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Beyond the Booth is a feature dedicated to the hidden side of artists that exists outside electronic music— a side rarely discussed with those outside their immediate circle. We venture “beyond the booth,” so to speak, and dive into their deepest passions that tie into their unique personalities. After some self-introspection, each participant then returns to the booth, providing an exclusive mix for the Dancing Astronaut audience.
UMEK epitomizes the words, “dance music trailblazer.”
The pioneer carved his niche in the Slovenian dance scene in the 1990s, and has since expanded his influence to a global level, touring extensively and teaming up with powerhouse record labels and artists to frontline his own master class.
His discography is as impressive as his resume. His roots are embedded in the house and techno realms, though UMEK has never been one to shy away from new territory. He boosted his acclaim even further with a stint in big room, in which he took what he learned during his time in the spotlight to further enhance his rejuvenated work in the underground. More recently, UMEK has been rebuilding his 1605 imprint while also playing other cameos in labels like POPOF’s FORM.
While he is most notably known for his powerfully ethereal beats and widely acclaimed success, music is ultimately just one aspect of his wide array of interests. His appreciation for visual art almost equates to his passion for music — particularly, in the form of a well-designed pair of sneakers.
Dancing Astronaut picked UMEK’s brain about his adoration for shoes, and what both shoes and music mean to him personally.
Pick up a copy of his sinister new EP on Tronic here, and also enjoy an exclusive mix from the man himself to tie together this edition of Beyond The Booth.
When and how did your sneaker obsession begin?
The beginnings of it could be traced back to 2006, when I bought my first pair of sneakers in consignment store, though it finally escalated in full boom sometime around 2013. I just couldn’t resist buying a pair of Nike’s Fire Red Air Jordan 5, as these was a pair of sneakers I was longing to have as a teenager but could not afford to buy them at the time. To be honest, watching TV shows, on-line channels and talking to other collectors, I became aware this is quite common trigger for collecting sneakers, especially Jordan’s: most of us didn’t have money to buy sneakers we wanted when we were young, and we are catering to that desire now that we can finally afford to buy them. It seems most of the sneaker-heads are destined to become one because of a trauma that is a result of sneaker deprivation in their childhood. ☺ Pay attention when you are watching celebrities buying sneakers on some reality show – they always say they are buying ridiculous amounts of very expensive footwear because their parents could not afford to buy it for them while growing up struggling for money. And when I look to that, I actually feel lucky as I was an athlete and into sneakers – not into cars for example. That would be one very expensive obsession to cater to.
Most prized sneakers you own today, and why?
I don’t want to discus prices, but I do own a pair of Nike Air Jordan 5 Transformers, which are a rare collectors item, designed and produced for a crew of Transformer movie franchise. I like those for couple of reasons: Jordan 5 was (and still is) my favorite design of sneaker since childhood and it was also the first purchase for my collection. On top of that it’s rare and I also like sci-fi, including Transformers movies, though I didn’t particularly like the last one. All in all, I like this pair as it connects to me on couple of levels and it’s also hard to get.
Name a type of sneaker that you’ve been dying to get but just can’t get your hands on?
There are some pairs I’ll probably never be able to buy, as they were released long time ago and are also very hard to get by. Thought it would be cool adding to my collection two pairs of Carmelo Anthony Air Jordan 5 Retro PE. Nike made those when he played for New York Knicks and they are available in orange and blue, home and away game variation. There’s couple of other pairs that are on my list as well, but if I’ve had a chance to have one or two pairs that are out of my reach, I’ll choose these. Eminem’s edition of Jordan 4 is also a very popular pair, very expensive and cool, but I still prefer Carmelo’s to those.
Best sneaker to DJ in? Best sneaker to actually exercise in?
I like to DJ in Kanye West’s Adidas Yeezy Boost 350. This pair is fashionable, comfortable and just limited enough that not everybody can buy it. For gigs it’s important for me to feel cozy and be presentable at the same time, so I can’t wear just anything. On the other hand, I like Adidas NMD sneakers for doing all kind of sports, including running. This is a very light sneaker, with boost sole technology, very comfortable. I’d wear those even through the winter if I could. Sometimes they feel like wearing flip-flops for the beach, they’re so light, airy and comfy.
If you were to design sneakers for a particular brand, who would it be and why?
The first obvious choice would be Nike as this is my favorite brand since childhood, though I like a lot of things from Adidas as well, they have created some iconic models, so I’d be glad to do some designs for them as well. By the way this sneaker fever of mine didn’t stop just at buying and collecting sneakers – I also got into customizing my own pairs. At some point I’ve been so into it I’ve put together a decent workspace in the basement of my house where I became a really good friend with sandpaper, brushes and acetone, I learned a thing of two of color palette and even bought an airbrush. Once I came to the limit of my knowledge and skills doing this as a hobby, I decided to quit as after all I’m still a musician, not a shoemaker and have to focus on producing and mixing music. Thought I’ve had lots of fun pimping up shoes for myself and some of my close friends.
Why do you think that sneaker “collecting” has expanded so rapidly across cultures over the past years? What makes it so enticing to own a collection?
I’ve partially answered to this question already in the beginning. This also goes hand in hand with the influence of big rappers and basketball players in the fashion industry. Nowadays people do notice, and they are even impressed if you wear a pair of rare sneakers designed by a famous person, especially if the item is limited and not everybody can afford to buy it. Rare items are precious, some are willing to pay for that and some are even challenged to create collections of rare items, competing with like-minded people. There are not many sneaker-heads in Slovenia, so only couple of people may notice if I wear a rare pair of sneakers. Americans are much more into it, so total strangers frequently stop me on the street and compliment my footwear or staff ask me if they could photograph my sneakers when I’m in their store. They appreciate the effort you are investing in finding and collecting nice pairs of sneakers. Because, yes, once you get seriously into this, it takes lots of time, energy and also money, so it’s nice when people notice that. It’s not very different to collecting art, stamps, coins or likes on social networks – people like to see other people noticing and sharing their passions. By the way, I really don’t like putting photos of myself on Instagram, but I don’t have that much problem doing it with my sneakers – though I don’t show off with the most expensive models. I didn’t think much of this but that’s how it is, and it does make sense to me.
Do you bring your collection of sneakers on tour with you? Have you ever performed not wearing sneakers, and if so, what type of shoes did you wear?
Sure, I always take couple of pairs with me on tour though there’s not that much space for shoes in the language regarding that I’m quite a big man and one sweater takes quarter of a suitcase already. I never take as many as I’d like to, usually I pack three or four pairs: one comfortable for airplanes and exercising, one not too expensive for going around the city in any kind of weather and two to show off in the restaurants and at the gigs. That’s my tactic for touring USA and of course I always return back home with couple of new pairs I buy there. By the way, it’s not unusual I buy couple of the same design of sneakers I really like. I don’t actually know why, but I do that the same way as with vinyl I really like and I buy it in five or six copies. Just in case I guess. It’s kind of fetish, but I’ve become a bit more disciplined lately and got rid of most of the doubled items. For most of the gigs, almost all actually, I wear sneakers, but now or then I do perform in flip-flops if we are somewhere in the nature during summer or at the beach and it’s hot and I did a gig in my hometown Ljubljana recently wearing a nice pair of Pharell’s Timberland Boots. I guess now that I’ve developed an eye for nice footwear I can’t wear just anything.
Speaking of performing, what live shows are you excited about playing in 2018? Any festival appearances you are looking forward too?
To be honest, you’ve caught me at the well-deserved holiday with my girlfriend, so I really have no clue where I’m going next. But sure, there will be plenty of exciting gigs as always. I’m on never ending tour for the last 20 years and luckily it always takes me to some places I like to visit as well as new exciting ones. I know I’m going To India, Australia and to Miami Winter Music Conference, which I’ll combine with a Northern American tour and I’ll do plenty of club and festival gigs all around Europe and Ibiza as well.
Big plans for 2018? Any new EPs, singles or albums in the works?
There are bunch of Umek and Zeta Reticula releases already scheduled and there will be some more as I’m in the studio all the time creating great music, which you can also hear in my sets exclusively, but right now I’m really pumped for the upcoming EP “Certain Trace” on Tronic. We go way back with Christian Smith and his label. I’ve played a lot of Tronic releases already in the 90s, I liked the sound they’ve promoted after the Millennium and they’re still one of the best techno labels and as such they cater to my taste regularly. In the past I’ve licensed music from Tronic for our compilations, booked Christian for our festivals and we’ve became friends. When I was producing these tracks I’ve suddenly realized that the synth sounds I’ve used should fit perfectly in the sound of Tronic. We were taking with Christian for quite some time about maybe producing something new for his label, as it’s been ages since my last contribution. I’ve sent him couple of tracks for consideration, he liked couple of them, and we set the release.
On the topic of 2018, what do you think will be super trendy for the coming year? This can be fashion or dance music!
Let’s focus on fashion since we’ve discussed sneakers extensively in this interview: granny or grandpa looking sneakers from the 80s and 90s are doing a big come back this year. They seem really funny and retro looking, but they are hot stuff now.
Feature photo credit: Luka Kase