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?