UMEK Talks Techno, Tronic & Cryptocurrency; Plus, Listen to New EP 'Certain Trace': Exclusive

Luke Kase


UMEK is Slovenian techno royalty. The European producer is widely credited with helping kickstart his home country’s electronic music scene in the ‘90s and early 2000s, primarily on the back of illegal raves and international dancefloor hits. In 2014, he was named Beatport’s fourth highest-selling artist of all time -- a figure which comes as no surprise given the sheer enormity of his catalog (a quick search on Beatport reveals nearly 1,000 tracks credited to him).

While much of his namesake over the past decade has been built on his ability to churn out catchy tech house creations, in 2015, the Slovenian producer turned his attention to an earlier love: techno. In the time since, UMEK has gone on to explore the heavier and darker realms of the genre, while simultaneously revamping his own imprint 1605 in the process.

Perhaps best epitomizing the transition, UMEK has slotted his latest EP, Certain Trace, on Christian Smith’s venerated two-decade old techno imprint, Tronic. The new EP, which Billboard Dance is exclusively premiering, finds UMEK crafting two warehouse savvy compositions, full of flanging leads and cavernous synth stabs. It’s a nod to rave heydey, and a menacing new addition to UMEK’s extensive discography.

To get a further glimpse into the mind of one of Europe’s most prolific producers, Billboard Dance caught up with UMEK to talk everything from techno to the artist’s budding involvement in blockchain technology.

Pre-order UMEK’s new Certain Trace EP on Tronic here

What inspired you to bring your new EP to Tronic?

To be honest, I’ve had a feeling that the synth sounds I’ve used in the production of these tracks should fit perfectly in the sound of Tronic. I’ve always played a lot of their music, so I know what they stand for in music, and as we go way back with Christian Smith, I’ve asked him if he’d be interested and as he was, I’ve sent him couple of tracks for consideration. He liked couple of them and we’ve set this release.

In the last couple years, you've noticeably been releasing more and more pure techno records. What inspired this stylistic change?

Well, that’s the usual story…I got a bit bored with the sound I had been producing and playing in the last couple of years and I’ve leaned back to a bit harder, rougher techno sound. Looking back, I’d say this is conditioned with the environment in which I’m operating.

I ended up in tech-house without a plan: at some point I started noticing more and more interesting music from that field. I still focused on techno, purchasing some tech-house tracks along the way for my private collection. At some point I realized I’m buying more tech-house than techno, 80% of releases I bought were tech-house, and being stuck in the situation I couldn’t find enough techno releases I really liked, I ended up introducing more and more tech-house into my sets and radio playlists.

After a while, I started noticing more and more interesting techno releases again and so I slowly transitioned back into techno and now I’m buying and again playing more than 90% techno tracks in my sets. Nothing was planned, that just happened.

You are considered one of the top selling Beatport artists of all time. What do you attribute to this success?

I like to think it’s because of the good quality of my creative output. I can support this with the fact people are willing to pay for my music and they play it in DJs are playing it a lot in their sets.

At some point in my career I decided to abandon analogue world as a producer and especially as a DJ and become fully digital, including my label 1605 (that still releases almost half of its catalog also on vinyl, but we do that just to cater to vinyl DJs) and selling music on digital platforms like Beatport. I have a team of professionals working in my office that are specialists for digital marketing, promotion and sales, so they obviously did good job, especially in the beginning when we were entering this world among the first major techno artists and labels.

You've seemingly done it all in your career. Are there any milestones that you're still after?

As I’ve mentioned before, I get bored quickly of most of the stuff so I have to keep myself occupied with interesting novelties and I set new goals for my career quickly after I’ve reached previous ones. I’ve done much diverse stuff in my career but as I’m very curious by nature there’s still so many things I’d like to do, hear, see and achieve. I still have a big passion, drive and lots of energy for music, so I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

I don’t want to go too much in details but for example I’ve been developing and fine tuning my new sound for the last two years and I’m finally coming to the point I’ll be totally satisfied with the result. I’m also involved in the business side of music with our Viberate project right now. But first and foremost I am still a DJ, music producer and head of 1605 label and I’ll continue to be for some time.

You're a co-founder of the decentralized music marketplace Viberate. What inspired you to get involved in the cryptocurrency space?

I got intrigued by the main idea behind Viberate, which is, to put it really simple, democratizing the global music business. It levels the playing field for all parties involved. If this catches on it will bring big changes to music industry, especially in the field of artist bookings, negotiating label deals and the management of copyrights.

When you are looking for investors in traditional business environment, you can get blocked easily by couple of influential people or companies not showing any interest for a groundbreaking project. We’ve made a detailed business proposal that was thoroughly scrutinized online by everybody interested and crypto currency allowed us to get investment for this project from many major and micro investors. We raised $1M in seed capital and then went on to execute one of the most successful ICOs in the music industry to date, raising $10.7M in under five minutes. In a little over four months we managed to hit every deadline set in our roadmap, so the project is going as planned.

Aside from over 160,000 artist profiles we are now tracking stats and featuring information for 60,000 venues, couple hundred thousand events and around 2,000 booking agencies. It is an open sourced database, so users add around 2,000 new profiles to Viberate every day and in exchange we are giving VIB tokens to the contributors. We won't stop until we change the music industry for good.

What impact do you think new technologies (like cryptocurrency) will have on the future of electronic music?

They might totally change music business. Right now, there are already at least five companies developing new solutions for the protection and management of music copyrights. The current system of copyrights is obviously not working, as it didn’t offer a working solution for this since the rise of Internet. The system of blockchain and cryptocurrencies allows you to monitor use of every single track used in digital world.

On Viberate we are also introducing smart contract for artists bookings that will bring more transparency to the market and give power to all parties involved, not only the dominant one. These are only two issues we can solve with new technologies and they are already solid fundament for big changes in the music industry, though there are many more. We have many more ideas but I can’t talk about them just yet.


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