“Try to use music as a vent for the pain and frustration…” 909originals catches up with techno legend Umek

Arguably Slovenia’s finest musical export, Umek is approaching a quarter century as one of techno’s most consistent creators, with a portfolio that encompasses scything electro, looped-up tech funk and blistering techno, either under his own name or through a variety of pseudonyms: Zeta Reticula, Alba Patera, Mumps and many others.

In 2016, he co-founded a new music start-up, Viberate, a platform for music professionals seeking to build connections in an increasingly digital era.

That was followed this year with the rollout of Viberate analytics, a tool that gathers data on more than 450,000 artists and turns it into clear and actionable insights – enabling industry pros to keep their finger on the pulse on emerging trends and talent.

909originals caught up with Umek to discuss the Viberate analytics platform, his record label, 1605 Music Therapy, and a career as one of electronic music’s most enigmatic producers.

Viberate enables industry professionals to keep on top of emerging trends

Hi Umek, thanks for chatting to us. The year 2020 has been unlike any other. How was it for you – were you inspired to make new music and be productive?

It’s been a strange year for me, just like for many other people. The good thing is that I still feel inspired. I’ve been very productive in the past few months, spending a lot of my time in the studio.

Obviously, I don’t travel as much as I used to, but otherwise my daily routine has pretty much remained the same: I get up, go to my studio and stay there until I run out of energy. I spent my summer on the Croatian island of Hvar, producing music during the day and delivering one-to-one online courses in the evenings.

Your Viberate project recently unveiled Viberate analytics, which features additional data driven insights for music professionals. Why was the time right to scale up the Viberate platform?

The timing, honestly, might not have been perfect, as live music performances have pretty much come to a halt all around the world. Despite the situation, we have decided to launch the platform for various reasons.

Firstly, our complete music analytics tool was ready to be launched and we can only upgrade it and add new features once it goes live. Secondly, the tool can help countless musicians who have been struggling to stay afloat in a streaming and digital media-dominated era.

It gives them and their teams insights into streaming and social media stats that were previously only available to the top music labels and superstars. The tool is also very useful for labels to follow the progress of their artists or find talented ones.

We believe that the demand for services like ours will be very high once this pandemic will be over, which will hopefully be next year.

What are your medium- to long-term hopes for Viberate?

Launching Viberate analytics is a major milestone for us, but we’ll keep upgrading the existing features and adding new ones such as Beatport analytics, our latest addition.

This is just the beginning of something that we firmly believe will eventually grow into a complete ecosystem for the music industry that will, inevitably, become more data-driven. An old industry rule says you need ‘talent, hard work and luck’ to succeed. But we decided to replace ‘luck’ with the right information. Our data delivers that.

In the long term, we aim to become the global standard for measuring popularity of musicians.

You launched the Sick Festivals platform in the early weeks of the pandemic, to reflect the ‘eerily dystopian’ times. Could you have envisaged the level to which the cancellations and postponements ended up happening?

While tracking over 5,000 festivals around the world, we realised very soon after the beginning of the pandemic that almost all them will be either cancelled or postponed. Up to the end of April, more than 700 major festivals had already been affected.

As for me, most of the gigs have also been either cancelled or postponed. There were a few events added on my schedule later on but they were also cancelled when the second wave of the pandemic kicked in. Just last week we cancelled two more in Switzerland.

You mentioned you are doing a one-to-one online course for budding producers: Why is it important to you to ‘give something back’?

In the beginning, I didn’t really know what to expect from this project. At first, I thought that this is something that I’ll only do during the coronavirus period but, over time, it has really grown close to my heart.

It’s great to see so many happy faces who just can’t wait to start producing music and trying out all the tricks that they learn during our sessions. Also, it’s very interesting to follow their progress, so I’ve decided to continue with these courses after the pandemic.

Most probably, I won’t be able to devote the same amount of time to this, but I’d really like to continue passing on my knowledge of music to others because it’s very rewarding.

Do you think the current environment is particularly tough for emerging producers? What advice would you give them?

My advice would be: please hang on as long as you can. Try to use music as a vent for the pain and frustration. At the same time, I understand that times are tough. It’s hard for me and I’m not exactly the new kid on the block. I can only image how it is for emerging producers.

In fact, I know quite a few DJs that have left the music world and got their old jobs back. All this will have a major effect on production of music in the future.

Most of the recent releases on your 1605 Music Therapy label have been your own productions and/or remixes. Do you see the label more as a vehicle for your own work these days, or are you still signing new and established artists?

The initial plan for 1605 was that I’d release several of my own tracks under other labels and hope that they would become No 1. When that happened, we relaunched the label, because I was confident that we can really take care of our artists and promote them in way that they deserve.

What’s the point of making music when no one can hear it? You need influence, recognition and followers in order to promote an up-and-coming artist.

In the past, I only checked the artist’s music and if I liked it, I signed him. But now I also want to see their Instagram account, Soundcloud, their past releases and so on. So, I take a look at their Viberate profile, because like that I can get a complete overview of their online performance. Everything is gathered in one place and that’s is really useful.

It was great to see Zeta Reticula return a few years back, after more than a ten-year gap. Why did you decide to revive your electro alter ego?

When I first started producing techno, it somehow wasn’t very melodic. That’s why Zeta was born. I missed electro and synths so I switched on my ‘monster’ machines and started producing this type of music.

To be honest, I didn’t really expect much from this, but I liked the tracks so I decided to release them. To tell you a secret, I’m already working on something new.

At the same time, we’re still waiting for a conclusion to the Mumps – Mechanismsseries, the last of which was released in 2004. Will this be forthcoming?

Ha! It didn’t even cross my mind that the series was never completed. At the moment, Mumps is locked in a vault and there’s a big question whether it will ever come out.

Do you still do much work with your old Recycled Loops partner Valentino Kanzyani?

To be honest, I haven’t seen him in years. Our paths simply split, so we’re not in contact any more. I hope he’s fine, though.

Of all your previous works, Gatex is the track that appears to have had the most remixes and re-edits over the years. Does it rank among your favourites, and what to you is so powerful about it?

Sometimes, Gatex gets on my nerves, simply because I hear it so often! But then after a while, without any remixes or edits, I start to miss it.

I think it’s special because it doesn’t have a kick, any high hats or snares, there are just synths. It’s quite remarkable that the track has become so well-known.

What sort of electronic music/clubbing industry will emerge from the other side of the pandemic, do you think? What will have changed?

I think that at first, people really missed parties but now they don’t even feel like going out, they don’t even have the desire to party. That’s the problem. It will take a lot of time for the whole scene to become what it used to be.

I’m not saying that the first post pandemic events won’t be successful, but I think that it will be much harder to attract people to dancefloors.

I’m also curious to see what is going to happen with the online events. They are here to stay but the question is to which extent and how they’ll develop. Otherwise, I sincerely hope that things will get back to normal as soon as possible.

For more information about Viberate, click here.

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