Steve Aoki - redefining, evolving, uniting
(photo by Dove Shore)
Steve Aoki is a musical genius. And it doesn’t take someone like me to figure that out. For starters, Aoki graduated from UC-Santa Barbara with two bachelor degrees.
He started his own record label, Dim Mak, and began creating music for the masses.
Now the guru is touring in support of his first studio album titled Wonderland. He, along with label mate Datsik, are hitting the road for the “Deadmeat Tour,” which comes to Houston on Thursday, Feb. 2 at the Verizon Wireless Theater.
The 13-track masterpiece features songs with the likes of LMFAO, Kid Cudi and Travis Barker, Angger Dimas and Lil John, just to name a few.
I caught up with Aoki vie telephone before the tour began.
Why was now a good time to release Wonderland?
I’ve been working on this for about three years and I made a resolution at the end of 2010 to be in the studio every single day in 2011 while in Los Angeles. I do over 200 gigs a year so I wanted to finish this album.
I’m sure you have to be thrilled with how it turned out.
This is a timeless album. It’s not about club-bangers. I wanted to write interesting songs that fit with the vocalists. I wanted to showcase the variety of production as a songwriter that I don’t get to do with a club record. Club records are about making kids go crazy where as this album was about songwriting.
You worked with a wide range of artists. Which song do you feel you had the most fun with?
There were a few. I like working with LMFAO. Working on that one was kind of like my first stab at pop music. I love pop music, but I am not a pop producer. When I wrote this one, I particularly had RedFood and SkyBlue (LMFAO) in mind because those guys are pop wizards. They can turn a dance song into a pop song. ‘Foo is a really good friend of mine and when we did the song, we sat there and talked about music theory for six hours.
I see you have a song titled ‘Steve Jobs.’
I wrote that one with Angger Dimas. The idea was to write a song that had an Atari 8-bit influence. Instead of calling it Nintendo or whatever, I called it ‘Steve Jobs.’ He, along with Bill Gates, was the creator of the computer evolution. The song was originally called ‘The 80s.’
So this is your biggest accomplishment?
Yes. The amount of time it took along with the learning and un-learning as a producer plus this defines who I am. I’m not just a single-writer, I’m also a songwriter. To get to put it all together and present it, it’s definitely my biggest accomplishment.
Did you ever imagine you would headline a big venue tour?
Absolutely not. When I was in a band back in college, we were playing shows for $50 bucks a day and that was exciting. When I decided not to go to graduate school and pursue music, my goals in life were not financial. The music was what I was doing it for so I knew I was doing it for the right reasons. I never thought I would get to this point. Back then, I didn’t even know what a DJ was. That was a complete different era of my life.
I read that Malcolm X was a big inspiration for you.
He solidified my college experience by the way he approached and handled things. It defined me as a political activist when I was in college. By any means necessary — it was as simple as that. You can bring that into music. Dim Mak is not a record label that knocks on the door politely and just comes inside. We are the kind that sneaks around back and breaks in. We’ve always been the edgy label and I always want to sign the out-of-the-box artists and ones that break the status quo. A lot of that same philosophy in college bridged over musically — from signing artists to producing a song.
Dim Mak translates into the ‘touch of death’ or ‘death blow.’ Tell me a little about starting your record label at such a young age.
I started my label when I was 19. Bruce Lee was my biggest insipiration when I was growing up. I’ve said this in a few interviews so you may have read this before — as an Asian, to see an Asian face on television that everyone loved was inspiring. Every race loved this guy. He was an incredibly articulate philosopher. He wrote books on philosophy and the art of martial arts. Bruce Lee wasn’t just a badass who kicked people’s asses. He was intelligent, charming and cool as fuck. He united all ethnicities and got something positive out of it.