Interview by Rob Chadwick
What has your year been like so far, what’s good, what’s bad?
So far I like how things are going for me this year. I really can’t complain much about anything. The only out of ordinary thing I’ve noticed this year is unusually high number of gig cancelations due to problems with venue permits, force majeure and similar stuff. Maybe I was just lucky but in the last couple of years I didn’t have that many cancellations, so this has surprised me a bit. But otherwise everything is running smoothly and I’m in a very creative place right now as an artist.
What is an average day like for you? Do you have a routine?
I like to keep some kind of routine: I try to maintain a ‘normal’ life and to live as healthy as possible, eat quality food, sleep regularly, stay fit by exercising regularly. As I spend most of the weekends touring around I usually take a personal day off on Monday or Tuesday. I wake up in the morning, go to the fitness and spend most of the day working on new music, listening to demos and selecting tracks for my label, gigs and Behind The Iron Curtain radio show, with some necessary meetings in between. In the evening I like to go to movies, a stand-up show or a drink with my friends, or I watch some sports. As a former basketball player and passionate fan of this game I’m currently occupied with NBA playoffs, so I sleep a bit longer once or twice a week.
What have been the key lessons you have learnt since first starting? What do you know now you wish young UMEK had have known when you started?
The real question is what I could learn from the young Umek as I sometimes feel he could teach me a thing or two. I’d say the lesson learned here is that you have to work hard, believe in what you do and be patient, not to get discouraged on the way.
How hard has it been to keep your identity and stay true to your techno sound at the same time as evolving? Is that something you have had to consider carefully? Have you had to resist the urge to follow trends or styles that have taken your fancy?
Browsing through my back catalogue and listening to my releases it’s obvious that I like to jump out of what’s traditionally considered pure techno sound. I like to tap into other electronic genres as they interest me as a DJ, producer and most of all a fan of good music – and you can hear this in my productions. Rather than clinging to a pure techno sound I prefer to explore new music realms and do what interests me. I get bored quickly and need to get out of mold even though that’s something my techno fans don’t really like. I’m happy to see my fans are enjoying my productions but first of all I have to satisfy my own artistic needs and make myself happy in the studio and on the stage or I were not able to do this for almost a quarter of century now with such a passion. After couple of years of exploring a bit warmer realms of electronic music I’m again leaning more and more towards underground, harder, darker, rougher sound – I’ve even revitalized my classic Alba Patera (techno) and Zeta Reticula (electro) aliases, which came as a great news to my techno and electro loving fans.
Do you think “real” instruments are compatible with techno?
Techno comes in various ‘sizes, shapes and colors’ and as the most rebellious electronic bastard child it’s perfect outfit for experimenting and doing things out of ordinary. I’ve worked with classical instruments in some of my past production, heck I’ve even reworked part of Vivaldi’s Four Season with Symphony Orchestra, but right now I don’t use live instruments as Umek. Though I did incorporate some brass and violin sounds on some of my latest Zeta Reticula releases. So the answer to your question is: yes, you can use organic instruments in techno productions, but it depends on artist’s vision and his skills how to uses them to stay inside the framework of the genre.
You play for Pacha Festival soon – what is Pacha like for you? It is not the usual brand for techno, right?
You probably don’t know that but I was also a pioneer of house in my home country before I focused only on techno not to confuse the audience too much and I have a huge collection of classic house records and I even ghost produced couple of nice house tracks, underground and vocal stuff as well – so I’ve never been a stranger to top international house clubs as a guest, including Pacha. Though I’ve performed in Pacha Ibiza only once in my career. That was a season or two ago. This time I’m booked to perform at the Pacha festival, which is a bit different environment. Festivals usually attract more colorful audience, people who prefer and dance to more diverse sounds, they are great place to mix crowds and genres and also opportunity for us artists to check what other guys that are not necessary part of our niche scene play and sound like. I especially like to perform at the festivals where I’m there to entertain music lovers that are not only my fans or not even techno lovers as I have to work harder to satisfy them and if I do my job right, I get some new fans. So yes, I like festivals and I’m really looking forward to this one as well.
Do you play differently there where it is sunny than somewhere dark like a Berlin basement? Do you switch up your sound?
I don’t adapt in a way that I’d play totally different kind of music just because I’m at certain venue. You can’t go to a venue to hear me play techno and to another one to hear me play tech-house. You could listen to me playing tech-house couple of years ago, when I was leaning more to that sound, but now I’m still back into techno and I stay in its framework wherever I turn to play. I always try to deliver my fingerprint Umek sound, which is mostly about building the huge energy on the dancefloor, but of course I’m there to entertain people and as a very experienced DJ know how to program and execute my set so that it appeals to the crowd at daily or night event, club or a festival. That’s a similar question as the one that we’ve already discussed above – how to stay true to yourself and maintaining the integrity as an artist at the same time making a step to the right or to the left from your usually path to get closer to a certain crowd. If you are a techno specialist, you can easily hear that variations between different live sets, but if you ask fan of mainstream electronic music that is open to hear something different, he’d say all of my sets sound quite the same.
And what gear do you use – software or hardware? What are some of your favorite music making toys and why?
I use almost exclusively software. I still use a quality piece of hardware from time to time, but not because the sound would be much better, rather because the feelings I get turning switches and twisting knobs with both of my hands at the same time. One piece of software I really like is Arturia V Collection, which is a really good pack of soft synths. I’ve used to own bunch of classic hardware they’ve incorporated into this collection and at least to me the sound is authentic. I’m sure some owners of original hardware take this as a blasphemy, but I’ve worked with both and I don’t believe you can distinguish between the sound of hardware and software imitation when you use a synth sound along eighty or even more different sounds in a track at the same time.
What else have you got coming up/are you working on?
I’ve created my personal sample pack for Native Instrument’s Maschine titled Molten Veil coming out on May 26th, and at least to our knowledge that’s the first time that techno artist created something like this. I know there’s a Steve Lawler pack, but they’ve used his older samples, while I created my pack exclusively for Maschine. I’ve also filmed a new video tutorial for Toolroom Academy in which I show some tricks I use producing my techno track with some personal tips and discoveries about the tools I’m using. As a producer I’m currently focusing on my 1605 label and I release my tracks almost exclusively on my own imprint. My latest release is ‘Culminate’ and two Steve Mulder’s tracks are lined up for the next 1605 release. My forthcoming Zeta Reticula 4-tracker is coming out soon on Billy Nasty’s Electric Records, where I’ve released under this moniker in the beginning of Millennium when I started it. Oh and I’ve made a very nice remix of Dave Clarke’s ‘Red 2’, one of my favorite classic techno tracks that will come out soon on Dave’s label.
UMEK will play Pacha Festival September 9th in Amsterdam – www.pachafestival.com