I think of Steve Aoki when I watch a 2011 TV episode of 30 Rock, when Alec Baldwin’s character—the zinger-slinging, right-leaning Jack Donaghy—muses about the media’s tendency to latch onto one part of a person’s image and craft an entire identity around it. (Then he drops a punchline about a certain fascist dictator and his paintings, but we digress).
Still, it’s an interesting phenomenon to consider, especially in regards to the current climate of blogs, tweets, and 15-second video shares. The electronic-music scene is not immune to this occurrence, with symbols like the deadmau5 rodent head and the Daft Punk helmets sometimes overshadowing the music as a vehicle to drive web traffic and more. Of course, there’s no denying that one of the most oft-discussed objects in dance music is the ceremonial cake that DJ/producer Steve Aoki regularly throws at crowds during his high-octane live performances.
However, to solely focus on Aoki’s stage antics is to miss the much larger picture, as every cake toss or raft ride is simply the icing on top of a hard-earned career that comes on the back of years of hustle and grind. Whether it’s the literal hundreds of gigs he plays each year or his diligent studio approach that’s spawned chart-topping—and stage-slaying—anthems like “Boneless,” “Beat Down,” and “No Beef,” the former punk vocalist’s fire has never flickered.
With His Second Edition of
Neon Future, Steve Aoki Pushes
Darker, More Emotional Themes,
But Keeps the Big Beats Pumping
Outside the DJ/production realm, Aoki is an entrepreneur with a do-it-yourself attitude inspired by the spirit of the punk-rock bands he grew up listening to. Having launched Dim Mak Records in his living room in 1996, Aoki has driven the Hollywood-based label into becoming one of the most important forces in dance music with releases from The Bloody Beetroots, Felix Cartal, Dada Life, and MSTRKRFT. Ever the business mogul, Aoki has plans to further expand the Dim Mak empire, with his eyes set on crossover success via ventures into consumer arenas that include lifestyle apparel and even a new line of sunglasses.
Over the past year, however, Aoki has embarked on his biggest solo project to date: an expansive multimedia experience dubbed Neon Future. Comprised of two albums—Neon Future I and Neon Future II—the series is a wide-reaching affair that incorporates conceptual influences from science fiction, futurism, and philosophy. Both albums also see Aoki exploring new musical approach, balancing big-room behemoths like “Lightning Strikes” with more song-based productions like “Darker Than Blood.”
We caught up with the Dim Mak head honcho –and winner of DJ Times’ America’s Best DJ in 2015 — in New York City ahead of a summer’s worth of tour dates to chat about the new records as well as his perspective on a DJ’s responsibilities.