Steve Aoki :: Interview
Steve Aoki takes some time out of his hectic schedule to give us a quick interview on the lead up to Winter Sound System
When did you first discover the turntable and your passion for music?
I guess before the turntables I discovered the whole addiction for record collection. When I was 13 I bought my first 7” and by the time I was in my early 20’s it had grown into a really bad problem. By that time I had amassed 12k – 15k records and had to cut it back, I wasn’t even a DJ at that stage. The closest I had come to it was being a radio DJ at college. The records I collected and the ones that meant a lot to me could not be played at a club, they were like punk and hardcore records, really rare noise records and post-punk records and stuff like that.
Then as I was developing my label, Dim Mak records which I had being doing since I was 19 it became the driving force to get me into Djing as I was throwing these small parties in LA in 2003 and started DJing with the other bands and DJs. Eventually I then started remixing all these artists. My first remix was with Bloc Party which came out in 2006 which I did with a Blake my production partner under the name ‘Weird Science’ and then for the next 3 years Blake and I under the name Weird Science remixed like 14 artists and then you know at the end of 2007 I started remixing under my own name and then slowly but surely started producing original tracks and now I’m on my way to finish my own album this year featuring 8 to 9 different vocalists.
What where some of your early influences?
My early influences were my favourite bands like “Gorilla Biscuits, Born Against, even some more well known bands like Refused, Nirvana. They weren’t DJs. I never like saw a DJ and thought I wanted to become one. My playground was like hardcore-punk to rock and roll. That’s where I gained a lot of my musical experience, especially in the studio where I would practically live, recording records with my old bands.
Now I have my own studio here with no bands which is a blessing and you know I have my own chamber and my own space and I just outfitted the studio in my house exactly the way I needed it to be and its like a dream come true.
Is there a particular moment in your career when you realised you were ready to commit to Djing as your professional career and could make a good living from it.
I would say in 2007 at Coachella. It was the first major festival that I had played at that time and it’s in my own back yard so I was always like “Coachella, now that’s a real music festival, it’s not a DJ festival its a music festival with all the biggest artists playing together” and I would say that playing at it was the pivotal point in my career. At that time people started following me, not even as a producer, I had some sort of fanbase from DJing in LA and travelling around playing these small parties here and there. Actually I have no idea why people even watched me in the beginning, I couldn’t even tell you what the interest was. But that gave me enough breath to take it to the next level and start Djing and producing more and to be more well rounded.
Between your record label, the clothing label and your artist management not to mention your own hectic DJing schedule you have a lot of strings to your bow. How do you make room for all the commitments you have in your schedule without conflicting or letting anyone, especially yourself down?
I surround myself with dedicated staff who work hard to maintain the status quo of all our businesses and still progress them forward and make sure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. All the Dim Mak label staff have been doing the label for 13 years now and have put out over 165 records. There has been a serious evolution as a label to survive in a very volatile climate. In the music industry it is fucking difficult to survive as an independent label. As a major label you can cross-collateralise all your different things on artists that you have been selling for 30 – 40 years and selling over 50 – 100 million records in total. For us we are just surviving off a few artists that are really establishing themselves and establishing the connection that they have with Dim Mak. For the clothing side it’s been a new venture that’s taking place and enabling us to become a larger brand with a bigger range with more promotion and manufacturing/sampling. I’ve been working on for the last two years.
So you know it takes time to set all these different things in motion but once we have the teams in place that can handle the work-flow it seems to work out. I’m still very much involved in all the business but I have a solid team that handles the day today.
What aspect of your business life gives you the most personal satisfaction?
Right now just closure on a few things. My own satisfaction is closing up the big projects that I’ve been working on so that I can close the book on my album. I’ve been working on my album for over a year and it’s a tiring process to work with so many vocalists and to handle the business end after you work with them in the studio is such a long process. Singed artist’s clearances from the labels, just a lot of red tape. But its been a great process for the last 6 months working with Lil Jon, Weezer, Black Star, Romanthony, Sky Ferreira, Kid Cudi, Super Black, you know I’m trying to get a different take on every track so it realty fits with the artist. You know like working with Rivers, I wrote the track with him in mind as a rock track. The first track I’m doing with Travis Barker is like a fucking heavy heavy track that I’m writing now with the idea that he is just going to be banging his drums in the way that he does.
It has been a massive couple of years for you and some of your artists, how does it feel to see it all blow up on such a global scale?
Even just Bloody Beetroots on its own is amazing, we signed them back in 2007 and we have been developing the artist with them and their vision. Bob Rifo has an idea, he has a direction and a vision, he has his own sound and we just support him in every possible way that we can. And seeing that come to life and seeing the kind of response around the world for the Bloody Beetroots. I look at where they started when they were just remixing records, producing tunes that were really meant for clubs and now they are a full live act which I was able to see at the WMC and I was completely blown away, astonished by there live show. It’s such a great feeling. At the end of the day that’s why I even have a label. Seeing that happen with Bloc Party as well, you know we signed them in 2003 and we did a deal with Atlantic Records to release the album. The album went on to sell 350k albums in America which is unheard of these days. Seeing something like that happen and just watching the growth, you can’t even put a price on something like that.
What activity did DIM MAK have at the WMC this year?
We had a Dim Mak WMC showcase with Afrojack and myself. We have produced 6 tracks together and we did a back to back DJ set and tested them out on the crowd. Then Laidback Luke came and jumped on with us and Bob Rifo and Tommy came from the Bloody Beetroots and did some vocals on the track. Sonic C, Autoerotique, Rob Roy, Fischerspooner and Joachim Garraud also performed and it was a packed night and a whole heap of fun.
Then at Ultra I played on the same stage as the Bloody Beetroots, and Mstrkrft did a big show with Benny Bennasi on the Tuesday, I missed it but I heard it was a great show.
You have built up a very large and very loyal fan base in Australia, what have been some of your favourite memories from of your last couple of tours?
The last Sydney show at the Metro ranks up there with the top 10 shows I have ever been a part of. The kids were going wild and were so crazy. You know I started a band called Rifoki, with Bob Rifo from the Beetroots and it’s a hard core punk band and I’ve been dropping that and scaring people. I’m sure there will be a lot of negative feedback, like WTF! is going on, its just screaming hard core sound, there is no sense its just noise. And you know I played that track out to the Sydney crowd and I felt like they accepted it and it’s so nice when people accept something so fucking abrasive. It was amazing. Australia in general is one of my favourite places in the world.
:: QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS ::
Who or what is your favourite…
DJ :: Bloody Beetroots
Live act :: Envy from Japan
Album :: Born Against – Nine Patriotic Hymns For Children