Inside the year’s most out-there collaboration: Steve Aoki and Linkin Park

EDM chameleon Steve Aoki has worked with quite a range of collaborators in his time – everyone from Lil Jon and Lovefoxxx to LMFAO and will.i.am collaborated on Aoki’s solo album of last year, Wonderland. But when inthemix heard that Aoki’s latest collaboration would be with rock juggernaut Linkin Park, we wondered how Aoki would span the bridge between his euphoric brand of big-drop dance music and Linkin Park’s heavy riffing.

Aoki even wonders the same thing in the promotional video for collaborative track A Light That Never Comes, which is set to drop on September 12 as part of a Linkin Park Facebook game (you can pre-register here). The unlikely collab premiered at Japan’s Summer Sonic Festival on August 10, and inthemix was there to witness the single’s first airing, and chat to Aoki and Linkin Park songwriter Mike Shinoda about how the collaboration came about.

“The beginnings of this song were probably six months to a year ago,” Shinoda told inthemix. “In my process writing a song, I tend to add a lot of elements and sounds, remove them, then add more, until I get the vibe I like. On this, I don’t want to trample on some of the work Steve did. We found that out on our first two records. There are actually a lot of keyboard and sample-based sounds on Hybrid Theory and Meteora, but in the mix they got drowned out by the guitars. Since then, I think we’ve paid more attention to balance as we go through the whole process, from the writing to the engineering.”

The recording process was also a learning experience for Aoki. “It was about building this bridge between our two worlds and doing it in an organic way. We’ve stayed true to both our elements. Our fans in the EDM space and the Linkin Park space can gravitate towards it naturally… I always add a lot. Mike’s the one to say, let’s take some layers out to make this work. For me, it was a major learning process. It’s hard for me to gauge certain things when I just work with other dance producers. Working with the band allowed this different colour palette to come out that I would’ve never heard before. I took this one much differently than I would on any other record.”

It probably didn’t hurt that Shinoda was a raver back in the 90s. “It makes me sound old to say this, but I went raves when I was in high school and that was back when it was, like, The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim had just come out. People were like, ‘Holy shit, this is amazing!’ My best friend in college was a gabber, techno and jungle DJ. That’s how far back I go. Admittedly, I’m not immersed in it, so I just get little touches of it here and there. I love what’s happening right now. It’s stepped into the spotlight and then gone in so many directions, like Avicii doing basically a folk song. I’ve spoken to other artists too who are taking it in almost a metal direction. That’s so dope. It’s co-mingling with so many other things. For me, what always transcends any genre or movement is songwriting. When these producers start to understand the craft of writing a song, that’s when they’re going to completely take over.”

“There’s a big gaping hole in the EDM space for songwriting,” Aoki said. “It’s one thing to learn how to be a great sound designer, and become big just on sound design. Especially if you’re in the dubstep category, it’s like how much fatter and more interesting can you make those drops. Skrillex is the perfect example of an artist who can actually mix those two really well, with great songwriting and interesting sound design, that’s the next evolution of breaking down any sort of boundaries.”

On the subject of sound design and songwriting, Shinoda had some final words to say – and an unexpected mentor to reveal. “Talking about sound design,” Shinoda said, “I had a chance to speak to Amon Tobin. I was trying so hard to pick his brain. Like, how do you make those sounds? What are you using? The truth of the matter is, he’s using the most techy, nerdy shit that they literally use to design sound for film. It takes years to even comprehend. I was listening like, ‘OK, this tells me I will never have the patience or whatever it takes to do that.’ That’s why collaboration to me is so much more interesting, because I realised there are guys out there who are thrilled to devote 24 hours to a weird thing I would never be able to focus on. I’m not going to try to imitate or recreate that. I brought that mentality to this project. Let’s let Steve be Steve, and preserve as much of that as possible.”