DJ gi­ant Steve Aoki sees spir­i­tual in dance mu­sic

The China Post - - ARTS - BY SHAUN TAN­DON

As thou­sands of young peo­ple swayed and sweat un­der the sun to his beats, Steve Aoki raised his arms in joy and, to show his love, cov­ered a lucky few with cakes he tossed from stage.

The elec­tro-house DJ has risen to be­come one of the top-gross­ing and most in-de­mand elec­tronic artists. But for all of his bois­ter­ous stage per­sona, Aoki sees a spir­i­tual di­men­sion to his mu­sic — and be­lieves he is stay­ing true to the spirit of the un­der­ground scene that made him.

Aoki’s new al­bum, “Neon Fu­ture II,” delves into science fic­tion with tracks such as “Light Years,” which fea­tures al­ter­na­tive rock main­stay Rivers Cuomo of Weezer.

The al­bum ends with a cameo from J. J. Abrams, di­rec­tor of the up­com­ing “Star Wars” se­quel, who warns over a hazy elec­tronic back­drop that “the neon fu­ture is en­tirely un­pre­dictable” but “be­fore you know it ... will be the past.”

“Neon Fu­ture II” has somber over­tones even on club- pack­ing num­bers such as “I Love It When You Cry” and “Darker Than Blood,” which Aoki wrote with hard rock­ers Linkin Park.

Aoki said he was inspired by a con­ver­sa­tion with Ray Kurzweil, the Google- af­fil­i­ated fu­tur­ist who stud­ies life ex­ten­sion.

While last year’s “Neon Fu­ture I” was a cel­e­bra­tion of the pos­si­bil­ity of eter­nal life, Aoki said his new al­bum looked more harshly at “the evo­lu­tion of where we’re go­ing with our tech­nol­ogy.”

“You can call it the spir­i­tu­al­ity of ‘ Neon Fu­ture.’ It might be darker, but it is also more sin­cere,” Aoki told AFP.

“If you lis­ten in its en­tirety, it’s raw, it’s more vis­ceral, it’s more unadul­ter­ated,” he said of the al­bum.

‘ Hard­est- work­ing DJ’

Aoki was one of the most well­re­ceived artists at last week­end’s Firefly Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in Delaware, one of a string of dates on a packed tour sched­ule.

The 37- year- old, known for his flow­ing black hair, could be thought to have in­her­ited some of his the­atri­cal flair from his fa­ther, Hiroyuki “Rocky” Aoki.

A wrestler from Ja­pan, Rocky Aoki amassed a for­tune af­ter mov­ing to New York and es­tab­lish­ing the Beni­hana restau­rants, where ta­ble- side tep­pa­nyaki chefs daz­zle pa­trons through ac­ro­bat­ics with knives.

Yet the fu­ture DJ mil­lion­aire had an es­tranged re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther, known for his tur­bu­lent love life and per­sonal thrift, and grew up in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Aoki said he was shaped by grow­ing up as a rare Asian Amer­i­can in the pre­dom­i­nantly white city of New­port Beach, south of Los An­ge­les in Or­ange County.

“It would be dif­fer­ent if I were just a white kid grow­ing up in a white mid­dle/ up­per- class neigh­bor­hood and grew up with no qualms about ev­ery­thing,” he said.

“I would prob­a­bly just have a nine- to- five job — and be happy, I’m sure — but this is where it’s led me,” he said.

He cred­its his fa­ther’s in­flu­ence and Ja­panese her­itage for one key trait: his work ethic.

“Ja­panese peo­ple are the hard­est work­ing peo­ple I’ve ever seen. They work to the bone,” Aoki said.

“I could prob­a­bly say that I’m one of the hard­est work­ing DJs in the busi­ness. I don’t nec­es­sar­ily know if that’s a good thing ei­ther, but I know that I am.”

Un­der­ground Spirit

Aoki had his start in the mu­sic busi­ness while a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Bar­bara, where he ma­jored in women’s stud­ies and so­ci­ol­ogy and threw con­certs in his room.

His entrepreneurship turned into Dim Mak Records — named af­ter the death strike in mar­tial arts — that be­came fa­mous for its Los An­ge­les par­ties, that at­tracted artists from Lady Gaga to Kanye West.

Orig­i­nally a punk rocker, Aoki said it took him up to four years of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion be­fore he felt com­fort­able putting out his own elec­tronic mu­sic in 2008.

Aoki said that Dim Mak has sur­vived nearly 20 years by stay­ing true to its un­der­ground spirit.

“We are now the punk of elec­tronic mu­sic,” he said.

Elec­tronic dance mu­sic, or EDM, has grown ex­po­nen­tially in re­cent years and be­come cen­tral to ma­jor fes­ti­vals.

Aoki gave credit in part to his early de­ci­sion — then highly con­tro­ver­sial — to let on- de­mand plat­forms stream Dim Mak mu­sic for free.

“It’s go­ing to be pi­rated any­way. Just make it eas­ier and get it into the cul­ture,” Aoki said.

While some artists fear EDM is be­com­ing too main­stream, Aoki has no com­plaints.

“We’ve been fight­ing to get this on the main stage,” he said. “I’m proud of that.”

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