Steve on the cover of DIG Online Magazine!
“In search of Steve Aoki
By Dale Johnson
My alarm started blaring at me from my desk around 10:30 a.m.
It was rudely and prematurely waking me from my Sunday slumber, painfully reminding me of last night’s shenanigans. I rubbed my eyes excessively as if the rudimentary action would miraculously wake me up and at the same time alleviate my excruciating headache. I hit the snooze button a couple of times, and when I was finally ready to wake, I grabbed my phone and the alarm said only one word on it, “Aoki.”
Today, I’m trying to track down DJ Steve Aoki, one of the busiest and hardest working DJ/ record label owner/ clothing line designer/ producer/ and a whole bunch of other things out there. Aoki seems like he is everywhere at once, which he literally was on this day.
“Hello?” Aoki says with a confused voice, not recognizing my out of town area code.
I tell Aoki I’m from DIG Magazine, and I’m calling for his 11 o’clock interview.
“Yeah man, I’m about to board a plane,” he says with a reluctant sigh. “Is it cool if you call me back in like three hours?”
Yeah, sure it’s cool Steve.
Three hours go by, I call again. This time Aoki recognizes my number, so at least I am spared the awkward introduction.
“Hey buddy, I’m actually boarding another flight right now,” says Aoki with the standard airport terminal voice in the background. At least I knew he wasn’t lying. “I should be there in like two hours, but then my phone is going to die, so if you call me in like two and a half hours, I should be ready.”
I followed his instructions, and his phone certainly was dead. It went straight to voice mail. I didn’t know if I should leave a message, so I didn’t really notice that the record your message after the beep had beeped, so I sat there for 30 seconds before I started talking.
After waiting a few more anxious minutes, Aoki called me back. I thought about telling him that I was boarding a plane, but I didn’t know if we were at that stage yet.
“I just finished a little Canada run, and now I’m in Las Vegas,” says Aoki. “I’m playing here tonight and then tomorrow I’m in Orlando and then I come back for a studio session in LA to work on finishing my album. I have Lil Jon coming in on Tuesday to do his track and then Wednesday I fly out to Europe.”
Canada. Vegas. Orlando. Lil Jon. Europe. No big deal. It just seems to be one thing after another, after another, after another for the 32 year old Aoki, who grew up in Newport Beach, Calif. before heading to UCSB for college where he earned two bachelor degrees, and in his spare time founded his Dim Mak record label.
“I’ve been doing my label since 1996,” says Aoki. “I was putting on house shows throughout college and was in some bands, but at the end of the day what I really wanted to do was develop artists and see them grow in to fruition.”
To do that, Aoki relocated to LA and began throwing parties to get the Dim Mak name out there. Those parties needed a DJ, so Aoki reluctantly began taking on that role.
“I didn’t really care about DJing, it was more about the party,” says Aoki.
But Aoki kept DJing, and putting more time in to the craft. Though he says he “stumbled” in to the DJ scene, he was soon booking gigs outside of LA and teaming up with some of the biggest DJs.
“DJ AM was a really big influence as far as learning how to really DJ, he’s the best DJ I’ve ever met and he plays the most interesting stuff I have ever heard,” says Aoki of AM. “He is like the Bruce Lee of DJing, he’s got all the philosophy down, the art, the craftsmanship, the prestige. The whole thing.”
With his DJ career in full flight, his record label growing everyday, a top selling album released in 2008 and another one of the way, Aoki has become one of the most sought after DJs out there, a statement justified by the near 300 gigs he plays on average each year, sometimes with more than one show a day, like last year’s Benicassim festival in Spain. Aoki flew from Holland to Spain, where he promptly hit the stage before 40,000+ fans to DJ a sunrise set from 5:45 a.m. to 8 a.m., before he was at the airport once again, heading to another show.
“It’s not too hectic, it’s very planned out,” says Aoki of his grueling road schedule. “I’m on the road all the time and I have everything planned like months in advance so for the most part it’s pretty fluid. Maybe like two or three years ago it was hectic when I was like drunk on the plane from the last night, just like stumbling everywhere, hammered all the time.”
Aoki takes the earnings from his tours and pumps the money in to his other endeavors, his label and clothing line. The label is responsible for artists such as Bloc Party and the clothing line recently expanded from just t-shirts to now include denim, outwear, jackets and flannels. The ever expanding Aoki empire is continuing to grow.
“It takes a lot of time, energy and money,” says Aoki of his many responsibilities. “But it’s what I believe in. The money that I make, I just put right in to my projects. And at least I have something. If it all goes away and I lose it all, I would have still done the same thing. I really believe in these artists. I really believe in what we are doing.”
When Aoki isn’t on the road, he’s hard at work finishing his album, which he hopes to drops within the year. He also has another passion when he isn’t busy with one of his many responsibilities, poker.
“My one vice that I wished I never learned and is kind of stuck with me now is poker,” confesses Aoki. “I am always playing home games. Whenever I’m in a city I always find a home game. I just landed in Vegas, the first thing I want to do is head over to the Bellagio poker room.”
Being that Aoki was calling me from Las Vegas, I figured it was time to rap up my conversation with the ever on the move DJ. My guess he is probably cleaned up at the poker table, went and rocked his DJ set at the Bellagio, and then headed back to the table for an all nighter.
All in a day’s work for Steve Aoki.”