Once crowned as the busiest DJ on earth by Forbes we sat down with Steve to talk about his passion for music and his active snapchat adventures.
So you're back in Japan! What do you think is so special about your Japanese fans?
Well I’m Japanese and no matter what I’m always waving the flag of Japan even though I’m American. My last name is Japanese (Aoki) and when I come here, I see the Japanese people that love my music and it makes me proud to be Japanese and to travel around the world.
Also the fans here are just extremely passionate about music which is what I love the most.
But what is most important to me is the intensity of the emotions because when I see that connection being made through my music, the more intense the more memorable it is.
Not only are my Japanese fans super intense but they are also extremely polite and very kind and that’s my favorite kind of crowd. A kind crowd that loves the music. Because when you have a kind crowd you can get even closer and interact with the fans. In some other countries, if I get to close they will literally take a body part haha. But Japanese people don’t do that. They are sweet and kind. It’s not like I mind getting closer to the fans. I just want to give everyone a hug cause they are so sweet and nice here.
This time round you brought your own personal VJ didn't you? Those visuals at Electric Zoo Beach Tokyo were amazing.
Yeah I brought my own VJ over. And yes the visuals do contribute to the show a lot and I’m very involved with the visuals. For some of the visuals, we worked with a company in LA and we give them a mood board of ideas. So for example with Titanic we were like let’s get this shot of titanic in the movie and instead of Leo and Kate Winslet’s face, just put my face and make it silly and shit. We also made this Lion King Dim Mak T-shirt (we’ve had over a 100 designs in the past) and put my head instead of the lion to hold up baby Simbah. We put that on the vector graphic and put it like on the set and its fun!
My shows are all about having fun and not about getting too serious. I just want to make people laugh and enjoy the moment.
You recently previewed the #neoncave (new studio) you've been teasing for a while. What's special about it?
There’s a lot of elements that are unique to the studio.
In a studio, you don't want the ceiling to have parallel walls that are flat because you don’t want the sound to be bouncing off. So jagged and lots of edges are acoustically better for the sound.
So when we laid out the acoustics of the room, we worked with an incredible team to do that. The room was initially just a movie theater in my house in my Las Vegas, so I turned that into something that I could use. As much as I want to watch movies, I need a functioning studio in my house. The walls were already semi-sound proofed so we made that full sound proof and made the ceiling look more like a cave.
Another interesting touch would be besides the technology and equipment, the mood is quite opposite. Most studios you walk into are mostly dimly lit and have dark walls so it’s not that bright. This is because most producers and engineers, when they walk into the room they don’t want to have something so clinical.
But I went into a completely different approach cause I was like I need this room to be really bright.
I know when I work with certain artists that they want it to be really moody and I’m fine with that. But when I’m working, since I’m spending the most amount of the time myself there I can dim it later on if I need to. Because it is a collaborative room and it's a big room it's meant to have a lot of artists come there. I have my studio in LA which is really a control room and a vocal booth and it doesn't have too much space for a lot of people. But this new studio is meant to be like a workshop to bring songwriters, musicians, different artists so I want to have the environment of just hospitality and energy.
I can talk about my studio for an hour. That’s how much there is to it.
For instance, the desk is custom and it’s fitted with Steven Slate’s touch-screen technology. We are actually going to show a video and upload it soon so watch out for it on my Aoki Youtube Channel! Also we have no synths, if you look in that picture on my Instagram there are no instruments, guitars so it’s far from being completed. All there really is, is just a really small MIDI and which I plug into my laptop since that’s how I work. I need to have that to be emulated in that studio too.
I don’t need a big old power computer since the plug-ins i use in my computer are capable of handling the processing. I don’t really need anything more than that i just want to emulate what I do on the road since I have everything on my laptop when I roll in there. It’s just a creative space in the end of the day.
Have you had any artists come in your new studio yet?
The vocal booth is not done yet but I guess it could be a new studio. So far only friends and producers come by to check through but no singers. It’s because almost all my vocal tracking in LA in the Dim Mak studio. For instance, we tracked Adam Lambert’s song ‘Can’t Go Home’ vocals there and my next single ‘Back To You’ with Walk The Moon in my LA studio. Also all my Lil Uzi Vert session (doing EP with him) although some of the vocals were in Atlanta, majority was tracked in LA studio. So, yeah, most of the new stuff was recorded in the LA studio.
Tell us more about this collaborative process you've been having with Lil Uzi Vert!
We have 5 songs together. He has his own ‘Luv Is Rage’ and his newest mixtape and then we are going to release a 5 song EP, not a mixtape cause it will officially come out. I only played one of the songs in Japan but played others in other places. We actually did the whole EP live in Atlanta for the DIM MAK 20th Year Anniversary. It was crazy man we had like TI, 2 chainz, Migos, Lil uzi vert, Rich The Kid and it was just a lot of fun.
This EP with Lil Uzi Vert will come out before my Neon Future III.
How did you find him?
He did a song with Carnage ‘What Do You Want’.
And I was playing his songs all the time back in the days. And over a year ago, I got a hold of him and reached out to him. I was actually facetiming him when I was playing the song to him. We kept in touch afterwards and we always said we had to work together. With our busy schedules it took us almost a year to just get in the studio together. It was a really hard process me sending him the music and it was hard to focus.
Something I realized when you want to work with these vocalists, rappers, singers and whatever though is that the most efficient way to get a new idea done is to be in the studio together. We booked out a week together in my studio in LA and we had a lot of work done.
You've worked with various artists but why is it that you enjoy working with bands most?
I come from the background of playing in bands, guitar, bass, singing in the band and so I grew up listening to punk rock bands. So when I had the opportunity to do a song with Linkin Park it was a huge deal because I grew up listening to them. Same thing applies with Fall Out Boy and Rivers Cuomo from Weezer. These artists and their albums changed a big part of my life at the time and I was now in the studio working with these guys or working on music. It was crazy.
Also not many electronic music producers have the opportunity to work with bands so it also brings a fresh new sound and a new concept to our world. It also broadens the whole EDM sound as everyone calls it. And this is good because if it's a hit, it will help the make the landscape wider and you'll probably see more collabs like that happening in the future.
You also recently helped Callum from 5SOS with production. What collabs can we expect from your Neon Future III Album?
Definitely some more collabs with bands in particlualr with Blink 182. I've already finished the song with them. Echosmoith I'm not sure if our song we did together will make it on the album but I love those guys. Also Gerald Way from My Chemical Romance, we are still working on our idea. We actually had an idea and we went back to the drawing board and tried to fine tune what we were doing. I guess the closest one to the finish line is the one I did with Walk The Moon though.
Can we expect the album release within 2016?
I don't know because I'm not so sure how that works. It's hard to say. Good thing with that Blink 182 Track is that it is an interesting song but it's not a club song. So I can't play it out. But I always play my songs out early cause no one tells me "No you can't play this song out," so sometimes I shoot my own foot because I play songs that don't have a release date for 9-11 months and I mess everything up instead of waiting for ten months to play it out. So luckily for this one I can't play it out anyways so I'm going to hold it in the vault for a bit.
My song with 2 chainz and DVBBS, I played it at Atlanta, literally 2 hours after I mixed his vocals into it.
Because 2 Chainz was out there so I was like we have to play it out cause you're here and I've been playing it out ever since. And we dont have a release date we didn't like get all the clearances and stuff and that takes months so who knows when that can come out but it is definitely a highlight of my set at least for myself.
How did you get into this idea of futurism that now spans over 3 albums?
Picked up a book called singularity by Ray Kurzweil. I've read all his books ever since.
He keeps writing about the same concept of technology going at an expendetial rate where we will reach this point we don't know what will happen because it's so fast.
All kind of things we thouhgt would never happen would become facts. It's romantic and crazy at the same time. How fast we are going can be seen from the computer the size of this room at 250,000 dolars to an iPhone that is 500 dollars and everyone has it. Mass consumption becomes more available and valuable. Technology will become cheaper, smarter, smaller and grow at a non-lineal rate.
So all these ideas got me exciting and I started to read books on the future of medicine and the future of whatever and applying all these ideas to my music. That's when I first wrote a song called 'Singularity' and I asked Ray Kurzweil to cameo on the music video and we made a really crazy science fiction music video.
It was so much fun but I just wanted to take it one step further and create a whole term that I called 'Neon Future.' So it's all about the same concept that Ray is talking about but in my own symbolic musical format. This is my musical perception of the future and I also bring in those voices and those names of all the different people I've read about or that have influenced the culture in the same way.
So, for Neon Future I, I had Ray and Aubrey De Grey who wrote a book about ending aging. His team does research on regenerative medicine which could essentially reverse the cell life and we can live forever indefinitely. In Neon Future II, I got JJ Abrams, Stan Lee for the Neon Future Sessions and for my upcoming album we will have two more personalities.
Who are they?
One that has already been plugged by the media is Bill Nye the science guy. I did a panel discussion with him where people from two different fields talk together. I met him backstage and asked if he could give me his voice bit on the Neon Future and I was like 'What do you think? I'm going to turn this into a song. You cool with that?' and he was like 'yeah, man' so now we have a song in the making.
You've also premiered your documentary I'll Sleep When I'm Dead at the Tribeca Film Festival. What's that all about?
Not sure who talked to who but it all started when I watched 'Jiro Dreams Of Sushi' which is about this small sushi restaurant and the sushi chef regaded as the best sushi chef in the world. It's an insteresting documentary and the team who made that film said they wanted to do this story with me so we allowed them full access.
I already travel with my own film crew. We have films and photos and actually we nearly hit that 200 episode mark on 'Life On The Road,' that's on my Youtube channel. And that component exists for the fans so in that sense I'm not necessarily uncomfortable in front of my own camera crew.
So, when these guys came in I was like we aren't gonna make another 'On The Road' because that's just stupid and that's not the point. So, once we had that straight I trusted them and their own way of narration and gave them unprecedented access and whatever you need my team is here with you.
I don't want it to be "Steve is such a great guy and he's so cool and he's a great DJ." It's a documentary that tells a different story and they do a great job at telling a compelling story. Actually one day, we came to japan 2 years ago and spent a week at my dad's grave site with my mom and brother. We also did cool traditional Japanese stuff in Kobe and Kyoto that I don't really get a chance to do normally because when I'm here I do label stuff and promotion. That moment was special because I got to have time with my sisters who I don't spend much time with and we all went down memory lane and talked about our pasts and memories.
We have to talk about your snapchat story on the White House Correspondence Dinner! Fill us in.
It was amazing. Ariana Huffington invited me so I sat with her table. When you go to these things its like, everyone's guards are down so you're supposed to go chat and mingle amongst people. You meet people you don't know. One crazy thing was the Press Secretary of Obama, it's like Seth from "House of Cards" (I love that show by the way), and then you realize you're actually talking to the Press Secretary. I obviously took a picture with him and I also met Doug Stamper, who is acted by Michael Kelly and I love the show so it was awesome.
And then there were other weirdos like myself such as Fat Jewish, Jared Leto and these are my friends so we automatically gravitate towards each other and obviously other young vine stars. As politicians call it the #nerdprom because it's a nerdy political dinner for media correspondence dinner. Then there's a roasting of the President and the roasting of the media. Obama is extremely funny and being able to watch it all go down not on TV but sitting there right in the room was just awesome.
That sounds like an amazing experience! You also recently released a rather interesting music video for 'Can't Go Home' which features the special bond between a Chimpanzee and a girl. What was that all about?
I don't think you're supposed to get any mesage from it. It's supposed to be a fun light hearted video. We were lucky to get to work with this chimpanzee because there are only two working chimps in the US and it's really hard to find a time to work with them. But now I can say that I have a music video with a professional actor chimapnzee so it's pretty awesome. Plus I'm like a monkey guy and I love monkeys. If I could turn into any other animal it would definitely be a monkey. But yeah for the music video we just want to put a smile on your face when watching it. Nothing more than that
You worked with the Nervo sisters on 'Lightning Strikes' as vocalists. What dimension do you think vocalists bring to a track?
They bring everything to the music. The instrumental song will only go so far. With the vocalists, the music takes you to that memorable place. Say, 'I Love It When You Cry,' it's really the way she sings and it changes the whole song because it becomes so emotional to the point you can relate to the song and you want to sing along to it. The instrumental without her is just another song.
This song (I Love It When You Cry) is now another song that is a huge moment especially in my sets in Japan. It's probably one of the most singable moments in my sets and you can hear everyone singing in the crowd. What I learned about Japan is that only 5% of the population speak English in 2016. That's just how their culture is. So, to see 10,000 people singing the song in English, you know that it's working. At the end of the day, you want songs that are simple enough so people can relate to the lyrics and sing along and even associate a feeling to the songs. That's a great representation of how those lyrics can change that song.
You know how to make a crowd go wild. What's that secret to making the best set?
The set is not just about driving people in the red. You're not driving the engine the whole time because there's a high and low tide and you're wading and waxing out these moments. It's like an emotional ride where you bring people up and to a different place.
I look at my set like as if there were colored grids. Because I'm constantly taking them to a new place or attitude. Also part of that and how that works is to be unpredictable.
You want to be in predictable in the sense you want to play songs they know. I won't avoid songs they might know. But here's the thing. For instance, I wanted to play 'Turbulence' but I didn't play it because I had to make a decision to play another one of my new songs versus an old song the crowd might know. For the most part, it's like I need to make it live, fresh, updated from last time not just for my die-hard fans who are at every show but also for the new crowd.
Eventually they might look away but at some point I want them to come back to me as a focus.
Last year at the DIM MAK party at Opening Ceremony you mentioned about moving to a new sound. Why the shift from the conventional Aoki Sound?
Because your inspirations change and you have to trust your feelings at any given moment. It's going to change just like my feelings of music and inspirations change right now. What I write now and what I wrote in February or let alone what I wrote last year are all differerent.
I always look at my music as timestamps because that way I could be okay looking back on some of the songs I'm not proud with now.
Even if I look back at my songs and think they are horrible, thinking of them as timestamps, I can accept that that's what I was into back then. But there are definitely proud moments in the past and I'm not discouraging those but yet I have to continue to move on. I have the privilege to travel the world, meet all kinds of people from different musical backgrounds and interests. I think of myself as a sponge or a student that remains completely open and transparent to learn and be part of things I don't know. All that absorption is extracted in my production.
You're also the head of DIM MAK. Which DIM MAK artists should we be on the look out for?
There's a bunch of artists that I'm proud of who we started from ground zero with. The biggest story would be The Chainsmokers. They released two singles includng 'SELFIE' on DIM MAK and they are great songs but aftwards, boom! They came out with 'Roses' and 'Don't Let Me Down'. When 'Roses' came out I wish we could have signed with them because we only signed for three singles.
'Roses' was a music cultural changing moment not just for electronic music, because it was part of mainstream radio and for DIM MAK that's one huge success because we were part of the early building block up for these artists that just became a part of pop culture.
We are always signing artists. But dance music has always been so song driven (single driven) so we don't necessarily sign albums any more but we put out a lot of music. We do have a few artists that we've signed over long contracts and that we've supported over a long period of time. Like, Keys N Krates. We've supported them for years and I love watching the success of these guys who have their own lane and are doing something very cool and unique.
Last year we had Watch The Duck, and Pharrell, T.I., scHoolboy Q all supporting and jumping on their EP. Now I can say we have a record on DIM MAK with Pharrell on it which is really cool.
Recently we've been putting out more Hip-hop. As I mentioned before we have that Aoki Lil Uzi Vert EP coming out on DIM MAK and there's more. We signed this dude Bok Nero with Jurial Beats who are a hip-hop crossover. And then we have our young guys like Max Styler, Autoerotique and Reid Stefan.
There's so much more to ask but we are running out of time. So here's our last question. You've mentioned in the past that you would love to do a collaboration with Drake. What other artists are on that collab list?
The list is long. With most of these artists you need to have a vibe because everything is about the vibe. They can't be like 'Okay here's the beat and I'm just gonna jump on it'.
You have to be in the vibe, the right time and place.
Perfect example would be the Atlanta 20th anniversary DIM MAK party. We had an afterparty and I had a 90 minute block. I talked to Migos then because they came out to support my show and played a couple of songs.
We went right from there and we went to the studio and finished a song. But if I didn't take that time to do that we wouldn't have this song. And so now we have this incredible song with Lil Yatchy and Migos. It's so so sick and part of this whole new wavy sound. So dope being able to work with them.
It's pretty exciting to work with the young guys too like Lil Uzi Vert, Rich The Kid, iLoveMakkonen and now Lil Yatchy and of course Migos, who are like the legend of that sound.
That's a wrap on our interview with Steve Aoki. Domo arigato for your time and tune into iFLYER for more news on Steve Aoki and of course these talented DIM MAK artists Steve has mentioned!
Photo Credits: Caesar Sebastian
Walk The Moon & Steve Aoki Single iTunes Link: https://itunes.apple.com/jp/album/back-2-u-feat.-walk-moon-single/id1112792937?app=itunes&ign-mpt=uo%3D10