Steve Aoki: EDM's most dependable workhorse
There are very few people in the world more compelling than superstar DJ Steve Aoki. Not only does he go about his music with a seemingly natural flare of ease, he does so with about as much energy and passion as anyone can manifest. He isn’t a stay-behind-the-decks kind of an artist, either. Often Aoki flutters around the stage mid-sets fervently entertaining the crowd with sloppy Champagne gargling, crowd rafting or — his favorite — cake hurling.
The antics aren’t just a show; they’re a part of his life. While the performances and parties make it appear the star lives in a perpetual weekend of excess, the work behind the madness is pivotal in keeping him on his game. There are no days off in this man’s world. A few days before he was set to hit the road again, Aoki mused to Rooster about the lifestyle he’s so deeply commitment to.
“When I’m home, it’s pretty much scheduling out time to work with different vocalists because I’m finishing up my album,” says Aoki. “My whole days are structured with something in regards to my album or studio time to finish songs.”
As a persistent traveler with his music (he averages 250 shows a year), Aoki made necessary changes to facilitate being a relevant artist. With little downtime on tour, he said he adjusted to the demand. “I’ve gotten pretty efficient with my time on the road,” says Aoki. “I do a lot of my music production on the road, so that’s where things have changed. Before I couldn’t do it. I had a hard time finding that creative space to work, but I’m finally figuring it out. Sometimes it’s harder than other days. It’s a matter of discipline really, being able to find time to finish the things you have to get done and, you know, sleep.”
But the tireless schedule isn’t without some crafty assistance. Technology today has surpassed even the wildest of 20th-century imaginations, and gave Aoki the lifeline he needed to keep up with his rigorous routine. “That’s pretty much the beauty of how things work now,” he said. “You can literally write and produce entire songs pretty much just with your laptop and a really fly set of headphones.”
That accessibility makes it easier for basement dwellers to reach certain levels of recognition, however. Consumer-level products are usually just a few short steps away from what the professionals can get their hands on. The convenience saturates the electronic world with sustainable competition, something Aoki said he’s OK with. “You know what, it’s like, I’m always looking for those next best songs and those songs tearing up the clubs,” he said. “As a DJ, I’m always looking for those record. It doesn’t matter who you are or how long you’ve been in the game.
“Some of these producers are really young, and they can figure out how to make a certain sound design or a certain pattern that works. And, you know, I really don’t care if you’re 17 or you’re 35 or 45, it’s all about the song and how it’s going to be effective. It’s great how people are using the technology to their advantage and changing the course of where music’s going.”
The distinction between those underwear artists and superstars like Aoki may be blurring, but that’s not to say everyone has the prerequisites to make it as a successful celebrity. “There’s a lot of factors that come in to play,” says Aoki of his rise to stardom. “I think one of the most important out of all of them is being resilient as an artist. I tour a fucking shit load, and I’ve been doing this for a long time. I (was) on the road hitting the pavement for a long time before I was even a DJ. I toured across the U.S. 12 to 14 times even before I picked up turntables.
“I’m not saying people have to do that, but it requires this kind of life. It requires someone that’s willing to go and put in the extra effort. Just like any sport. You make the extra effort. You stay longer after practices making sure you’re killing your defense or offense, whatever the case may be. With DJing, it’s a sport; it’s something that requires a lot of attention and an awful lot of time. It’s a big lifestyle change.”
That change gave Aoki the opportunity to work with artists spanning the genres. His new tour, The Aokify America Tour, will last almost two months and cover more than 30 cities across the states. The lineup slightly shifts from city to city, but the core performers of Aoki, Wacka Flocka Flame and Borgore will remain consistent. It’s an eclectic atmosphere, which was a purposeful endeavor by Aoki. “I did this tour about four or five months ago with Kendrick Lamar across three weeks in the U.S., and it was one of the most interesting and exciting tours I’ve done in a long time,” says Aoki. “You really see two different worlds coming together. This one, when we were figuring out who we were going to put on the bill, it was definitely a big concern of mine to make sure that it was a diverse lineup.
“Of course we could do a dance bill, that’s like a no brainer, but I wanted to do something different, you know? To add a different element. Wacka Flocka, I’m just so happy that he was supportive on jumping on the bill with us. He’s really one of the best people for what we’re trying to do, what we’re trying to create. He creates these levels of energy that a lot of artists in any genre can’t. I saw his videos on YouTube and was like, ‘This is the fucking man, he’ll be perfect!’”
His perfect lineup is one that’s also very Colorado friendly, a fact that hasn’t escaped Aoki’s admiration. “Denver is one of those secret spots, one of those incredible places in all of the USA, especially for bass music. I feel like, in all the world, the heart of bass music is in Denver,” says Aoki. “You have artists like Rusko and Flux Pavilion and Datsik and Borgore that can literally sell out Red Rocks on their own. Pretty Lights is a god there! That culture is so powerful and it’s such a beautiful thing to see that. I’m excited. I love Denver.”