow, a special club in Barcelona that is absolutely amazing. It runs every Sunday in the afternoon, and it’s like a carnival…just a special vibe, a lot of people in the club in the late afternoon on a Sunday…and it’s just amazing.
AM: What inspires you?
UMEK: I’m very lucky about inspiration…I don’t need inspiration, I just go into the studio and make tracks. The only inspiration that I get is from the crowd on the dance floor and from the dance floor itself. I play, and I see how they react and how they respond to the tracks. When I go into the studio I want to recreate that feeling.