Saturday, 2 April 2011


Creative pioneers are rarely gifted a silver spoon that rustles up effortless success, but Umek’s story truly encapsulates the passion, the drive, the energy, the talent and the sheer determination needed to realise a dream. From his beginnings in Slovenia - then a northern corner of Communist Yugoslavia, he has blazed a trail through every impediment in his path,
from closed political systems, to the dearth of inspirational material worming its way
through the state and cultural filters, to the insular nature of the Western European
scene and he has kept on striving to bring alive his dream of production, DJ’ing and a
thriving rave scene within his home country. Today he stands almost unrivalled as one of
the giants of the international dance music scene, whether from behind the decks,
locked in the studio, or raising up fresh talent to take their rightful place on sound
systems worldwide.

Wildly prolific and almost infallibly perched on top of the charts at any given time, he has brought a unique spin to underground techno and unleashed a fresh understanding of the sound across an ever expanding audience. From the deep, pumping and thunderously rolling to the scintillatingly funky and gorgeously eclectic manipulation of the 4 beat, both his awesome production and his infamously hypnotic DJ sets have made him a sparkling figure of inspiration within the global scene. Never losing sight of his roots, he uses his extraordinary status not only as an ambassador for Slovenia, but within the country itself to help generate creativity, action and positivity amongst the country’s youth and is always there to lend his energy to a worthwhile cause. He is one of the handful of incredibly special people across the creative arts who have managed to make their field more accessible and lay an underground world open to those who may not otherwise have penetrated it without shifting focus or selling out in any way whatsoever. We contacted Umek for a chat, and the resulting interview is wonderfully insightful, revealing, up front, and honest and we tip our proverbial hat to the techno maestro himself.

How much did communism impact wider creativity in Slovenia

It did, especially through the way that to be more inventive as we were always
working with limited resources. Of all the communist countries, Slovenia, the northern
part of ex-Yugoslavia, was the most open to the West, but this was still a communist
country. I remember the time in the 80’s when the oil crisis hit us and there was a
rule that only cars with odd numbers on the registration plates could be on the roads on a
certain day, and the ones with even numbers on the plates the next day; the range of goods
in the shops was restricted in that we could choose only among very limited number of mostly domestic brands of chocolate, yoghurt, detergent, soap … We lived in a one party system so there was no real freedom of speech. It wasn’t as extreme as in Orwell’s 1984 but you could be legally prosecuted and go to jail for expressing your thoughts publicly and your whole family could have problems because of that.

There was censorship in the politically controlled daily media as well as in literature,
music and the wider arts scene. We did have pop culture but it was a different one, and
even though hippy, punk and other alternative movements were seen as alien obstacles in
Yugoslavia, they did influence the art, which was dominated by realistic themes and expressions. As in the west the electronic dance scene evolved out of punk and new wave of the 80’s and these artists who were mostly anti-establishment were also in the vanguard of adapting new instruments and artistic / pop culture mediums. But everything happened with a few years of delay and still most of the things happen with a bit of delay in Slovenia, though the period is now much shorter.

I got involved in the music scene in the early 90’s, as a teenager, soon after the Yugoslav
state disintegrated and Slovenia gained independency and I can state that I and the whole Electronic Dance Music scene was determined by the communist past in that there was no infrastructure, no party culture, no record shops, no shops with modern studio equipment, no EDM oriented radio … so we had to build the scene from scratch and learned to produce music on our own. We made all the mistakes as we could not learn from others, but that made us a bit unique as we developed our own sound on those mistakes.


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