Never one to stand still, Steve Aoki embarked on several new ventures in 2019. Alongside his DJ and production work, and his label Dim Mak — plus the endeavours of his Aoki Foundation, raising money for brain research — Aoki began to expand his chain of restaurants, Pizzaoki. Following in the footsteps of his late father Rocky Aoki, who founded the popular Japanese eatery Benihana, the DJ launched Pizzaoki outlets in San Diego and Oakland, with further restaurants opening in Las Vegas, Chicago and Long Beach too.
Aoki also published a memoir this year. Blue: The Color Of Noise looks back at the early stages of his career, and writing it was, according to Aoki, “extremely cathartic”.
“It’s therapeutic for me to dive back into my past to discuss my present, and somewhat foretell a bit of my future,” he says. “The memorial really explores the beginnings of my life, how I moved from point A to B, and I think there are a lot of people that can get their takeaways from this book.”
Naturally, music took up a significant part of his 2019, too. Amid an intense run of gigs in which he played everywhere from Chile to Romania, Ibiza, Australia and Indonesia, Aoki worked on the fourth volume of his ‘Neon Future’ series of albums, a record which will see the light of day early next year.
“It’s similar to the previous ‘Neon Future’ albums, in that it’s heavily weighted on collabs across genres,” Aoki says, “and also outside of music, I will have features with people that have inspired the way I think about the world and the future. It is looking like the biggest ‘Neon Future’ album to date. There’s more songs on this one, and some unexpected features as well.”
Considering that previous editions have featured such unlikely guests as film director JJ Abrams and One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson, expect the unexpected.
Beyond the album, Aoki also cropped up on Ultra Records alongside hardstyle artist Showtek and MAKJ with the track ‘Rave’, and worked with Alan Walker, Alok, Timmy Trumpet and even the Backstreet Boys on collaborations.
Aoki’s Dim Mak label, meanwhile, had a mindboggling run of releases this year — more than many labels put out in their entire histories — with singles by Will Sparks, Bear Grillz, Quix, Riot Ten and many more all bearing its stamp.
Considering his reputation for philanthropy and various charitable projects, it was unsurprising that Aoki deeply engaged with DJ Mag’s question about how we can improve mental health in the dance music industry.
“Dialogue and communication are the keys to opening up to people that might not know that there are others that feel the same way, and people that care about them,” he says.
In 2020, as well as his new ‘Neon Future’ album, look out for more collaborations — and most likely more iterations of his Pizzaoki chain.
Do you submit your DJ setlists to the relevant royalties collecting society?
What more can we do to combat the mental health crisis in our scene?
“We need to have a more compassionate culture and community, letting everyone know that they are not alone. No more pretensions, no more posturing, no more trying to be cool. Let’s start by being kind to one another.”
What changes have you made this year to be more environmentally friendly?
“First, being more mindful of the amount of plastic I use to consume food, drinks and clothes — trying to use less of it if possible. I’m talking about it with others and supporting companies that don’t use plastic straws, for example.”
What was your favourite toy when you were a kid?
“He-Man toys. Micro Machines. And GI-Joes.”
What’s your guilty pleasure?
There’s no experience quite like World Club Dome. Whether it be partying 20,000 feet in the air on the World Club Jet, raving in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea on the World Club Cruise, or travelling on the world’s fastest nightclub on the World Club Train, WCD wants to be more than just another festival. It aims to be an event like no other, and time and time again delivers.
Saturday’s event, by contrast, takes place in 24-degree heat. WCD is alive, a moving entity. A personal guilty pleasure, the Zombie stage is absolutely packed. Arguably it’s on the fringes, but is certainly the least pretentious stage at the festival, with no judgement. Hardstyle DJ WildStylez is teeth-shudderingly magnificent, with music so intense, the involuntary blinking coincides with the involuntary dancing.As the sun begins to set on Saturday’s Main Stage, Tinie Tempah works the crowd into a frenzy, dropping party anthem after party anthem.
From: Newport Beach, California, USA
DJ style: “The Touch of Death.”
Best known for: “Bringing forth the Neon Future. The third chapter, to be exact.”
Fave tune of 2018: “BTS ‘Fake Love’.”
Breakthrough DJ/producer of 2018: “Riot Ten.”
Hectic is an inadequate description for Steve Aoki’s schedule in 2018 — a year that saw him play everywhere from Romania to Iceland, Japan to Dubai, and fit in lots of studio time along the way. The EDM boss started the year with a new EP, ‘5OKI’, featuring hook-ups with stadium dance names Hardwell, Quintino, LOOPERS, Vini Vici and Laidback Luke. He also continued his commitment to cross-pollinating trap with dance, collaborating with rapper Lil Yachty again on ‘Pretender’ (after their previous track together, ‘Night Call’). Back in August, Aoki announced that his forthcoming album, ‘Neon Future III’, will feature another popular MC, Nicki Minaj, as well as poppunks Blink-182.
In order to keep up with the many demands of his diary, Aoki has a set of philosophies that enable him to dodge industry pitfalls, and he has some words of advice for fellow DJs.
“In general, always work on bettering yourself,” he says. “Be kind to people as well. The more good vibes you put out, the more good vibes you receive.”
Words: BEN MURPHY
“It's like you're driving a Ferrari at full speed, and that's fun and I love that energy; that adrenaline,” Steve Aoki tells DJ Mag over the phone from his car, but not while driving (we hope). He's speaking about the difference between EDM/electro sets and playing deeper, mid-tempo stuff to people.
“With house, it's a different kind of energy,” he continues. “You're not going full force, you have a really great groove that you can stay in; that can keep you in the same place and it's continuous, it lasts longer and it's a different kind of flow. It's nice to change it up. You're not speeding down the freeway the whole time.”
The reason for this discussion is not because DJ Mag is contemplating buying a new sports car — or considering what to listen to while driving it. It's because the Dim Mak boss plans to release a series of four house tracks early next year; each inspired by another season on the White Isle.
“Being in Spain for four months, there's a lot of English people who go there — and from mainland Europe — you really get a sense of what people are accustomed to.”
Tracing his roots back to DFA and LCD Soundsystem, it was the dawn of Ed Banger that heralded Dim Mak's natural disposition towards distorted big-room sounds. However, it was a tipping point reached two years ago that prompted EDM DJs/producers to sprout out into different directions, he says.
“Sounds became about, 'How much bigger can you get?'. 'How much louder can you get without it becoming too distorted, too saturated or whatever?' And we got answers to those questions two years ago.”
Since that point, we've seen future house, trap, tropical and garage/bass seep into the mainstream world of EDM and it's all part of its evolution, Aoki points out. “Nobody wants to do the same thing over and over again,” he says. “It's very rare to find an artist that does that.”
As part of his evolution, Steve has on the one hand found himself reverting back to the underground. On the other, however, the second instalment of his sophomore artist album 'Neon Future' earlier this year saw him working with various vocalists — the likes of Snoop Lion, Linkin Park and Rivers Cuomo — to make a series of crossover party/pop tracks.
Followed by 'Neon Future Odyssey' — a deluxe version featuring five new collaborations with the likes of Headhunterz, Borgore and Marnik — last month, it might not be a pathway to more radio play across The Atlantic — something which has been an “uphill struggle” due to “stigmatisation,” he believes. It remains to be seen if his upcoming house stuff will be.
Shifting creative direction with Stephen Glenn at the helm, Pacha Ibiza celebrated a whopping 40 years on planet Earth last summer, and with it started a series of new chapters. Some of these will be re-opened this year, whereas others have been closed, plus there's one or two fresh ones entirely.