Umek is a long time tech titan. He runs his own hugely influential label 1605, which has been a staple of the underground world for years, and his own productions are some of the most esteemed in the business. He has just singed an interesting new deal with Lufthansa airways which sees him work as their regional ambassador. He is also due to play for the R33 series during OFF Week in Barcelona in June and has well as singing new label to release on his label, he has also found time amongst his jet setting DJ schedule to make some new beats of his own. Here we quiz him about all this and more in an interesting interview with a real legend.
How are you, what is good, what’s bad?
I’m great, thank you. You caught me on a bicycle, so excuse me for breathing heavily in the phone. ☺ I needed a break from the studio session to clear my mind a bit, but I’m content as I’m in a very creative place right now. I’ve just finished working on a new EP for a well-known techno label I can’t reveal yet, but it will all be clear soon.
Tell us about your new deal with Lufthansa – what is it about?
I’ve been working closely with Lufthansa for more than two years now. Actually, I’ve been flying with them ever since I can remember, because they are my favorite airline, but two years ago we signed an endorsement contract. I’m their regional ambassador and I promote them from time to time on my social channels. Now we upgraded our collaboration and starting June 1st, my exclusive mix will be available on board of all their long-haul flights. Who doesn’t like techno above the clouds? In exchange my team and I get goodies that make our travel more comfortable. Trust me, when you fly as much as we do, anything helps and especially my team is super happy when they score upgrades on long-haul flights. Their business class seat is so well thought out that you can fall asleep comfortably right after the service ends. Sleeping for 8 hours on a trans-Atlantic flight is the closest we got to a teleportation device.
How do you feel working with big brands like that? Is it a way of making money when recorded music doesn’t sell any more, or about furthering your sound to a bigger audience or something else?
I’m proud and honored to have the privilege of working with such a giant airline as Lufthansa. Raising attention of such companies is definitely a sign that you’re doing something right. This is not about the money at all, as our collaboration isn’t based on monetary compensation. For them, being associated with a brand like mine means getting in front of a young target group and earning some kind of “street cred” with them and for me it’s great PR and exposing my work to millions of passengers that fly with their planes definitely means widening my fan base.
Does techno still have the power to move and shock and excite you that it did when you first started?
Absolutely. If that weren’t a case, I’d do something else. I always play music that moves me, kicks me in the butt, gets me excited and techno still does this for me. In the last couple of years, I’ve maybe missed this a bit in techno, there were not that many great productions available, so that’s the reason I’ve explored tech-house a bit more in the meanwhile, but now we’re experiencing a major revival of techno with lots of great, inventive, gritty, edgy music that is fun to play and dance to.
What is your current DJ set up and why do you use it?
We’re way beyond the point of music accessibility as you can bring terabytes of music to every gig without a problem, so it’s definitely all about what these tools can add to my performance and to the experience of audience on the dancefloor. Skipping parts of the track, looping sequences, playing just a layer of a track … those are the things you can’t do with vinyl. I’ve gone fully digital in the DJ booth as well as in a studio a decade ago. In the meanwhile I’ve started fiddling with some analogue stuff again, which you can hear especially in my Zeta Reticula productions, but my DJ set-up is fully digital. I base it on two laptops and a mixer synced wirelessly, so everything is perfectly stable and I can focus on tricks. The last addition to my setup is Maschine Jam, which I’ve recently got as a present from Native Instruments. It allows me live programming of riffs, melodies and other elements in my sets. Before that, I’ve used Maschine, which is also a great tool, especially for manipulation of rhythmic, but the user experience and work flow with this new toy are even better. It added at least additional 25-30% more possibilities to my setup, so you can imagine I’m really playful on my shows these days. ☺
You play R33 soon – what should people expect? Will you plan anything special?
On my gigs I represent the sound I’m into as a deejay, producer, what we promote with our 1605 label, as well as the Behind The Iron Curtain radio show. I always play lots of my own music, couple of recent releases and remixes and bunch of unreleased stuff, so that people in the club get a proper inimitable Umek experience. I’ve had a really productive couple of months in the studio, so I have lots of new tracks to test and hopefully people who are coming to my next parties will respond to them with excitement. As there’s lots of great techno available, again my sets have become darker and edgier again, with some tension and lots of energy.
How do you like Barcelona as a city? Any tips and tricks for anyone going for Sonar or OFF Week?
Barcelona is a lovely city on it’s own and the OFF Week is just crazy as this is one of the main meeting points for producers, deejays, promoters and other people involved in music business, big crowds looking for a good time and everyone wants to put on the best show or at least be part of it. There will be lots of great parties, the whole techno scene will be there and I can’t wait to meet some of my friends I haven’t seen for a while and have a good time playing for exciting crowds.
Is a dark club your natural environment? How do you like playing outdoors in the sun for example?
I’ve started my career in a small club in Ljubljana that is based in the cellar and what a coincidence just today (25th May) it celebrates 28th anniversary and we agreed I’ll play a special headlining 4 hours electro set as Zeta Reticula. It’s something different from what I do as Umek, but if you’re interested, tune into Magnetic Magazine’s Facebook tonight at 11PM CET and check out the live transmission. So, yes, dark clubs, rooms and industrial halls are where I feel very much at home as they remind me of my early days. Even my studio is based in the cellar. So much about me not being underground anymore. ☺ But just as I like to play for people who are really into techno I also like to perform for crowds that are not necessarily into this sound and my music at all and to try to get them excited. That’s why I like doing festival gigs that are not only techno oriented. The only thing bothering me at daily gigs is sun. I like sun, but I don’t like heat over 27°C, so I always ask for a couple of big fans in the DJ booth to make it more bearable. I also like boat parties – there’s always a pleasant breeze on the sea and I don’t need to walk more than 50 meters to the bed after the gig when we are on a cruise. ☺
What are you most proud of in your career and why?
That after all these years I’m still here kicking it hard and enjoying what I do with the same passion as the first day I’ve put a needle on the record and played music for people on the dance floor. New technologies and tools are emerging all the time and they still excite me, I still have passion to learn and study about music production. And when I need a bigger challenge I take a turn, start doing a side project and make an impression with productions in other genres. The biggest problem I’m facing as an artist is that I get bored of things quickly and I need to challenge myself all the time to keep me excited, though I have to do it in a way that I don’t alienate my audience too much at the same time, and that I’m consistent in what I do.
What else have you got coming up/are you working on?
I’ve just signed two EPs for two major techno labels, “Sneaking Unnoticed” with additional remixes of Steve Mulder, Durtysoxxx in hot French producer Jusai, I really like right now, is coming out next week on my 1605 label and I’ve just released “Shadow Tactics” on Form with additional remixes by Popof and Mar-T. I’m putting final touches on Zeta Reticula EP vol. 7 for Billy Nasty’s label Electrix and of course I’m touring all the time – for that schedule please consult my website and socials.