Interview with DJ and producer Steve Aoki: ‘You can’t be lazy in this game. You have to evolve and keep your sound fresh, ahead of the curve’
Steve Aoki is a man who puts the ‘busy’ in ‘business’. Not only does the 35-year-old DJ produce and remix tracks, he’s also the driving force behind Dim Mak records, has his own successful clothing line and plays in a band. As another frantic year comes to an end, don’t think for a second he’s looking at winding down. I caught up with the man who once collaborated with Lenny Kravitz and Michael Jackson, to chat about his travels, the ‘EDM’ scene, Dim Mak and how he evolves as an artist.
What’s been your favourite moment of 2013?
It was going to the Grammys and seeing my name up for nomination for the ‘Best Dance Album of the Year’. It was so so epic to me that a music academy recognises that my album is a notable album for dance music. I have to give credit to Tommorowland as well as that’s my favourite festival I played – just everything about it. You feel like you’re not at a normal festival, like you’re really stepping into a whole different world and then after you play, you don’t realise how many other people got to witness your set online. It really understands that whole digital, viral experience and it is by far the most influential festival that represents the whole electronic dance community.
We’ve seen a huge increase in ‘EDM’ style festivals popping up over the world with the likes of Ultra and Tomorrowland expanding on to different continents. What’s your take on the explosion of this genre?
I’m extremely happy that there’s this amazing interest in music so that the business can expand and bring that big production over from Belgium all the way to Atlanta, Georgia. It’s a feat in itself. As the genre expands, it’s like reinventing the wheel as a producer. You can’t be lazy in this game. You have to evolve and keep your sound fresh, ahead of the curve. If you don’t, the next producer could take your spot.
It’s a really diverse time in music, with all these different DJs and all these different categories and we are all taking footnotes from everyone else. There are no real genre boundaries anymore, you can take a trance idea and put it into a trap record, it’s not that uncommon.
I always tell up and coming DJs you have to really love what you do and find that interest to drive you. It requires so much attention to detail and it takes up a lot of your time. You hear a song and there are so many little pieces that make that song work. It requires a lot of patience, diligence and resilience. There are more hours sitting in front of a computer where you come up with absolutely nothing before you actually find an absolute gem that you can actually build on. What fires together, wires together.
You play loads of different venues, how do you adapt your set for each occasion?
If it’s a smaller club then I can experiment more and play records I don’t normally play. I played a small café called Mambo, and I played an entire deep house set there, I love being able to mix things up and play things out of the box.
At bigger shows I give the audience a full quality ‘Steve Aoki’ musical show, which includes the Aoki Jump! The craziest thing I’ve probably done during a show is the balcony dive – it was pretty scary. I was like ‘this could result in an injury of mine’ but somehow I survived.
Tell us a little bit about Dim Mak
Dim Mak has been around for 18 years. I’ve been doing the label totally independently for a long time and now we have incredible crew and staff that run it day to day. It started off as a rock label more or less and now we’re building a sub-culture in the dance community and it’s really exciting to be a part of something that has some influence. I’m really proud of these artists coming up, we are developing artists such as Clockwork, Carnage, and Dirtyphonics.
I was pretty much dealing with everything at the beginning and now I have a team that will go through all the demos – although some people still manage to get my email somehow! I try my best, I’m no Laidback Luke, he’s incredible at getting back to everyone sending him demos, and I wish I could do that.
With all the different things you do taking up your time, what do you enjoy the most?
The shows, that’s the end of the rainbow for me. Making money is always a great thing but that is not the end goal, that will happen over time, if you have your eyes on the wrong prize you lose sight of what you were doing it for in the first place.
What have you got coming up for the rest of the year and 2014?
I have my single ‘Bring You To Life’ that has just come out and a new collaboration with R3hab called ‘Flight’ out very soon, a record with Borgore, which we will be playing on our Aokify American Tour. I did a record with Waka Flocka Flame that will be coming next year. I’ve got remixes like ‘y’all ready for this’ and my main project is my album coming out next year.
The album is a little bit darker, really fun songs and a bit more emotional. My sound is constantly evolving and a big part of expanding myself as a writer, producer has been making albums. When I’m making an album, which I’m doing right now, I’m literally making a collection of singles and each song has its own story. They are all different. I’ve got a dubstep adio record with Snoop Dog, a Beatles, David Bowie inspired record with Empire Of The Sun and a party anthem with Machine Gun Kelly. When you put yourself with other artists you really diversify your skill set, it’s really inspiring and if you can pull it off, it’s one the best feeling in the world.
I’m looking to ‘Neon Future’ in a positive way as it’s by far the most phenomenal production I’ve ever worked on and I’m very fortunate to be working with some of these vocalists.
Steve Aoki’s most recent releases include the collaboration with Chris Lake & Tujamo ‘Boneless’ out now on Ultra records and his collaboration with Rune RK featuring RAS ‘Bring You To Life (Transcend)’ out now on Dim Mak records.Tagged in: Steve Aoki
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