It is easy to write Steve Aoki off as just another rich kid making beats for other rich kids to grind on each other to in a nightclub. Don’t be fooled. Look a little closer and you will see he is one of the hardest working figures in music, not to mention a really nice dude, DJing/producing/recording/designing clothes and running Dim Mak records, which has handled releases from MSTRKRFT, The Kills, Bloc Party and Fischerspooner. On the eve of the release of Wonderland, his first studio album, we caught up with Steve to talk tours, collaborations and t-shirts.
“I’m in my little bed with the curtain around me so I can concentrate on this interview,” says a very tired but chilled Steve down a crackling line. He is currently on his way across North America on his Dead Meat tour to promote Wonderland.
Jam packed with collaborations with anyone who is anyone in the music scene today, Wonderland has been a labour of love for the DJ/producer. “God, it’s been years. I’ve been working on it for a real long time. In a way it’s more than an album to me. It’s more of a collection of songs that have inspired me in different styles and genres all combined in this album. As an artist I really wanted to show a diverse sound from all different genres and sub-genres of dance music.”
Surprisingly, trying to pin down artists to collaborate with (and there are a lot of them) was one of the easier hurdles to jump. “One of the most convenient things for me is that my studio is in Los Angeles. The album is called Wonderland because I live on Wonderland Avenue. A lot of the artists actually live in L.A so it wasn’t that difficult. Lil’ John has a place in L.A, Travis Barker, Rivers Cuomo, WIL.I.AM, Kid Cudi, LMFAO… for the most part getting them in the studio wasn’t too difficult as long as we had time to organise it. The rest of them would come through on tour and they would come to the studio to finish vocals or things like that or I would get sessions where people sent their vocals in to me.”
One of the most interesting collaborations on the album is with Weezer frontman, Rivers Cuomo. When asked about the collaborative process with one of geek rock’s most beloved front man, Aoki is unashamedly chuffed. “Rivers is incredible. I have been listening to Weezer since the first album; I have been a Rivers fan forever. He is just one of the coolest guys on the planet.” So how did this unusual pairing come about? “To make a long story short I remixed a Weezer song that Interscope managed to get me (“I Want You To”) and I was like, fuck yeah! In the fall Rivers wrote me back and said it was the best remix that he has heard of any Weezer song; that just blew my mind! We played a show together and I talked with him and said I’m doing an album and I would love for you to be on the album. The only problem was at the time I didn’t even have a song for him so I was kind of hoping and crossing my fingers. He was like, ‘Absolutely, send me the song tomorrow,’ and I was like holy shit, got back to my studio in L.A and literally wrote the song in a day (“Earthquakey People”). He turned it around in two days so we finished the song very quickly.”
The club kid favourite is also eyeing a potential Australian tour. “I would love to because Australia is one of my favourite places in the world to tour. I know there have been conversations but I don’t know how soon or when I will be coming down, hopefully as soon as possible.”
Considering the vast amount of talent on Wonderland, Steve still has his sights on even bigger artists such as Zack De La Rocha from Rage Against The Machine, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and… Yo Yo Mar? “I would love to do some sort of collab with him,” he says without a hint of sarcasm.
It’s also a big year for Steve’s label, Dim Mak. Considering the somewhat disposable nature of electronic music, Aoki has outlasted many and the fact that he is actively involved in all aspects of the recording process is more than slightly responsible for his longevity. “I love being on both sides. 2012 is a really exciting year for Dim Mak. We have our first dub step artist coming out, we have Infected Mushroom’s album coming out as well. A lot of good albums and cool singles, my collaboration with Tiesto, the vocal version of “Tornado” is coming out; I did collaboration with Knife Party which will be coming out too. I’ve been running the label for longer then I have been DJing – about 15-16 years now. Before I was even an artist I was always behind the artist. I have been hearing two hats for a long time. I have been in the game for a long time and I have seen how the industry works.”
He also seems to have a freakish ability to pick what is going to be huge, his last big discovery being The Bloody Beetroots who went on to have huge success, especially in Australia. “We signed them in 2007 and I first heard about them in 2006 after a few remixes they were doing.”
While it may sound easy picking the next big thing is more intuition than a tried and true formula. ”You got to follow your gut instinct, like when I first heard Bloc Party in 2003, I knew there was something incredible there and in 2004 they sent me “Banquet”. I met the guys and they were such an incredible bunch of guys – it was the same vibe. You just feel not necessarily about their songs but about the whole deal and if you can support their direction and their vision. Having a label, it’s like you’re constantly gambling and taking these major financial risks on artists you just believe in, it’s like instinct. You’re not sure what is going to come out of it but believe that something incredible is going to happen and I am just so happy to see that the Bloody Beetroots were able to literally create their own sound and genre and kind of follow it and do something really powerful. It has to be one of the best feelings in the world. Like seeing your kid go to college.”
Aoki also assures us that there will be a reprint of the wildly popular “The Kids Want Acid” t-shirts, laughing hard he says, “I’ll have to do that then; I’ll have to reprint them. Let them know I’ll bring it back. Do they want the highlighted version or the black? That’s wonderful. I’m really happy to hear that.”
Love him or hate him, Steve Aoki is a truely smart and hardworking dude. Get used to hearing the name Wonderland because it is going to be everywhere, very, very soon.
Wonderland is out in Australia through Liberator on Friday 3 February.