Legendary music icon, Steve Aoki, is a Grammy-nominated international producer/DJ, electronic dance music entrepreneur, and founder of the trendsetting record label, and apparel line Dim Mak
As a solo artist, AOKI has become a force of nature averaging over 250 tour dates per year. Aoki’s second artist album NEON FUTURE I, was released in 2014 via Dim Mak/Ultra Music and features his Gold certified single “Delirious (Boneless)” with Chris Lake and Tujamo featuring Kid Ink, “Born To Get Wild” featuring will.i.am and “Rage The Night Away” featuring Waka Flocka Flame. The second part of his Neon Future album, NEON FUTURE II, was released in 2015 and features collaborations with Linkin Park, Matthew Koma, Snoop Lion, Rivers Cuomo and NERVO, plus a very special appearance by creative genius J.J. Abrams who voices the outro to close the album. Aoki’s other current tracks include “How Else” featuring Rich The Kid and iLoveMakonnen, “Back 2 U” with Boehm featuring WALK THE MOON–which is smashing on the streaming front with over a million Spotify plays per week since its release in May and has been added to many Top 40 radio stations including Y100 in Miami-plus “Can’t Go Home” with Felix Jaehn featuring Adam Lambert.
Most recently, Aoki has partnered with Reid Stefan for the massive single “Bring The Funk Back,” off of Aoki’s forthcoming 4OKI EP. Reid’s signature booty-music influence shines through on the wubby underground tune made club-ready by electrifying Aoki synths. Complementing the track is the third installment of the 4OKI video series, directed by LA-based visual artist David “Yarvo” Yarovesky and shot entirely in black & white.
The four-part extended visual stars supermodel Shaun Ross and features appearances from vlogger Malibu Dollface. It is a trek through Los Angeles’ fashionable underground styled by LA tastemaker brand/boutique The Well highlighting their own signature line, as well as wardrobe selections from the Dim Mak Collection and Frenemy. “Bring The Funk Back” follows the first two singles, collaborations with Autoerotique (“ILYSM”) and Shaun Frank (“Dope Girlz.”) The video for “Dope Girlz” was praised by Billboard for challenging gender roles and was premiered by iconic cultural publication Harper’s Bazaar, who called the work, “mysterious and provocative.”
Aoki also has a Netflix documentary coming out on August 19 called, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.” The documentary is a 3 year look into the inside world of Aoki’s life that only few have had access.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Steve about his career, music, politics and his thoughts on the next generation.
Chaunce Hayden: You have millions of fans. What separates you from other DJ’s?
Steve Aoki: I don’t know man. I’m just doing my thing. I think one important lesson I learned is that at the end of the day we all provide a service as musicians, artists and entertainers. As long as people enjoy what I do emotional and are connected to my music, it will continue. You have to build a genuine relationship with your fans. It grows from there. The seed that you planted will harvest something that you’re proud of. I’ve been doing this a long time.
You seem to have a connection that spills over from generation to generation.
I really care deeply about what I do. I care about whom I’m connecting with. I love what I do. I want to be real. We are all emotional beings. As an artist I try to put my being in my music and my being in my show. Some people hate it and some people like it. For the people that enjoy it, I want to jump on this adventure with them and go for a ride. The people who aren’t so interested, you don’t have to join the ride.
What inspires your music? Is it fashion, the news, different cultures or even politics?
It’s all the above really. You have to take what it currently inspiring you and how it affects you and you find a way to assimilate it and use it to be creative. Sometimes something angers me and I want to use it to voice something or a concern. Everything inspires me. People and culture inspire me. Meeting a person or just giving someone a hug can change your life. I’ve given people hugs and felt, “Wow! Holy shit, I’m really happy doing what I’m doing.” I’ll go to different places around the world and see how people live and what type of music they listen to. All these things are a big part of the engine that drives me machine. I’m always trying to connect on a global scale with people. I don’t ever want to be exclusive. I want to be included as much as possible.
When you travel the world touring and see so many different types of people, I assume you gather a great understanding for how people think about life and the issues we all face everyday. Do you feel that connection?
I try to embrace as much as I can while I travel. The last thing I want to do is sit in a hotel room. I don’t want to go from point A to point B. I want to go out and see things. The one thing that drives me is experiencing things. I want to experience as much as possible. I feel very grateful to be in this position. That’s a really important thing for me to understand. I’m very lucky to be in the position that I am. I worked hard to get here. I’m lucky to travel the way I do. That’s why I love what I do so much. I’ve always dreamed of doing what I do for a living. I’m not talking about DJing. I’m talking about connecting to people. Meeting people on a global scale.
I was watching your new video, “Bring The Funk Back” and it’s clear you’re telling a dark message about club life and the drugs that often play a part in the lifestyle.
It’s true. It’s a very dark story line of the underground club scene. It’s not necessarily a reflection of how all club scenes are. It’s just one story. Not all clubs are like that. But this is about a dark look and an artistic look at the underground club world. Its several story lines all coming together. It’s really about these four characters. It’s several small films each with a different character going through different stories. It’s a depiction of culture. I’m being a bit of a journalist looking at a specific aspect of life. You could see it that way. Plus the music is different than the way people normally see Steve Aoki music. I wanted to make these club, house songs take on a more sophisticated, artistic approach to making videos.
I would imagine the characters are inspired by what you’ve witnessed. How do you feel about millennials and the negative description this new generation has received? Are they as uninspired and bland as often described?
When I play some of these shows and I look out into the crowd and I see people connected to the music. I don’t think of them as uninspired and not driven. I think the opposite. I think there’s a real power that’s being played out from the music. The music is giving everyone this power and inspiration and joy and happiness that you can’t get anywhere. The power of now is very real. You are feeling something. If you are not driven or uninspired you wouldn’t be at the
venue listening to the music. You wouldn’t feel. It’s all about feeling. To feel the music. To feel the experience around you. You need to feel the music and bring people together.
You’re music is extremely cutting edge. With that said is it your music that pop culture feeds on or is it the other way around?
I definitely would say that I’m part of a culture that is cutting edge. I am a piece of that. I am a piece of this culture, which is a driving force of what you call the millennials. This culture and this music is the voice of the millennials. It’s the new generation and I could say I’m a big piece of that and I’m very proud of it. I agree with you that I am definitely a voice in this new world of ours. But there are a lot of voices. They all are a part of pushing it forward. I’m just doing my thing. If people care about what I do than I’m extremely grateful for that.
What do you think about the ugly Presidential race?
Of course it affects me in a more human way. Because I travel around the world I get to see how people see America from the outside looking in. There’s a lot of people that live here who never leave their own cities. They don’t get to see any outside cultures or the diversity of people or life. All those things enrich people lives so that they can make better choices on who should be the President of the greatest power on Earth.
Trump or Clinton?
I’m pretty outspoken that I definitely not voting for Trump. I’m all in for Hilary Clinton. I was a big fan of Bernie Sanders but the next choice would be Hilary.
You haven’t written a book about your life as of yet, but you have created a Netflix documentary based on the past 3 years of your life. What will we see?
It did take 3 years and I did agree to allow them to film while they rolled with me. I’ve always traveled with a filmmaker and a photographer everywhere I go, so I was used to letting these guys in. After a few months I began to really trust what their narrative structure would be like. I felt good about what kind of editing and what kind of vibe they would go for. I just gave them full access to film. I let them go into whatever direction they wanted to go in. I let them film everything. I didn’t want it to be a fluff piece. Those types of documentaries are boring. If I’m going to go watch a movie I don’t want to watch a fluff piece. I want it to tell the real story. And that’s what they did. It took them 3 years to tell the real story.
So you didn’t edit it during the filming?
No, I didn’t want to see it until the very end and it was finished.
What was your first thought after seeing it?
I was so happy that they were able to give credit where credit it do as far as my personal success is concerned. I really owe a lot to my mother, and I’m really happy they gave her credit as well. That was one of the happiest moments that I had watching this film. Also, my father. I never really speak about that. It’s a door I never open and I have done countless interviews on video and audio and I have never really opened the door on my family.
If it’s not about music I don’t really want to talk about it. When people want to interview me I want to talk about my music. I want to talk about things that people can be apart of. So this documentary opened a door that really never gets open.
I’m okay with it. I’m okay that it’s out there.
Has the family seen it?
I think so.
Ummm… A lot of my family doesn’t really keep up with what is going on. So I’m not sure if they know much about it or when it’s coming out on Netflix. I don’t even think my family knows what Netflix is. I think this film will be more for the new generation of this world and not so much for the older generation.
Anything in the film you wish wasn’t in it?
It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of stuff in there and I tried to give them as much access as possible. I think I wish they showed more the process of how I make a song, but I could only give so much access. I tried to give them as much as possible and I think they did a pretty good job.
Finally, what message do you want to say to the world?
(Long pause) I’m just really grateful to be in the position that I’m in. I wouldn’t be here without all the people who have supported me.