We’re not really sure how Steve Aoki managed to get his name on so many records, remixes and collaborations, but the man seems possessed by a creative spirit that won’t let him sit still. Having run his record label, Dim-Mak, since college, he has dealt in every aspect of electro – from gutter-grime to polished pop-house – and has worked with everyone of any value in the world of electronic music. His whistle-stop tour of South Africa this weekend (Friday @ Assembly, Saturday @ The Woods, with photos by the Cobra Snake) is a jeans-creaming prospect. We asked our perennially upbeat Italian friend Davide from AIRSTRIKE! to shoot the shit with Steve on the eve of his departure for the Dark Continent. Davide’s a big fan you see, plus he’s playing at the event in Cape Town in the VICE annex at Assembly. Anyway, here’s that conversation in textual format:
VICE: So you’re playing in Cape Town and Johannesburg this weekend. Know anything about South Africa?
AOKI: I love Die Antwoord. They are like my favourite band right now.
VICE: Right on!
AOKI: I’m like their biggest fan. They actually just played this party last week. I wasn’t there but I heard it was crazy, I wish I’d been there.
VICE: Have Bob and Tommy told you anything about the gig they played here?
AOKI: No, I actually have never talked to those guys, I’m hoping I’ll get to hang out with them when I come to South Africa…
VICE: I thought perhaps that the Bloody Beetroots would have told you, that they came here…
AOKI: Oh BOB! I thought you were talking about Die Antwoord. Yeah we just played a show, it was mad and then they said they were going to South Africa and I was like: “Whoa that’s so crazy!” It’s just so out of touch with, you know, with L.A. I honestly never thought I’d go play South Africa so it’s just really exciting.
VICE: I believe that at the moment there’s quite a lot of buzz around it. I’m happy to tell you there are no prawns.
AOKI: There are no what…?
VICE: Prawns. I don’t know if you’ve watched the movie District 9?
AOKI: Oh yeah… right. I was definitely looking forward to that spaceship.
VICE: I just realized I don’t even know where you are right now. L.A?
AOKI: Yeah, I’m back in L.A. It’s great because I get a couple of days off here and then I go out to the South West. We’re having a Dim-Mak show there and then I’m going to South Africa. I’m bringing the Cobra Snake with me, the photographer. We travel together all over the world, and he’s my favourite travel companion. We do two very different things, but we gel together really well. Man, you don’t understand, we can NOT wait! I’m more excited about these shows that any others this entire year.
VICE: Glad to hear it. We’re also kinda giddy at the prospect. So anyway, I’ve been following you for some time now and I think I’ve gotten to know the West Coast sound of electro. It’s very refreshing because you have all these connections with the Bloody Beetroots and the whole scene in France with Headbander Records – you’re quite a family of musicians that are carrying through a new age of dance music, though it’s actually quite hard to tell exactly what kind of music it is because in the past few years the word ‘electro’ has been misused. Like now iTunes is telling me it’s ‘post-punk’. Do you feel that you are an avant-garde musician at this time?
AOKI: I don’t really see myself like that at all. It’s hard for me to classify what I am because I like so many different things… my roots have never really been in dance music, they were always in live music… like hardcore and punk. So coming from that background and then assimilating into the dance world, writing songs that I would be able to DJ as an artist – it’s been a pretty interesting journey. I guess the songs that transcend beyond the rock influence, having the rock core inside the dance production – that would be considered post-punk. Bloody Beetroots and I, we wrote a remix for the Refused, which is hardcore band that broke up years ago, and that is very much along the lines of mixing the two sounds. We got guitars, we got distortion, we got the screaming vocals and it is all within the dance convocation. And what is happening, especially with the Bloody Beetroots evolving into a live band, there is a new movement within the dance community. It is live music but in a dance environment, but we are making it way more aggressive. So it’s almost like a punk show.
AOKI: I mean, as an artist, I’m really trying to maintain that founding block but also to diversify and put together great songs just as they are. Some of the tracks, like the Refused one and Warp, are pretty heavy, but there are others – I do a Michael Jackson remix for the re-issue that they just did, which is a groovy track, so I don’t always want to remain super hard. For my album that is coming out – it’s really a mix. I did a track with Black Star which is more like a ballad. I did a track with Rivers Cumo from Weezer, that’s more of a pop song, and the track that I’m doing with Zuper Blahq – it’s really just a good electro dance track.
VICE: If we look at the early days with Daft Punk for example, they made the DJ the figure to look up to, to follow. But lately the DJ has lost a lot of credibility now that technology has advanced so much that, with all the programs and digital-equipment, people look at it and think it’s all pre-recorded and not live. It’s great to see you are bringing that old ‘live show’ feeling back.
AOKI: You know, there is a live element that is great, but also when you see a DJ who puts all these programs into an amazing, amazing set of music and mixes it properly without having to do a show, that is also very incredible to watch. I used to be in punk bands when I was in high school and college. We toured a lot – in Japan, the US and Europe. That whole vibe of being in a punk band is coming back to me and it feels familiar and refreshing, Even in my DJ sets I’m playing punk songs.
VICE: Your father was a great wrestler. Is Dim-Mak some kind of reference to this – The Touch of Death?
AOKI: I’m not really a fighter at all, it’s just I was 19 when I decided to name my label Dim-Mak, it was nostalgia for Bruce Lee being killed by the Dim-Mak, and I was a complete Bruce Lee nut-bag… he got me through my adolescence.
VICE: Good old Bruce. Oh, I told some of my friends I’d be talking to you and a bunch of them wanted in on the interview too. It seems you have a decent following here.
Aoki: Oh really? You should get someone on the phone right now and they can ask me a question, I’ll be more than happy to answer.
VICE: [Gets friend Uno on the line] This is Uno. He’s my buddy from Joburg
Uno: Hello Steve.
AOKI: Haha, he sounds like one of the prawns from District 9.
Uno: Yeah, I’m an extra in that. What kind of set will you be playing in South Africa?
AOKI: A very similar set to which I usually play – which is 80% my own production, my remixes, and my music, plus other artists on the label. So you’ll get the real DimMak experience.
Uno: Will you play anything that is like a first release? Something you’ve never played before?
AOKI: I’m gonna play a track I just finished with Laid Back Luke called Turbulence, and I’m gonna play one track from a session I did with Afro Jack. I’ll do the Refused remix I was telling you about – I actually did my own remix of it before I did it with the Bloody Beetroots, so I’m still not sure which one I’ll play…I might play a Michael Jackson track that is more of club track…and if the track I’m doing with Lil John tonight is done by then, I’ll definitely test it out there.
VICE: See, you have at least one fan here already. Two, if you include me.
AOKI: Haha! Well like I said, I’m overwhelmed at the idea of coming to South Africa. It’s going to be amazing. Even if it is a small show, an intimate show – I’m just happy to be there with South Africans in a totally different world.
Mr. Aoki will be laying waste to The Assembly in Cape Town on Friday 2nd and The Woods Live in Johannesburg on Saturday 3rd. We all clap our hands and bow our heads to Havana Club Rum, The Assembly, The End Is Nigh and Adidas for making this possible. Click here to find out more details: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=110069885677858&ref=ts
INTERVIEW BY DAVIDE LOCATELLI-ROSSI