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Umek: Slovenia’s Superstar DJ on Breaking Out of the Balkans (interview) :: Skrufff (Posjeta: 1019 )
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x_skater
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Reported by Charlie Gardner on November 2, 2009

“I didn’t have that many problems breaking through as a producer but it was still really hard for me to understand and accept that even after a series of twenty or thirty releases on good labels nobody wanted to book me for gigs, mostly because I was an artist from ex-Yugoslavia. But when I got my chance, I didn’t let it go.”

With over 500 releases under his belt and a global tour itinerary that reflects his now permanent presence in DJ Magazine’s top 100 DJs, Slovenia tech-house producer Umek is a shining example of the importance of persistence.

“I always believed I would succeed as a producer and DJ and organised my whole life to achieve this goal,” he explains, “I left school and abandoned basketball training when it became obvious I won’t be able to maintain a career in both sports and music at the same time, and focused entirely on music.”

Walking away from a professional basketball career, he helped create Slovenia’s nowadays thriving club scene from scratch, both as a DJ and promoter, eventually breaking through internationally in the late 90s.
Sending up to 100 demos to labels a month, he faced continuous rejection, brushing it off with impressive disdain,

“Basically, when you do this every day as a no-name artist, you don’t think much about it,” he smiles, “Labels are great filters for music and they give you feedback.”

“I’d been sending tapes to labels for years before they’ve noticed me at all. But I guess that only means that my production back then wasn’t good enough to be released. When the going gets tough, you have to be determined, patient and work even harder. This is a learning process, it’s training.”
[image]http://images.trackitdown.net/graphics/336/336985__halfwidth.png[/image]
Despite all his positive thinking he’s reflective enough to appreciate the important of luck, particularly for his fellow Balkans artists struggling to make a mark elsewhere.

“There are many talented artists from Slovenia and the wider region, such as Beltek, Sinisa Lukic, Vladimir Acic, Tomy Declerque and Alex Long, who are facing the same problems I’ve had to work my way through 15 or 10 years ago,” he says.

“Their sound is amazing and I include a lot of their tracks in my sets and support them, to some extent. But if they want to break through to a higher level and establish themselves on the international market, they’ll have work even harder nowadays. The additional challenge they are facing is the need to establish and developing their own brand. Nobody will notice them lying on the sofa or working in the studio all day long.”

“There are many great talents out there and certainly more than a few who work extremely hard for years but remain unnoticed,” he points out, “The stories about how big labels discover an unknown artist and make him a star are the exception to the rule. Usually you have to work hard and be very proactive if you want to be spotted.”

Umek’s own brand and image looks certain to receive a massive boost in the imminent future courtesy of a remix he’s just done of early 90s house classic Hablando. The accordion based anthem is one of the most recognisable club tracks from the early 90s, and Umek’s version both updates it while keeping the original’s essence, a combination that should provide him with a major hit.

“Hablando reminds me of my teenage years, when I’d just began my career. The accordion riff is unbelievable,” he enthuses, “When this track came out in the 1992 it was very unusual to put an accordion sound on a dance track and still, after all those years it still works every time I play it.”


Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): How did the whole Hablando remix project come about?

Umek: “I’d been thinking about doing it for years, some time ago I contacted my colleague Peedo who works for Expanded Music and Hell Yeah, the label that owns the rights to the original recording, and asked him to send me those parts. He instead asked me to do the remix for Dyno’s Karmient, which I did. But I could not get this project out off my mind, so I asked him again to send me the tracks of the original Hablando so that I could at least create a bootleg for my sets. After I made my bootleg, I gave away a few copies to some of my colleagues and as the response was good and more and more people started to ask me for this track, we decided to release it on my own label 1605. “

Skrufff: How much nostalgia for the early days of club culture, if any, do you feel?

Umek: “I don’t consider myself a nostalgic person. But there are some tracks that deserve to be re-edited and saved from oblivion. Every artist has his own vault of classics. I’m not deliberately searching for old records to re-edit and play actually I strongly believe we have to push the scene forward all the time. But If we do that and re-do some classic tunes along the way, there’s really no harm done.”

Skrufff: How much of an issue is it handling fan’s expectations generally? How much do you feel limits on what you can do given your reputation for techno?

Umek: “My music is very personal thing. It reflects my own emotions and skills. So I really don’t want to limit myself with other people’s expectations. So if I decide I want to remix Hablando, then I do it. And I did it. Without asking anyone for the opinion. I produce music for myself, not so much for my fans. If I’d listened to them I’d still be where I was 10 years ago, playing and recording the same kind of music. And I have no intention to do that. As an artist you have to constantly search for something new, different, fresh, unique. You loose a fan or two along the way but at the same time you reach new ones and expand your audience all the time.”

Skrufff: You’re travelling the world non stop, flying business class and staying in luxurious hotels more often than not: how easy is it to stay grounded, i. e. socialising with old friends who might be struggling for cash?

Umek: “Flying business class and staying in good hotels makes travelling a little less stressful. I take holidays whether at the seaside or ski-slopes just like everyone else. Sometimes I even invite some friend along as I like to have fun in the company of the people that are dear to me. I do pamper myself and spend a few more bucks than average person on this kind of thing occasionally but I believe I am a grounded person and my friends treat me as they did when I was still struggling to break onto the scene. If friends ask me for help, I try to be there for them. But I don’t allow to be exploited.”

Skrufff: how easy is it to handle new ‘friends’ who might want to use you?

Umek: “I am very withdrawn when it comes to making new friendships. It is hard to become part of my circle. Every weekend I meet lots of people that want to be my friends. But sadly this doesn’t work so easily. I establish quite quickly those with whom I’ll only have superficial relationship while it takes years to become real friends with someone.”

Skrufff: What’s your take on the economic recession: has it had much impact on you? On clubland, what you’ve encountered?

Umek: “The economic crisis is present all over the world. I can see people are spending less money and some promoters are going through really hard times, but luckily demand for my gigs is constant and even slightly higher. I work hard in the studio, the label is growing, my releases did great this year and we’ve strengthened the promotion and bookings side of things. I am optimistic and think that the good times are already on the way back.”

Skrufff: I understand you have a fear of flying: what’s been the worst experience you’ve had?

Umek: “My fear is not so much connected to the actual planes and flying, my problems start when we fly into turbulence and the plane starts shaking or loosing altitude fast. I have a weak stomach and this is my nightmare. I’ve accepted the fact that flying is something I can’t avoid if I want to do this job, though I’ve never got used to it. This is a big difference. I know the plane won’t fall to the ground if we fly into a storm but I still have my episodes such as imagining I’m a centre of the plane that is spinning around me uncontrollable. That happened once on a trip from Ljubljana to Split. I’ve asked flight attendant if I could get some pill for it, but she said there was no point as we’d be landing before I’d feel any effect from the drug. I imagine that most artists experience similar situations from time to time: the difference for me that I get realy stressed about it.”

Skrufff: Slovenia was the least affected country in the Balkans war of the 90s, how conscious are you of tensions still when you play in places like Bosnia or anywhere else in the region?

Umek: “Tensions were still present long after the wars have finished but things are getting better. I can’t really imagine what some of those people went through because Slovenia got out of that mess relatively quickly after only a few days of fighting and military activities. The infrastructure in the region is getting better, economies are growing, there are European level clubs in the big cities, the scene is progressing, McDonald’s has become a common thing and globalisation is present on every corner. The only problem is that a lot of people can’t work as much as they’d like to and consequently their resources for going out clubbing are very limited.

As a Slovenian I have a strong fan base in the ex-Yugoslavia territories, the parties are great, people are very passionate and I really enjoy performing in the region. Because of our joint past I’m treated as a domestic artist or at least more ‘their’ than, for example, British or German acts. Right now I enjoy performing in the ex-YU territories the most.”

Skrufff: Have you ever encountered hostility in the DJ booth in the Balkans or anywhere else?

Umek: “I can’t say the Balkans differs much from other markets when it comes to aggressive behaviour. People who come to the clubs are usually very positive and up for a good night out. But there are always a few thugs present wherever you go. A Serbian colleague of mine Marko Nastic still has problems performing sometimes and was once even physically attacked in Croatia. Which is insane. You can’t blame a man for a war based solely on the fact that he’s a citizen of particular country. In Marko’s case this is even more bizarre because he was an active member of the movement against (Serbian dictator) Slobodan Milosevic. I guess you can find idiots everywhere, be it a drunken Englishmen or aggressive teenager on the streets of Sao Paulo. But as I’ve said, I personally don’t have much problem with that because the promoter and audience always treat me really well everywhere I perform.”


Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)



UMEK Artist Page: http://www.trackitdown.net/artist/4412/umek.html

UMEK T-Shirts: http://www.trackitdown.net/merchandise/brand/186/umek.html
sinisha
Party people
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Age:34
ispricase se pravo hehe :)))
x_skater
Administrator
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Age:39
yap :) al dobar interview
RedHead
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Age:41
Pravo dobar... Ženim Džontija, odlučila sam :) Otkrio nam čovjek da se Umek ukenja u avionu svaki put :)

A bez zajebancije, baš zanimljiv txt. Jedan od rijetkih koji se daju čitati do kraja i da ne požalim poslije zbog toga :)
tajm
Party people
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al ga sere na kraju za natica
RedHead
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Što, misliš da nije dobio batina? :)
Gigson
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Age:39
fakat je usro na kraju... cuj drunken englishmen odkud mu to :D
kENO
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Zanimanje: okupiram se
Age:32
nastic dobio batina? a radi cega? ono samo sto je srbin jel?
sinisha
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Age:34
istina, pricali smo oko toga.. mislim zalosno ali se ipak desilo prije par godina.
nihad
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dobar intervju .... :)
tajm
Party people
Postova: 26
Lokacija: vodnjan
Zanimanje: filterđija
Age:A long time ago
Ma kad je dobio batine ?? u 90im možda :D ja se ne sjecam toga al mislim da nastic zadnjih godina nije imao problema s nikim ovdje dapce uvijek se pošteno napije i zajebava :D


Neznam taj umek mi je uvijek bio nekako seljacki nastrojen. Dodatno mi je dobio minus ove godien na danu elektronike kad su sve dje ukljucujuci dubfire prije njega držali na valjda 60% jacine zvuka i cim je on došao sve na max ne bi li on ispao ekipi najbolji :zubo:
RedHead
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O, tajme... To što si ti iz Hrvatske ne znači da trebaš odma' da braniš nekog levata samo zato što ste iz iste zemlje :) Šljama ima svugdje, šta se vređaš odma :)
mehotex
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Mislim iskreno Nastic je imao problema ... U Bihacu je jednom gostovao pa je jedva izvukao zivu glavu jer ga je neki manijak gadajo flasom :O tako da jbg.a
:)
Inace cool intervju :)
tajm
Party people
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Age:A long time ago
@ redhead ne branim janikog ako je napadnut al koliko znam tonije bilo u skorije vrijeme :D bar nemam tu info u glavi.
Vec je glupo od umeka spominjat nesto šta se deilo bog zna kad i onda tamo neki debili promotori ce rec u hrvatskoj tuku dje bla bla :D
Gigson
Party people
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Age:39
tajm znamo mi da vi hrvati nevolite slovene... granice ovo ono....nemoj dzaba :D

nevolilm ih ni ja... al umek je rerna dj przi na sve strane i zato mu gledam kroz prste
it comes
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i ja sam čuo da je nastić imao problema prije par godina u hrv, a priča ide da je on za dj pultom pozdravljao s tri prsta. sad koliko je istina ne znam.
tajm
Party people
Postova: 26
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Age:A long time ago
@ gigson boli me racc za slovence dapace svaki drugi vikend sam kod njih na partyu ;) ukljucujuci sljedeca 3 ;)
Ono ok da je to trenutno stanje i da se to radi konstantno pa da se upozori nekog da je ovdje sranje.
Mislim da i sam znaš kakvo je znanje zapada za situaciju ovdje da su mutavi i još briju da je ovo wild wild west tj east.S ovakvim izjavama samo to potvrdjuju.
rissbo
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Age:A long time ago
"i ja sam čuo da je nastić imao problema prije par godina u hrv, a priča ide da je on za dj pultom pozdravljao s tri prsta. "
cini mi se da je na exitu to radio -sumnjam da bi u Hr ...
enes
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Age:prije -236504280 sekunde
balkane balkane balkane moj...fakat je sta kaze umek da ljudi izvan balkanskih prostora imaju jako puno predasuda o ljudima koji zive na prostorima ex yu ili su zivjeli...

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