What makes a musical hero? Are they someone who by virtue of divine intervention was blessed with the ability to absolutely shred on guitar or elicit tears from listeners’ eyes by hitting a variety of simply beautiful vocalized notes in a pattern of perfection? Are they someone who has enough fashion sense to understand what makes an image attractive to fans, one unique enough that it might ignite a trend among listeners after seeing the artist live? Are they so extraordinarily outgoing that people idolize their outlandish yet popularly accepted efforts in establishing themselves as an individual among their peers? A superstar is all of these things, but a true musical hero takes it all one step further.
The real masters of music today possess more than that which might be considered material. Real leaders of the music world possess innate dedication and wholesome admiration for the music they produce and the fans that listen to it. They completely understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. They strive toward producing a perfect sound as opposed to releasing as many records as possible with the intent of grabbing up as much money as they can while the spotlight is on them.
Few artists can be viewed as true role models for the music world and its fans, but among those select few is a DJ who has invested his mind, body, and soul into everything he has ever done. He continually finds it worthwhile to sacrifice day in and day out to please the ears of fans as dedicated to him as he is dedicated to his art.
DJ Steve Aoki is no stranger to the world as he has been spinning for over fifteen years and has released immensely popular tracks such as I’m In the House(March 2010) and a brand new song titled Wake Up Callin collaboration with Sydney Samson just days ago in addition to remixing songs by Michael Jackson, The Killers, Lenny Kravitz, and other famed artists.
As a motivated and self-starting entrepreneur, he began his journey into the business while enrolled at the University of California at Santa Barbara producing his own tracks and playing offbeat concerts for his peers. Although dedicated to his music, Aoki managed to graduate with degrees in both Women’s Studies and Sociology while founding his own record company, Dim Mak Records. Since, Dim Mak has served as a haven for artists such as MSTRKRFT, The Bloody Beetroots, Fischerspooner, Armand Van Helden, and many others. Aoki has also pointed his imaginative mind toward the fashion industry developing a self-inspired clothing line known as the Dim Mak Collection.
While driving through Southern California on his way to a show in Mexicali, Mexico, I had an opportunity to speak with Aoki.
Exclusive interview with DJ Steve Aoki:
(DaS) Your new track Wake Up Call in collaboration with Sidney Samson leaked on YouTube a couple of weeks ago, it dropped on iTunes Monday, what do you have to say about the new track?
(Aoki) It is a brand new single, a track I did with Sydney Samson. I laid down the vocal for it and it is completely a club record. It is a jumpy and fun record and it works well for our ideas and a club atmosphere. Now I’m working on a few new singles, one called Turbulence with Lil’ Jon and there are a few new videos coming out soon too. I am working on a new track with Afrojack and on one with Alyssa Palmer that should be coming out in March. I hope to be releasing a new album sometime next year also. We’re really looking to bridge genres with it, with influences from rock to hip hop to pop including artists like Kid Cudi, Weezer, Blackstar, and Travis Barker playing drums in some songs. I’ve been writing it for about 2 years and although I write some records for club and some for the radio, Wake Up Call and the new record are for the club, true house music.
(DaS) You have collaborated with Kid Cudi, Afrojack, Sidney Samson, and many other artists, who is the one person or group you hope to one day write music with?
(Aoki) It’s tough to say although the one person I would want to collaborate with, dead or alive, would have to be Mozart simply because he would be the most interesting person to work with. It would be a learning experience and really cool to see the dynamic of 2010 versus classic Mozart. It would also be cool to work with Malcom X, having him do what he does best by putting him in a vocal booth with me behind the music. If I could pick anyone it would certainly be out of the box, putting music to some of the important things that these people have said and would have to say.
(DaS) You were in Miami last week, you were just in Vegas, you’re on your way to Mexicali, Mexico, and you’ll be hitting the road all over Europe in a couple of weeks, where is your absolute favorite place to play and why?
(Aoki) Well right now I’m driving to Mexico but I would have to say that Australia is THE place to play. Feedback is really important and the reception of the crowd over there compliments all different factors of what makes a crowd memorable. Those crowds are absolutely educated on house music and records like Warp [past collaboration with The Bloody Beet Roots], which was a gold record. The normal average everyday person knew that record yet it was designed as an underground project. Big pop records get played out but records like that get played right in Australia; when it has an underground feel, it has a more authentic tone.
(DaS) You tweeted yesterday (Friday) promoting your clothing line “the Dim Mak Collection” at Surrender last night in Las Vegas, how’s the line going and what’s planned for its future?
(Aoki) The line has been developing for a few years and went global two years ago, now available in 95 stores worldwide. The line is 100 percent independent, managed and promoted by a very small staff. Recently I have been deciding which way to go with the line with regard to investors, producers, etc. and I’m going to be expanding into denim, jackets, shirts, etc. We have been planning it out with the right partners to expand everything that we have been doing. I also invest a lot of time playing into poker and have teamed up with Victory Poker, a company that poker pro Antonio Esfandiari is heavily involved with and I am working on some new business ventures with that.
(DaS) You’re an avid poker player and usually sit with a variety of pros, when will we be able to see you making a run at the main event and what kind of music do you listen to at the table?
(Aoki) I was playing with Antonio Esfandiari yesterday and he is one of the leading poker partners in Victory Pokerand one of the main reasons why I am involved in it. I won’t be making a run at the main event this year but maybe next year. My music schedule is number one priority, that and the fashion line. Live shows and fashion are the two most important priorities and Dim Mak [Aoki’s record label] is a close second. The business keeps me on call 24/7, but when I do get a chance to play cards, I never listen to music whether it is a house game or a tournament in a casino.
(DaS) You come from a family of immense success in the business/restaurant world yet you hold dual degrees in the social sciences, if you weren’t spinning, what would you be doing instead?
(Aoki) When I was finishing up my bachelors’ degree at UCSB [University of California, Santa Barbara] I was accepted to two PHD programs to study Asian-American studies. One was offered at NYU and the other was offered at California State University, San Francisco, which is one of just a few schools in the country with a program for it. At the time though I was also pretty involved in working on a music project with The Machine Kills. I would have been doing research and writing books had it not been for the music. I had to make a decision when it came down to what I was going to do with my life. I took the GRE’s twice trying to get the best score I could while getting letters of recommendations and making sure I had a good enough GPA. I worked hard at school and was involved in a number of student groups and activities. At the same time I was working on being a DJ and building Dim Mak, pushing me to decide whether to move forward in academia or music.
Working with the kills in 2002 changed my view on the future and went with music following their quickly spreading popularity. I saw that the label could be a successful business, especially when we signed Bloc Party in 2003 and moved quickly selling records. At the end of the day you are competing with everybody else and you aren’t bringing money to the table, you are bringing talent and there is no guarantee on succeeding with it. You continue to sign good bands and it makes life better but you have to make choices. Arcade Fire came to us with an EP but they were without a manager and were currently being managed by their lawyer but we passed on their EP because there were few resources behind it. You have to make choices. Sometimes they’re good and sometimes they are bad but Dim Mak was successful developing international artists at the time. Arcade Fire, although incredibly talented and an awesome group wasn’t at the point of developing a long-term strategy for broad release.
If you’re looking to put out an album you have to put out the money. Dim Mak wanted to be a bigger label. Dim Mak made a stand at the time and had to make a business decision, but that’s how it is in the music business.
(DaS) What has your journey to stardom taught you about yourself and what advice do you have for young DJ hopefuls?
(Aoki) All of these different things that happened to me weren’t planned. I’m not saying don’t plan things out but there were no business plans in the beginning and there was no raising of any capitol at least on the Dim Mak side of things. Now I’m thinking a bit bigger and smarter when discussing the future and investing but when it comes down to it, it’s all an art. There’s a lot to running a record label. Music in general is a sacrifice.
You can talk to rock bands that are successful but they are broke but still do it because they f**king love it and that is all that matters. They could be stockbrokers on Wall Street and make millions but they do what they do because it’s what they are passionate about. You have to do these things for the right reasons and you have to do it because you love it. People look at and research artists and see that that they are phony and that they are made up and that’s wrong, you have to truly believe and be able to sacrifice whatever it takes to be what kind of artist you want be like and if you work hard enough, you’ll be rewarded.
Aoki embarks on a world tour in just a few days that will take him from Lisbon to Budapest to Milan, Paris, Calgary and a number of other countries in between before returning to the states to kick off a US tour at Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey on December 26.
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