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To say that Steve Aoki is a busy man is an understatement. After playing a late night show in Beijing, the DJ/producer/entrepreneur hopped straight on a plane to deliver a high energy set in Hong Kong, before immediately jumping on the road once more (this time to perform in the Philippines) all within 24 hours. The mastermind behind a plethora of party music staples – “Warp 1.9” with The Bloody Beetroots from way back when, or more recent favorites like “Ladi Dadi” and “Beat Down” to name a few – Steve Aoki is a man who is constantly on the go, whether that means touring, producing, co-producing, managing the Dim Mak movement, or working on his soon-to-release Neon Future album. So what do you ask a man who has just performed in three different countries in one day? “When do you eat?” “Do you even sleep?” Before we could get sidetracked with questions about his daily routine, Aoki had already plopped himself on the hotseat – perhaps sitting down for the first time the entire day – and was sporting a grin that suggested no topic was off-limits, so we best get to the good stuff. What came next was a lengthy conversation that touched upon everything from his thoughts on the global expansion of electronic music to what the story is behind his infamous cake throws. Read on as Steve Aoki reflects on the early days of his career, shares details on the creation of his upcoming album Neon Future, opens up on his experience working with out-of-genre artists such as Linkin Park, talks about how he deals with his haters and so much more.
Electronic music has seen a massive global surge in the last few years – what are your thoughts on the growth of the genre and where do you think its coming from?
It’s different everywhere you go. In America, it’s definitely the youth that’s the driving force – it’s the choice of music for the current generation – while in Europe it’s been around for decades. In Europe it’s not a matter of differentiating between “commercial” or underground because it’s just so engrained in the culture, while in America, I wouldn’t say it’s “commercial” but it’s definitely becoming a part of culture. It’s weird because when you think of “commercial” you think of Katy Perry or even Avicii, because those are the people that make up the Billboard charts and they have some of the biggest songs right now, but when you think about 95% of what dance music is, it’s still largely “underground.” But that word doesn’t mean what it used to anymore.
Do you think America has taken over Europe or the rest of the world in regards to how engrained electronic music is in its culture?
There’s definitely a spotlight that’s now also being shone on America, but in Europe the scene is still so massive because there’s so much creative influence and history behind it. Think of it this way: when you go to a European city, you see so much history and culture everywhere around you but you don’t necessarily get the same atmosphere or experience when you get to America – and I think that directly translates to dance music. As for Asia, I’ve been touring in Asia since I was a kid and I’ve seen it grow, but even back in like 2008 when I was touring around there could be like 4,000 kids at a Dim Mak show. It seems like, perhaps because this type of music is not as prevalent in Asia, the kids that do know about it are super hungry and, for them, it’s all about discovery. That’s the thing, kids want to discover music, they don’t want to be force-fed music. They want to find out about something and tell their friends about it, they want to talk about the new track they found on SoundCloud and the new shit that no one’s heard rather than the brand new Lady Gaga song. That’s why it’s so momentous right now.
What about your personal interest in Electronic Music, where did that come from and how did you really dive in to it?
I first learned how to DJ back in 2002 and started doing remixes back in 2005 – before that I was always in bands or worked with music as a kid – and between 2005 to the release of my first solo album Wonderland in 2012, it’s been a long road. But now, all my attention is on my next project Neon Future, which is my main focus and will be out September. There’s a bunch of fresh faces and names on the mix too like Waka Flocka Flame, Fall Out Boy, Machine Gun Kelly, Snoop Dogg, Rivers Cuomo, and I’m still finishing a song with Mac Miller.
Tell us about your experience mixing two distinct genres – for example, Rock and Electronic – in to one cohesive sound.
The “A Light That Never Comes” collaboration with Linkin Park is still, to this day, one of my favorite and most complex composition/collaborations I’ve ever worked on. Usually when you work with another singer or producer, there’s a lot of simple back-and-forth to go over, but when you work with an entire band that are of the A+ calliber, it’s like a whole new learning experience. You have to look at arrangements differently or create compositions that you would normally never think of. There’s a lot of subtracting and taking out elements that at first have you going “no!” but you realize you can’t get married to the idea and have to understand when to let go. That’s one thing I’ve learned is how to let go and develop patience. I actually learned that from Linkin Park, patience, because because when you work with another producer it’s like “Boom! Let’s get this record out, I’m going to start playing it” to the point that, sometimes, I’ll end up playing it that very night. But with these guys and “The Light That Never Comes,” I f*cking held back – I just wanted to tell people and share it, but I held back, which was hard but worth it. There’s another song we did together on my album that’s coming up called “Horizons” and it’s very dark as well, very similar vibe, but it’s powerful. I love working with them.
Who is Steve Aoki when he’s not being Steve Aoki?
I’m just busy, I’m busy all the time. That’s the thing though, I’ve always been like that. I’m always juggling and wearing many different caps, I got so much shit going on in my f*cking brain I can’t even sit still for this interview. The Neon Future album has been taking up a big part of my headspace and music is my life – music, fashion and everything that involves this world that we’re in.
What’s with the cakes? Did you bake them yourself?
Yes! Naw, not really, I wish. The cakes originated from the “Turn Up The Volume” music video by Autoerotique that came out a few years ago – they’re on my label and I was promoting the single. The music video is this awesome cinematic composition of cakes exploding in people faces after they blow out the candle, it’s a beautiful video, and it ended up going viral. About a month after the single came out I was like duh, I should be caking people while I play the song – after that it just was a sticky idea that just “stuck” on peoples faces.
Tell us about how Dim Mak Records and DMC, how do you keep the ball rolling with all these other projects while you’re on tour and working on music?
Dim Mak as a company is a fully staffed growing company in LA and the day-to-day operation is run by an incredible staff there that move everything forward – without them, there would be no company, so I really rely on them to keep it going. Everything I’m involved in, they’re involved in too. It’s really gone from me operating the whole company on my own to something that stands on its own two feet and I just constantly feed new material to it. It’s also been my outlet for all my collaborations – I’ve got collaborations with Deorro, Autoerotique, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, and then Borgore and I wrote a song together. Those are the fun projects that come out through Dim Mak.
Who are artists that you see picking up this year?
Deorro, who is from L.A. We’ve been really backing him and he’s been a good friend, I’ve been touring with him, he’s such a sick producer and I put my money on him. Clockwork is awesome too, but he’s got RL Grime and Clockwork going at the same time, he’s been doing some crazy cool stuff through both outlets. Carnage is doing some really great stuff as well, and Autoerotique are sick too – they’ve broken the ceiling that they needed to with their music.
Do you have a message that you want to share with people who want to follow in your footsteps?
It’s generic but believe in yourself and follow your passion because it’ll get you through the hard parts, because it’s at the hard parts where you’ll fall off and get stuck. That goes for everything, including producing a single record – sometimes when you can’t figure out how to develop a sound, stick through it, check out the tutorials, search for and find the information because there’s so much of it out there. When it comes to DJing, remember to have fun, because people are watching you and if you look so stressed they’ll get stressed too. You have to animate how you are with the crowd so everyone can have fun.
Lastly, do you have any survival tips for the industry?
What do they say “don’t hate the player, hate the game” or something? That’s a horrible one. I don’t know man, honestly, it goes back to what I said – just be yourself, and believe in it, regardless of if you’re a smaller artist on the rise or even now where I am. I have plenty of haters and when I was coming up and I was putting out records, so many people out there are just about pulling you down. You just have to believe in yourself and focus on you and what you can do, don’t get too caught up on social media and the haters because then it’ll block your own creativity.
Pre-order Neon Future here.