If you’ve traveled internationally within the past few years, there is a decent possibility Steve Aoki might have been on your flight. The DJ holds reputation both as one of the most innovative electro music artists of his day and for being relentlessly productive, playing hundreds of shows of year in cities across the globe, often having to sacrifice a good night’s sleep to keep the party moving. He has become one of the most recognizable faces in the EDM world, even our grandmothers know who Steve Aoki is.
Aoki’s hard work ethic and steadfast dedication to his music was captured in the 2016 documentary “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” which gave the world an even more intimate look at a musician who was never afraid to let loose on stage. Below are some highlight quotes from his interview and photos from the DJ's 7 page spread in Rogue's Issue #6.
On why Aoki decided to document his travels, career and personal life, and turn it into a documentary:
It wasn’t something I envisioned from A to Z, it kind of just happened. I let the [production] team narrate the whole process and we spent three years shooting different bits of my life and I owe them the credit for building up the narrative. I gave them as much access as they wanted of my personal life that I’d never really talked about, so that was interesting for me to do. I rarely even talk about my dad or my family--I can easily talk about my music or my latest single, what happens on tours and the shows…. but they wanted to do a bigger version of that. I needed someone to extract the information because it's not in my wheelhouse to just start talking about my family or my past like that, so it was interesting for me. It was actually eye opening.
On his beginnings with Cinespace and Dim Mak Tuesdays:
You could only do something like Cinespace in a few cities around the world. When we were doing Cinespace, we were introducing a new scene to LA. There was no ecosystem yet and it was like a merging scene. I think part of the reason it was so exciting was that it was so small. Only so many people could experience that and the other thing about LA is that everyone comes to LA at some point. Since LA was such an important city, it became a global culture and people wanted to play there from all around the world.
The stories were so big and the artist’s crowds were much larger than the capacity of the venue, which is what was so exciting. We were breaking so many artists all across the board, in so many genres, and the crowd was only like 400 people, it was something really special. We did it every week, so whether it was MIA to Lady Gaga to Skrillex to LMFAO to Daft Punk, Kid Cudi, or Kanye West--everyone wanted to show up. So many artists came and wanted to get on stage and wanted to something different. These artists would absorb what was happening, take notes and then go back to the studio and make their hits, you could hear the gritty underground sound in the layers. This was pre-selfie days, pre social media aside from Myspace, to really find out about underground culture you had to really experience it and had to be there. It was pretty fun and a really special, interesting time. I think it’s very difficult to replicate that kind of scene and culture again with the way the world is now with Instagram, Twitter, etc.
On his latest album Kolony:
Kolony is a step away from the Neon Future direction. NF was two years in the making and Kolony happened pretty quickly. It all really started with Lil Uzi Vert. I was talking with Uzi Vert for a very long time and we finally found time to work together for a week. So he came to LA and we holed up in my studio to write a bunch of songs together and it caught a lot of attention. Sometimes people wanted to come in and hang out or join the sessions and soon enough I went to Atlanta and got in a session with Migos and Lil Yachty and teamed up with 2 Chainz and then with Gucci Mane and T-pain in Vegas. Things just start happening organically. The reason it's called Kolony is because every time I’m in a session with some of the artists on this album, it feels like a tribe or squad of people working together with different dynamics and the energy is way more lit --it’s a different process and I really liked it.
I produce hip hop style beats along with EDM production. I had a lot of different styles and I didn’t know where it was all going to fit, if it was going to be on different albums or if I was producing for each artist, or doing songs for myself. Then this idea to put out an EP just made sense. I grew into this album over the course of the year. The Kolony sound that I’m using is going to continue, I’m going to make more albums and music underneath Kolony.
On staying balanced, healthy & grounded with the nonstop lifestyle at breakneck speed:
I think that I’m still learning how to do that. My personality is to go full on and I’ve always been full speed since I was a kid. I always wanted to be in the front of the line. Of course you need to reset and I’ve been lucky because the only way to do that is if you almost drown, and you are like “okay, I can’t swim that far out.”
Like when I had to have my vocal chord surgery-- I used that time to reset and I had no choice but to be completely quiet, no talking for a month. I had to cancel some shows and sit back. If I have a week or two off, I’m not going to be sitting around watching TV, that’s not the type of person I am. What I ended up doing was meditation courses with a guru and I also did betterment training and more piano training. I trained up on everything I wanted to be better at. The most important thing you have to learn is you are never not a student, you can never not learn more. I used that down time to truly listen and learn and not talk. Being creative is about learning more and more, getting better at your craft. That was a really big deal for me, along with the mediation. I also make a big deal about working out on the road and making sure that is a priority. I look at my days like a pie chart based on how much time I have and what I’m doing, then I make sure to block out an hour for working out. So if I plan things out accordingly like that then I can maintain all the different things that are important to me.
On one of the biggest things that he learned about himself during that period:
You are always changing, so you have to evaluate what’s important, what’s present. The most important thing I learned was to be more present. If you dwell on the past and things you wished you did, especially when they are completely gone and there is nothing you can do about it, I think that leads to a hard time in understanding what your value is as a person. I learned to try not to base my value on the perception of who I am in the public. For example I don’t want to base my value of me as a human being on having a great show or great performance, great song, or great feedback. I’m learning not to value myself on those things or on the accolades. Those things aren’t important to me. I’m honored by that but I’m not going to put my self value in those things. You can drown yourself in the ego of these accomplishments, but at the end of the day, they’re great, but they’re not going to give you value as a human being.
On his latest clothing line with Dim Mak:
We’ve been doing the line for three seasons, and it’s been such a great experience to work with such an eloquent and experienced team of designers. It took me about a year and half to finally to start the ball rolling down the hill in producing an American fashion show and pop-up shop in LA, and then opening up the line to Ecommerce for Spring 2017. I’m really excited that the Fall/Winter 2017 collection will be available soon. We thought we would open it up to about 150 stores that are interested in carrying the line, but we opted to limit it to only ten shops and one bigger box outlet, Saks. We want to keep it intimate, we don’t want to put it all out there and over saturate it.
As far as the creative side of the line, I’m really involved. I got to collaborate on most of the graphics, at least for 2017, with David Choy. He’s my favorite artist and a good friend. We used a ton of his artwork and it's really cool too see his art all over the Dim Mak Fall/Winter campaign. I love working in all mediums whether it's music, fashion, or art and combining all of it is really the best.
On tempering his expectations:
It’s like my music, once I put it out there, as long as I love it and believe in it, it’s okay if it didn’t perform well as long as I executed my vision. What I care about is that I love it and at the end of the day, how it performs doesn’t really matter to me. That’s not what I care about at this point in time in my life. Whether it’s through fashion, a song or a collaboration, it’s had to live up to me first and the business of it is always second. Which isn’t always the best approach or the entrepreneurial way. My art and creative spirit in the project has to be my number one reason for doing it, and if it makes money, it’s a bonus. There always needs to be some form of elevation to whatever I’m doing and it’s got to have a purpose.
On how his clothing line stands apart:
I mean, what is art? It’s a feeling, an expression, so I don’t want my clothes to be a copy of anything, I want them to be an expression. Fashion is a constant reference of other things that are happening, but at the same time, I don’t want to be like Zara or H & M or other big box retailers--I’m not going to see a style or fashion trend and literally copy it and put it out in the marketplace and make a lot of money doing that, that’s not my interest. I think that the world just doesn’t need more things so I put that theory into practice with each piece or every time we make a new product, I want to make sure it lives by that rule and it's not a complete copy cat of something else that’s already out there. It always needs to have some elevated feeling to it.
On how he stays ahead of the curve and evolves:
By just being creative and constantly working on the craft. I think by practice you are going to find things that work, find things that don’t work, what feels good and doesn’t feel good. It’s like a balancing act of being in the studio and playing shows and seeing what works out there and being effective, because it’s something that’s already familiar, you want it to be something that’s thought provoking. I think it’s the practice itself and how you stay ahead of the curve and are always on your toes. Also the idea that I am never satisfied. I’m always going to have to practice to consistently fulfill myself and it’s a never-ending. You’ve got to put time into it.
On his philanthropic work and The Aoki Foundation:
In the beginning, I started realizing I have a platform that is reaching out to a lot of people so I wanted to use that to help. We started doing these bus tours where proceeds of the tickets go towards the different organizations we are helping out, like Deaf for Music [Linkin Park’s organization], they do an incredible job of getting the money and awareness out there, they're a great team. So I started doing that. I loved the 'party with a purpose' attitude. We are all raging, having a great time and partying, but you are also helping people who really need it. So that was the start of it and that I was excited to add to the live experience and the whole brand itself.
Then I started getting really into brain research and brain science, and future science concepts so I started looking into different organizations that were doing research on the brain and finding cures to degenerative brain illnesses. I started interviewing the scientists, visiting the clinics and research centers and shifted my focus on some of these amazing places and research facilities that need money, because they are focusing on an area that most people don’t really know about. The science community at large in that field is very small, so that conversation needed to take place on a bigger scale, not just in the medical journals only read by a small contingent of people to promote awareness of what developments are happening that field. I wanted to help the funding so these scientists can continue their research. So I started focusing on that and finding ways to make it more fun and donate money like my charity poker events. It’s fun and you are doing all this crazy shit and during the party you give some money and it all goes towards really advanced research organizations. We had a really successful Bowling for Brains event last year so we raised a lot of money for that so we will definitely do that again this year. Being able to help at all is one of the greatest aspects of being successful.
FOR STEVE AOKI'S FULL ARTICLE, CHECK OUT ROGUE'S ISSUE #6
Photography by Jiro Schneider
Interview by Heather Seidler
Intro written by Justin Sedgewick
Styling by Justin Lynn
Grooming by Sarah Tintari
Location: The Speek @ Line Hotel
Set Assistance by Corey Winston