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Umek: Eastern Europe's First Superstar DJ

Author: Jonty Adderley
Saturday, January 4, 2003
"There were bombs around and loads of fighting going on while simultaneously all these huge underground techno parties were happening. I also played lots of gigs in Croatia when they were at war."

10 years before becoming the biggest international DJ from Eastern Europe, the then 14 year old Umek was a soccer playing school kid, whose experience of his country's war of independence with Slobadan Milosevic's Yugoslav army. Was minimal.

"There was ten days of war which wasn't that hard though when the shooting started it was quite scary," Umek told Skrufff's Jonty Adderley. "The war didn't really affect me or my attitude to life because I was too young to understand. Luckily it stopped really fast."

Luckily for Umek, Slovenia won its independence, opening up the country to music and eventually techno for the first time.

"It was impossible to find electronic music, you could only get it on pirate cassettes or through friends who came across it from visiting Italy or England," he recalled.

"Otherwise it was impossible to find club music in Slovenia, if you were listening to dance music back then, people would literally say to you 'You are a really strange person'

Nowadays synonymous with techno, his musical tastes were always highly eclectic, as he's happy to admit. "I would say Todd Terry had a big influence on me, I really enjoyed his music," says Umek. Which could also explain his decision to release a debut album specifically intended NOT to be techno.

"The concept was to make tracks that wouldn't be right for the DJs who usually support my music. There are breakbeat and electro and the tracks are either too fast or too slow to be played in techno sets."

Skrufff (Jonty Adderley): How long were you working on Neuro from start to finish-

Umek: "I made the record over the course of a year but at different times. Initially I worked out some loops, melodies and ideas, left them in the computer for a few weeks then started working on those tracks again with fresh ideas, then repeated the process over the course of six months. When all the tracks were finished I then mixed them all in several days. It wasn't tricky, I just wanted to create different music from the usual stuff I do."

Skrufff: The press release talks of the album being inspired by the confused times we're living in…

Umek: "You can hear the confusion in the tracks with strange beats and disturbing sounds from the outside world. I'm not influenced by the state of the world and I'm not even interested in how the world looks at the moment. I just make music based on how I feel. I live my life in music."

Skrufff: Before this album, you were always labelled as a techno DJ, do you still actively identify with the term techno-

Umek: "Techno music is the music that I like the most and I feel it but then again I'm in the studio every day and I can make a techno track every day on average so what's the point in making 20 tracks a month each month- That's enough music for 5 EPs- the market would be flooded my with my techno tunes. I'm more inspired by finding new structures, this is why I'm also producing electro and some tech-house. But definitely techno is the form of music that I like the most."

Skrufff: You're from Slovenia, not one of Europe's best known club locations historically, what made you initially interested in becoming a DJ-

Umek: "I first thought of DJing when I was going to school dances and I saw a guy doing it with CDs and cassettes but I saw his role as being the main guy manipulating the music and vibe by playing whatever he wanted. It looked really great and I decided I wanted to be a DJ. Then in 1988 I got totally into acid house music and that was the first dance music I heard. I would say Todd Terry had a big influence on me, I really enjoyed his music."

Skrufff: Was it easy to find Todd Terry music in Slovenia in 1988-

Umek: "No, it was impossible, you could only get it on pirate cassettes or throug