We’ve experienced so many important moments in live entertainment over the years, and from time to time it’s fun to take a look back. With that in mind, we’re digging through our archives and rerunning our favorite chats with artists we love. Here’s a 2008 interview with EDM DJ and mastermind Steve Aoki.
Los Angeles-based Steve Aoki was a hugely promising artist with boundless energy and ambition when we talked with him seven years ago. Since then he’s more than delivered on that promise. He snagged a Grammy nomination for his 2012 debut full-length Wonderland, he blazed his way up the dance charts in 2013 thanks to his collaboration with Linkin Park on the track “A Light That Never Comes”, and he’s continued to influence a generation by breaking new artists like Klaxons and MSTRKRFT with his record label Dim Mak.
We talked with Aoki just before the release of his first album of remixes Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles. Read on for Aoki’s thoughts on the album, performing live, and the state of DJing in 2008. If you’re curious about what Aoki is up to now check out his current tour for a first-hand look.
Ticketmaster: Talk a bit about the history of Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles. Is this project something you’ve had in the works for a while now?
Steve Aoki: The actual project took the greater part of last year to put together. It just takes a while to figure out all the licensing and get all these different great singers and rappers on the record as well. That was a whole other process. It was about connecting all of this great music that is happening now, all into one album. The really cool part of this whole project, on the retail side, is we’re really getting some traction with the larger retailers—Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy. They’re actually picking up the record. We’re shipping out about 30,000 records for this one. It’s great. Today, retailers are not picking up CDs as much, and mom-and-pop stores were my bread and butter for the last ten years running my own label, Dim Mak. If you live in a small city, the only way you can buy an actual physical CD, besides online, is at a Wal-Mart or a Best Buy. So I’m happy it will be available for kids, since that may be the only option they’ll have.
Ticketmaster: I’m sure you’ll be reaching an entirely new audience as well.
Steve Aoki: Yeah, and on that level too, this album is two parts. One, it’s an introduction to what electro is, defining what electro is to a lot of these kids who found out about it from groups like Justice or MSTRKRFT. The groups that are the image of what electro is. And that’s why I picked more popular tracks for the album. Some of these are a lot older, like the Erol Alkan/ Franz Ferdinand track. It’s almost two or three years old. It’s such a classic track. Or Green Velvet—it’s also a classic track. And the second part is for all the kids that already know what electro is and already have most of these songs. Because if you already know electro, you already would have all of these songs. So I have all the different vocalists and rappers lay their sound over these tracks. A fusion of both worlds is pretty current. It’s a very 2008 thing—the fusion of hip-hop and electro.
Ticketmaster: Who were the guest vocalists and rappers you brought in?
Steve Aoki: It was a bunch of different artists, from Steve Bays [Hot Hot Heat] and Todd Fink from the Faint to Spank Rock, Kid Sister and Uffie out in France. Half the time they were either in their own studios and the other half they were in L.A. in our studio where we were working. I was in the studio for at least four months of the summer. We were tracking, mixing, laying down vocals, or getting the acapellas and putting it together in the studio. So when Uffie came into L.A., we laid down her vocals in the studio, and it was actually her first time being in a studio’s vocal booth. All the times she’s recorded before, for her singles, it’s always been in her and [DJ] Feadz’ living room, so it was a pretty cool experience for her. It was a really long experience putting this thing together. It took a long time. But I think that it all panned out in the end. It sounds great.
Ticketmaster: You have a number of live shows lined up. Do you plan to play lots of material from the album?
Steve Aoki: I’m thinking about that as I’m going, because I haven’t had much time to get back in the studio and rework these songs. What I would like to do is play a lot of these tracks with the acapellas. And I’d like to do it live, so it’s less like a DJ set and more a showcase of the album. I am doing this Best Buy tour, and I’m thinking about doing it in that setting, because it’s not really a party setting in the least. [laughs] As far as my club touring, I play my songs in between my sets. I just played in Toronto. I was supposed to play with Uffie but she got sick, so I ended playing with MSTRKRFT. We played some of the songs in that set, with the guys. We kind of went one for one. So it all kind of changes for each city.
Ticketmaster: Do any other guest vocalists or artists have definite plans to join you on the road?
Steve Aoki: Yeah. I think we’re going to do the record release party in L.A., and A-Trak is going to fly out and play with me. DJ AM is going to play. Kid Sister is flying out to do it…Then we’re doing the record release party that same week in New York. It’s a Dim Mak/Fool’s Gold show. Me and A-Trak are playing. It’s a Chromeo after party as well, so they’re going to DJ. I think we’re going to have guest vocalists there. And Har Mar Superstar is going to perform in the L.A. one. And Mickey Avalon might do San Francisco. So whenever people are free. We did one earlier, because we were supposed to drop this album a couple months ago. So I did a pre-record release party last year in December with Todd of the Faint. We both flew out to Chicago and he sang over his part on the Goose track.
Ticketmaster: How are things going with your record label, Dim Mak? Are there any recent or upcoming releases you’re excited about?
Steve Aoki: Well, we just did a joint venture with Downtown Records. We’re going to do a big press release on that later this month. We have some bigger releases and bigger artists planned for 2008. I can’t confirm it yet, because we haven’t signed them yet. I’m trying to think of anything that is coming out… Shitdisco—their album will be the first release. We’ll actually drop that in March. And Boys Noize is doing a remix album this year, which is a great album. He’s one my favorite producers in general, and he’s just great at remixing songs. We have some other ones. I really wish I could tell you about this other artist that we’re almost done signing. Really exciting for us.
Ticketmaster: Sounds like a lot is happening. I wanted to get your take on the current state of DJing. Do you think it’s an exciting time? Are you seeing a lot of innovation out there?
Steve Aoki: Yeah. I think right now we are in an exciting time. I feel like Justice has broken through, and electronic music in general is making it different. It’s a completely different culture now. The culture of kids following this sound is different from the culture of kids that followed Sasha and John Digweed, Paul Oakenfold, and that world. To me, when I see these shows, shows by people like Justice, and I see the mania that happens, it’s not like they’re detached from the actual DJ. It’s different. It’s more like when I first went to punk rock shows. I couldn’t believe there were kids stage diving and jumping on top of each other. You find that kind of energy—it’s very genuine and raw and real—in this sound. It’s refreshing. When I started seeing that, that’s when I had the idea that ok, maybe I should do a mix album. I’ve been approached to do a mix album, a proper mix album, for a while, but I never really had any interest until recently. Until I saw a culture develop. It’s been going on for a while, but now there are so many new kids out. They get younger and younger. And that’s great and exciting. You see that more at festivals, because, for the most part, the clubs I end up playing are 21 and over. It feels like underage kids are sneaking in, which I’m hoping for. [laughs]
Ticketmaster: What’s the best live show you’ve seen recently—whether from a DJ or a band?
Steve Aoki: Daft Punk last year. It never stops. They didn’t give you time to breathe. It was just constant…They were just on and in the red the entire time. They’re maximizing their time and the visuals were insane. What they did, which is great, is put their songs together in a way that uses the best parts. And the visuals were just so stunning. It was like you were in the Matrix or something. They just go right to your brainwaves and mess with your brainwaves. They know when you’re peaking and they know how to make you feel like that, so they start pushing that lever. It was just automatic, natural. Totally insane. I’ve never danced so hard.
Ticketmaster: Yeah, I’ve heard such great things about their shows. I’m sorry I missed them.
Steve Aoki: They’re the best live performers I’ve ever seen in my life.
Ticketmaster: Do you have a favorite venue where you like to perform? I know you’ve been at CineSpace in Hollywood for a while.
Steve Aoki: Yeah, CineSpace has been the longest-standing indie party in L.A. I don’t know anything that has been around that long or has that kind of following. We’ve been doing that party for over four years. It’s a great space, a small space. I think it only fits 500 people, but I think it’s perfect. We’ve had all kinds of bands perform. Bands from Dim Mak—Bloc Party, The Rakes, Mystery Jets, Whitey—to hip-hop groups like 2 Live Crew and even bigger groups, like last year Spoon played. They wanted to play at our club. Hot Hot Heat played at our club, pushing their new album. We’ve had a bunch of groups and rappers. The Sunday party I’ve been doing for the last year, and it’s been really exciting. It’s called Banana Split. It’s something me and DJ AM thought of doing. It’s strictly a DJ event, and it’s free. We give free beer on the dance floor. We’ve had great DJs play. So those are the two parties that I’m weekly involved in. And as far as different places I’ve played, I’d say Manila has been a great city. It was one of my most memorable shows. I did two shows there last year. Singapore was by far the most receptive and the biggest audience I’ve ever had. It was about 15,000 people on a beach, which was amazing. It was more of a mainstream/house DJ festival. Armin van Buuren was headlining. I love Tokyo. I love DJing in Tokyo. It’s such a great city. The reception to new music is just unheard of. They’re very knowledgeable of new music in Tokyo. Australia was just insane. Sydney was great. And in America, L.A. has always been great. I love LA. It’s my favorite city in the world. And Canada, I love Canada. Just this month I’ve been in Montreal, Toronto, and now, Nova Scotia. I’m in Canada at least three times a month. I just love coming up here. Everyone here has been so good. Really receptive, great parties.
This interview was pulled from the Ticketmaster Archives and it was originally conducted in 2008.