Uros Umek grew up in the former Yugoslavia, but the restrictive regime didn't halt his passion for music. In his teens, he used to tune into an illegal London radio station via a satellite programme. "It played techno, rave, hardcore and breaks non-stop at the weekend and, we never left the house all weekend in case we missed something", he laughs.
When Yugoslavia imploded at the start of the 90s, Umek's native Slovenia was the first country to exit the federation. Although the tiny state had always been more liberal than other parts of Yugoslavia, Umek, who was beginning to DJ, found it hard to buy records in his home town of Ljubljana. This meant he had to drive eight hours to Germany to feed his growing vinyl addiction.
"There's a huge passion for music here and that was part of our ritual," he explains. Umek was also the first DJ to put on events in Slovenia in 1992-93. Although his first few parties were underground affairs, word of mouth soon meant that thousands of people were attending his events and, as he says himself,' the police and authorities didn't know what to do, so they just left us alone.'
By this stage, Umek had honed his DJ skills and was spinning on three decks. He also started to book international guests and names like Billy Nasty and Surgeon were among the first guests to play at his parties.
The latter DJs' sound left a lasting impression on Umek and he admits that his earlier releases were heavily influenced by Birmingham techno. As Umek became more confident in the studio, his sound shifted to the rolling grooves of his Mumps releases for Billy Nasty's Tortured label. Informed by Umek's love of early house as much as passion for club techno, the first Mumps release thrust the Slovenian DJ into the international spotlight, but he says that his background was at first a hindrance: "It took me about twenty releases before I got to play a lot outside of Slovenia."
In the meantime, Umek honed his art as a DJ and set up two labels, Consumer Recreation and, together with Valentino Kanzyani, Recycled Loops. While the later explored the duo's love of sped-up, disco infected crossover tracks, Consumer saw Umek reignite the flame under the synthetic techno sound.
By the late 90s, clubbers around the world were able to experience Umek's dynamic DJing. Spinning on three decks, his sets are a whirlwind of energy, as he works the seemingly disparate musical elements that also characterise his productions. Umek barely touches the pitch control and cues effortlessly as he works every effect possible on the mixer. >From tribal tech-house to rolling 'party' techno and taking in the disco influenced Recycled output, the drum heavy 'Voices Of Africa; trilogy and his firing minimalism, Umek's performances fuse his different production sounds, but still manage to entertain. This ability to appeal to all dance audiences is reflected in his non-stop DJ schedule and on his 2002 'Tortured Chamber' mix for Tortured - where Umek pieced together a whirlwind 27 track selection.
'Tortured Chamber' was followed by a mix for German party organisers Timewarp, which saw the DJ opt for a tougher, more full on approach. Unlike the techno purists who have kept the music 'safe' from outside interference, Umek clearly wants his music heard by as many people as possible and has even hinted that, in the future, he may release an electronic pop album.
Indeed, the crossover support for Umek's work on Recycled Loops, Bugged Out! and End Recordings and the Mumps and Voices Of Africa series as well as for the dubby, tribal tech-house house sound of his Earrisistible label - which he launched in 2000 - has been remarkable, with mainstream names like Pete Tong charting and supporting his work.
That's not to suggest that he has deserted his underground roots: apart from the Slovenian producer's Consumer Recreation releases, his Zeta Reticula series for Electrix - which is at number four so far - show Umek is also adept at making underground electro and Maurizio / Basic Channel inspired dub tracks. "I want to be an all round producer, I need new challenges. I've got to a stage where my tastes have changed: I love electro, tech-house and percussive house, so what's the point in just putting out banging techno?" he asks.
2003 also saw Umek release his debut album, 'Neuro' and make a break with the dance floor. Inspired by abstract artists like Autechre as well as industrial artists like Nitzer Ebb, the album was a brave move for Umek. It might not have appealed to fans of his club techno, but it satiated his need for making new, innovative music.
Umek has also been prolific as a remixer in the last few years, and has lent seminal synth pop act Depeche Mode his magic touch. He also worked with fellow Slovenian act Laibach on their recent comeback, providing remixes for the art terrorists' comeback single, 'Tanz Mit Laibach'.
"I work seven days a week on music, and the reason I produce so much is that I love what I do," Umek maintains.
Perhaps the most stunning indictment of Umek's crossover appeal was his comeback gig in Slovenia in the autumn of 2001 after an 18 month break, where he played to five thousand adoring fans, who screamed his nickname, 'Votter', throughout his set. What does it mean? 'Father', of course.
written by Richard Brophy
Recycled Loops, Consumer recreation, Earresistible musick, Codex