What Steve Aoki wants most right now is a dry pair of pants. He’s soaked after playing a hot, raging show in the college town of Gainesville, Florida, where the 34-year-old is now covered in sweat, champagne, and cake. It’s just before the start of The Deadmeat Tour, a 45-stop extravaganza featuring bands from his Dim Mak label, and Aoki is the hybrid headliner-ringmaster, playing tracks from his new album, “Wonderland,” a collection of dance music that begs to be blasted.
It’s an exhausting and exhilarating existence, one propelled by a simple, relentless fact: Tomorrow, Aoki will get up and do it all over again -- and have a hell of a lot of fun in the process. We dropped some choice phrases on the house music veteran and recorded his thoughts.
The thrill of a live show.
For me, it’s all about, “Wow, they know this song, and I wrote this song.” That is powerful. Before they were at the show they actually were playing your music in their bedrooms and getting inspired, just like I was when I was growing up. I’m a fan of music. When I was 17, I was memorizing every lyric to go to the show, and I’d be stage-diving, grabbing the singer’s head, singing in the mic and jumping in the crowd again. That was [the] highlight of my life. I sang along with Unbroken. I saw Tragedy. I know that feeling of just studying a band. So when kids do that with my music, that’s powerful.
Just like with a strict diet, you have to work on it every day. With my album, I really had a strict regimen, working every single day, every single night. Even if I was busy with other stuff, I would just work a little bit. Part of my deal with Ultra [“Wonderland” is a joint Dim Mak/Ultra release] was that I wanted to do a music video for every song. My world lives virally. I don’t care much for radio, I don’t care much for the TV. If they play my songs on the radio or on TV, f*** yeah, that’s great. But I don’t bank on it. I live entirely in the Internet. That’s my world. People hear my music off of iTunes, Beatport, YouTube, Facebook, SoundCloud, Spotify. I want to put an extra dimension in the songs by doing videos. Videos always create extra energy to songs, like “Turbulence.” It makes people more excited to see my live show, or play the song themselves.
Dance music to me is still not mainstream. There are a few guys in our world that cross over to the radio, like David Guetta and Afrojack -- for the most part, most of us are not on the radio. Most of these guys have their own labels, and they’re just putting their music out themselves without huge money and big monster video budgets. And people are responding, discovering that music, accessing that music, and that’s the beauty of dance music.
He’s the best drummer in the world. I’m still blown away whenever I work with Travis, because he really is a drummer’s drummer. For my album, I was like, “I want to do something crazy with you.” Having [Kid Cudi] on a dubstep monster record like that with Travis doing all the fills -- just in theory it sounded right. I wrote “Cudi the Kid” around Cudi, and Travis laid down his drums and we just slammed it.
“Pillowface [and His Airplane Chronicles]” is a mix. To me, at that time, it was defining of a certain sound. I did that mix in ’06, it came out in ’07, and that was the burgeoning time of electro. Like Justice and MSTRKRFT and Soulwax and Erol Alkan and Boys Noize, artists like that. That to me was “Pillowface.” “Wonderland” is my debut album of all my productions. The music spans like four years of music that inspired and influenced me. I re-adapted and evolved the tracks before releasing them. Like, “Come With Me (Deadmeat)” -- I wrote that track probably in the end of ’07, and I’ve re-adapted that track throughout the years and finally put a vocalist on it and dropped it on the album. The newer tracks are “Cudi the Kid” with Kid Cudi and Travis Barker; “Emergency” was written like two years ago.
I was one of the few Asians in my school. It propelled me toward the punk community, because it was the one community that accepted me. The skateboarders accepted me. I tried to be a jock; it didn’t work: my size, and I just didn’t fit in. I could have been different. I could have been like the star quarterback of my high school and married the star cheerleader and stayed in Newport Beach and I would have never even known what DJing was. Punk’s always a part of me -- I can’t ever get rid of it. It’s always gonna be a part of what I do.
"It’s important for artists to be able to openly express themselves, from their perspective."
Everyone loved him. Whether it’s his philosophy and how intelligent he was, how he’s badass at kicking people’s asses, his style, or just his swagger. When I was a kid I was like, “Dude, my black friends love him, my Mexican friends love him, my white friends love him, my Asian friends love him.” I think it’s really important for people of color to see that you can create something unique that everyone can enjoy and be inspired by. When I started my label at 19, I felt he was the coolest dude on the planet. He changed s*** around for Asian people, and I wanted to do something in relation to him, so I called my label Dim Mak [a legendary martial-arts technique].
Women in Music.
For the most part, it’s the representation of what’s going on in the world, from that person’s perspective. I guess there is that fine line of being completely racist, sexist, misogynist. It’s important for artists to be able to openly express themselves, from their perspective. I’m not saying it’s OK for guys to s*** on women in lyrics. That’s wrong. But people should be able to express themselves, and there’s so many different ways you can do that. There’s a point to being PC, and there’s a point to being honest about what’s really happening in culture.
I love Odd Future—of course. They’re cool as s***. I first heard them when I saw that video of Earl Sweatshirt blending drugs and drinking them. That guy’s cool. He was like 16 or 17 when he made that video, and his mom sent him away to boot camp. I have so much respect for them. Underground culture doesn’t need all this money and major labels and media and TV and radio. It doesn’t need it. They did it themselves, these low-budget videos. They just did it themselves, and they were doing something their way, and now they’ve just hijacked popular culture in their own way.
The summer is going to be IDentity Festival and lots of international touring -- Tomorrowland and all those festivals in Europe. In July  we did 18 shows in 17 days; 12 of the shows were festivals. We had no choice but to fly private, because we had to go from Dublin to Serbia, Serbia to Corsica, Corsica down to Ibiza, Ibiza to Barcelona. We did four festivals in four countries in like 48 hours. Play a festival, get back on the plane, get to the stage, play a festival, get back on the plane, play another festival, sleep on the plane, get to the next festival. [But] when you get on the stage, you forget everything. You forget all the tiredness, all that stuff is gone. You’re staring at thousands of people. You’re staring at them, they’re just going crazy for your s***. How can you get tired?
Check out the April 2012 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands March 13) for more. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.