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Umek & Beltek
WRITTEN BY DAN CARTERDan Carter is a British journalist and professional writer to the Dance music industry.
The unsuspecting eastern wing of Europe has been the field for one of European Dance music’s most notable revolutions to date. Maybe it hasn’t quite topped that of Carl Cox’s Balearic Techno onslaught, but with increasing vigour, unlimited creativity and impressive persistence Slovenia has housed one of the industry’s most positive movements to date.Dan Carter explores the country’s rich Electronic music movement by catching up with two of its leading artists, Umek & Beltek as they unleash their first collaborative album for Toolroom Records this month.
At the helm of its favored imprint stands Uroš Umek, visionary producer and Carl Cox-approved ‘Techno Heavyweight’. Establishing his name in the early-90’s amongst the budding Slovenian Techno scene, Umek’s legacy has been solidified with a four-year onslaught of creative integrity from his own imprint 1605, whilst his presence on the global clubbing circuit has established him as a true pioneer where his craft is concerned.
‘It is funny when you end up doing these interviews and reflecting on how it has all panned out,’ laughs Umek, evidently overjoyed by the media presence surroundings his 1605 debut showcase at De Balie for Amsterdam Dance Event. ‘A lot of good guys never get here, so you have to be a little bit humble and just count on the spark never disappearing.’
Alongside the original Slovenian master sits melodic tune monger Martin Bijelić. A.K.A. Beltek, a rising contender armed with a host of dynamic releases across a multitude of global imprints. Winning the support of Pete Tong with track ‘Copacabana’ back in 2007, the producers continuous presence on the global Techno scene has been enough to establish that his breakthrough four years ago was no game of sheer luck.
Now renowned as something of a European Techno poster-boy, Umek believes that the trials and tribulations of his country’s musical development under communist ruling have resulted in the dark yet uniquely characteristic vibes of its thriving Electronic music scene. ‘In the mid-80’s, there were a lot of positive groups and acts coming out of this country, but the governments of the time were always chasing them down because they spoke their minds through their music,’ explained Umek. ‘With this in mind, it is no wonder that darker Techno became the dominant sound; it reflects the circumstances Slovenian artists developed under and eventually overcame.’
To Beltek, however, the circumstances are irrelevant. What has prevailed for Slovenia is nothing more than a spurt of creativity from a country now free of communist rule and currently experiencing an influx of creative musical progression. ‘Good music is a global thing; it is a universal weapon,’ he explained. ‘You will always start at the bottom of the food chain with fewer technological and promotional resources, but music will always be a growing process, no matter where you come from.’
He added: ‘It’s all about ideas and the creativity you implement into making those ideas into music. With the right mind and inspiration the technology you use is absolutely irrelevant.’
‘Out Of Play’, the lovechild of a studio partnership that has bent the standards of modern Techno music to an all-time-high, is anything but the downwards spiral for this innovative gathering of producers. Fusing a host of eccentric Electronic stylings into a round up of the creative standards now associated with this sought after duo, their controversial choice not to release their debut collaborative album through renowned Slovenian imprint 1605 need not send fanatics into a state of panic quite yet.
‘Beltek really is a far better musician than me,’ laughs Umek. ‘His touch on melodies is nothing short of perfect. He has an amazing way with melodic aspects of the music and quite frankly I do not. As a producer I put beats together and programme my sets to work perfectly for me, but he does his own amazing thing and that was a key part of this record.’
Beltek, who has enjoyed global appraisal for his own array solo productions and remixes as well as notable collaborations with Umek himself, seems to have found a incredibly comfortable creative aura where his work with the Techno heavyweight is concerned. Now boasting a highly anticipated collaborative effort of a dynamic and potentially risky nature, Beltek voices a strong sense of pride towards of his debut full-length for Toolroom.
‘We work really well together in the studio and had a lot of fun in the process of making the record,’ he explained. ‘There were so many crazy ideas thrown on to the table and in the time we had we truly explored some challenging but fun avenues of our music. The album is not what people might expect from us, but I believe that they will be pleasantly surprised with the finished album.
Though a seasoned favourite on the Beatport Techno charts, boasting back-to-back number one releases and a vast portfolio of collaborations with an array of newer and well-established artists, Umek still found his triumphant return to Toolroom a challenge worth sweating over.
‘A lot of effort went into this record,’ explained Umek. ‘We spent two months in the studio together giving about 8-hours per day to the tracks and I thoroughly enjoyed the process. With the age of the Internet you tend to do all your collaborations virtually and just send the parts and tracks to-and-fro. It was crazy, but I just love to work like that.’
Having already donned 2010’s ‘Responding To Dynamic’ to his own stronghold 1605, the duos newfound British enthusiasts were true a safe haven for the finished product following Umek’s incredibly successful ‘Toolroom Knights’ compilation, which led to an exciting appearance for the imprints 5th birthday celebrations in London this year. ‘What strikes me about these guys is how open-minded they are. They haven’t always been about Tech House, but they have embraced it with a lot of positive force,’ explained Umek. ‘Their crowds have always accepted my stuff and so I could think of few better homes for this record.’
Beltek added: ‘We were keen to put more of a global appeal onto this record and as far as I was concerned, there were few bigger outlets than Toolroom that were suitable for our record. I love realising for 1605, but change can prove a positive force in this industry and these guys matched for the finished product of our collaborative creativity.’
Ideas, creativity and banging Techno music have been the winning formula for Umek’s renowned label 1605. Combining his own studio output alongside a host of freshly sourced European talent and the artistic workings of Slovenian artist and director of creative company VBG Gregor Žakelj, the imprint’s side slug of ‘Music Therapy’ may be more accurate as the antidote to an industry plagued by mind-forged manacles and endless repetitions. ‘We combine all these ideals into our music and our club nights so that everything we touch has that 1605 feel to it.’
With an endless entourage of global talent already behind the imprint, Umek believes that his imprints true focus is the exposure of those still hidden behind the ‘Iron Curtain. ‘Our music is changing all the time and therefore we are gaining more and more material from across the globe. The main focus, however, is to promote artists from the ex –Yugoslavia areas because it is hard for these guys to break onto the European market.’
So dedicated to this heartfelt promotion of his home territory is Umek that his radio show, ‘Behind The Iorn Curtain’, provides a dedicated segment, ‘Eastern Flavour’, to the rising sounds of Eastern Europe. ‘This name essentially means ex-Communist country’s and so it only seemed right that I dedicate a certain amount of time to the exposure of the artists from these areas.’
Now established as strongholds to their respective industry, both Umek and Beltek can prudly say that they have led the way for a continent that may otherwise have never found it’s a driving force to push its musical potential. Despite their current surge of global success, both artists urge caution to the future generations of producers who could too easily fall foul to bulging eyes and inflating egos in the modern industry.
Beltek explained: ‘When you start your career and you release your first track on a big label or with a big artist, your eyes pop out and you think that you have the world in your hands, but its not like that. If you rest on your alleged success and lose focus then that could be the end.
He added: ‘ I am now working ten times harder because success is a responsibility in music and maintenance is a demanding yet satisfying task you must fulfil.’
Umek recalls 2005, a time that saw his global appeal rise to an all time high whilst his level of studio output gradually decreased. ‘I had all these releases and my career just went off the roof because when you succeed for the first time you get so excited,’ he explained. ‘The second you stop you lose your foot and it can often end up being game over for you. Keep on working hard, keep developing and working your sound to the max and never take the positive moments for granted.’