Steve Aoki: Building the connection

Steve Aoki is anything but conventional. First gaining notoriety for uniting punk rock with electro house, Aoki struck gold with tracks like I’m In The House and Turbulence, champagne-spraying and crowd-surfing his way into the age of the superstar DJ.

As a producer for acts that steer towards the noisier side of dance – Bloody Beetroots, Infected Mushroom, Dada Life and Atari Teenage Riot, to name a few – his record label Dim Mak is reflective of the sound that Aoki is infamous for. But there’s a lot more to Steve Aoki than the champagne-soaked stage diver. For one, he doesn’t just do music: Aoki’s got a keen entrepreneurial side, trading in his DJ tools for solid business sense and hard work to management company Deckstar for stars who “own their own style”. Then there’s the Dim Mak Fashion Collection (a rival to Dr Dre with ‘The Aoki’ headphones) as well as following in his famous father’s footsteps as co-owner of a few restaurants in the States.

Even more impressive is Dim Mak’s growing clout, the label expanding to include everyone from distinguished tech-house innovators Booka Shade to will.i.am and on-the-rise hip-hop meteor Iggy Azalea. “I let my passion rule my life,” Aoki told inthemix. “With the things I love to do, I put 110-percent into it. I don’t let money get in the way of those things; I only let money help build those things. Building my label has been one of the toughest businesses to grow in the industry. It’s incredible to see something happen from the fruits of your labour in something that is 90-percent risk and almost 100-percent fail as a business – even if it’s just breaking even. I give so much respect to anyone in any field of art – music, fashion, food, art – when you can sacrifice what you’re doing, to develop your art. You want to be successful, but the whole point is connecting what you’re doing with other people.”

“Australia was playing ‘Warp’ on radio when no other country would dare touch that song.”

Connecting with Australia is something Steve Aoki particularly excels at. “The connection I’ve seen is more along the lines that Australia is really accepting of underground music,” Aoki maintains. “When I was touring out there, my name was definitely a lot less known than now, and my music was a lot less popular, but the reaction I was getting to my songs was the most influential at the time than any other country. When I was touring in 2009/2010 and my music was finally emerging and becoming more global, it was Australia where my shows were insane – people were singing along.

“Finding out that Australia was playing Warp on radio when no other country would dare touch that song when it was never meant for radio; that Australia played it because people liked it and wanted to hear it – that was a rare thing. It’s amazing to see that as a country, not just as a small niche group.”

“I grew up as a straight edge punk hardcore kid,” Aoki explains. “My first music was hardcore music: it’s my roots, it’s in my blood and it’s a part of who I am. I’ve been playing in bands since I was a teenager. By the time I was 16, I could already play enough instruments where I could record an EP entirely on my own. I grew up recording live instruments before I even got into producing dance music. Bob [Cornelius Rifo] and I first remixed together Refused, and that was a really great fusion of a hardcore band and aggressive electro sound at the time that showcased both sides really well.”

Aoki notes however, that regardless of whether one is a DJ, producer or record label owner, the goal is always the same. “Generally,” he muses, “If you’re a DJ, you don’t need to be a producer. But it shifts and changes on why people are going to a party. I started DJing before I was even producing dance music. My goal was to throw the best party I could throw, by selecting and mixing a great set of all kinds of music depending on the people coming to the party. In a very fickle scene, you learn to be very democratic. For me, I want to build that connection between my music and that person in the crowd; to find that connection around the world and keep building it. It’s a great way to communicate with people without having to say a single thing.”

“On this tour, I’ll be changing up the tempo, changing up my usual sound.”

His latest form of communication is with the release of his latest outing, Wonderland. “It’s a hardcore spirited record,” Aoki explains. “I’ve enlisted the guitarist from The Exploited and the drummer from Die Kruezen, as well as Sick Boy. I also do the vocals.” And come October, Steve Aoki will be touring the release of Wonderland Australia wide. “I’ll be supporting my album,” Aoki confirms. “I’ve released tonnes of remixes that have come off the album – I’ve already put out six or seven different singles. I’ve been very aggressive and really ambitious to release all these music videos and showcase the diversity of these songs. When I went to do this album, I really wanted to make a wide spectrum of sounds, working with different vocalists and vocals, and I’m happy to make these videos and give each song their unique place. So I’ve got all that music and some new songs.”

“I’m going to debut my collaboration with Knife Party,” Aoki continues, “which comes out after I come to Australia, as well as a couple more records which will be dropped at the end of 2012. It’s been a while since I’ve supported any of my music. No Beef, Turbulence and Beat Down were recent tracks when I got there last, so this time I’ll be changing it up, changing up the tempo, changing up my usual sound.

“I am extremely happy to be coming back to one of my favourite countries in the world to tour,” Aoki concludes. “I’m honoured to be coming back to one of my favourite places in the world. It’s been a long time since I’ve been back. I’ve got so much music to share.”