In these digitally charged days of media consumption, Pop Culture omnivores follow the lead of two figures: the Taste Makers and the Aggregators. Not to be confused with rejected names of your next-door neighbor’s musically challenged garage band, the two factions work in tandem; creating an ever-evolving cycle that features in-depth exposés and previews on what is normally touted as “the next big thing”.
Compared to the humble beginnings of journalism, those with a craving to spread the latest morsel of news – no matter how inane and bland – have the power of the Internet community at their fingertips instead of having to be there first hand, as substantial metropolitan cultures serve as the primary hubs for these denizens of the digital entertainment world.
And amongst the ocean of Taste Makers and Aggregators, Steve Aoki effortlessly navigates both shores to deliver what people truly are attuned to years before they are even aware it actually exists.
“Music is all about connection, and there’s no real better way to connect with people than sharing the music they’re not familiar with, and that’s one thing that’s important to me in the music I listen to – a sense of raw energy that no one else is really picking up on,” Aoki states.
“I am the type of person who thrives on that type of energy, so when I recognize it in a band before anyone does, I want to make sure I share it with as many people as possible. I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember, and seeing them get as amped and excited about the same song is something that never gets old.”
With years of Aoki’s childhood and adolescent experiences fueled by his passion for music, Aoki utilized his knowledge about society and how it functions to his advantage, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and another in Women’s Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
But aside from studying the words of Max Weber, or the deluge of feminist essays detailing the outcry of the mistreated women of the nation, the budding electronic wunderkind was producing his own records and turned his campus apartment into a hit concert venue dubbed as The Pickle Patch.
“I’ve always felt extremely fortunate with the friendships I’ve made and the people I’ve met, and that comes from the earliest years when this whole thing music thing started. One of the primary reasons I was able to make my music available to a wider audience was due to the friendships I forged across the years. I couldn’t have done this without them, or the people who have always stood by me and supported my music.”
Yet his earliest performances did not involve a tantalizing arrangement of beats, bleeps and blips. Rather, his association as the vocalist with the hardcore punk band This Machine Kills – and later on as one half of Rifoki (the five-song punk song collaboration between The Bloody Beetroots’ Bob Rifo and Steve Aoki) – provided Aoki with exposure to various genres that would shape his trademark ability to dabble with unfamiliar styles.
But the key to Aoki’s appeal lies in his general musical authenticity and sincerity as an individual, as one of the general pitfalls of producing electronically charged tracks is losing a sense of connection amidst the turbulent sea of synthesized timbres and throbbing percussive rhythms.
It’s clear with current mainstream hits established by the familiar cast of pop and electronic producers that this evolving style of electronic music is the ideal sonic palette for this generation – a vast amalgamation of Pop Culture icons, rising indie stars and diverse electronic productions that have delivered EDM to the front of the music mainstream.
“One thing that’s benefitted me in making my music is the fact that I live in a place like Los Angeles,” Aoki explains.
“Everybody comes here and everybody loves it here. And if they don’t live here, they wish they did, because it’s the type of place that attracts all these producers, stars and so forth. It’s given me the chance to throw all these parties with these guys to get to know them a little better, and of course this place is my home. It has been that way since I was a kid, so obviously that aspect of myself interplays with the way I create and share my music.”
Where Aoki succeeds further is his ability to sense echoes of these alluring musical vibes in up-and-coming acts; acts that thrive on a musical honesty that is similar to his own in other areas outside of the electronic music realm, with some of his earliest bookings including bands such as “!!!”, At the Drive-In, Jimmy Eat World and The Rapture at his Pickle Patch abode, and somehow finding time to meet Rivers Cuomo at a secret show on campus in the process.
These days it is difficult to find something within the electronic music realm that Aoki has not influenced in some way, shape or form. His Dim Mak label (named after his childhood icon, Bruce Lee) has broke bands such as The Bloody Beetroots and Klaxons – just to name a few – but also turned the darker and edgier underpinnings of the electronic music realm as a marketable force to be reckoned with.
Current genre megastars such as Boys Noize, Justice, Ke$ha, Kid Cudi, Lady Gaga, Skrillex also found themselves graced with Aoki’s Midas Touch, as they had their debut US performances at Dim Mak studios – located deep within the heart of Hollywood.
Surprisingly enough, even after all of these years of running a multitude of artists through his own creative filters, or performing at massive festivals such as Ultra and IDentity, Aoki has never released a studio album comprised solely of his own material. But that has changed with his debut studio album outing, “Wonderland”, a whirlwind collection of Aoki’s diabolical electronic charm embedded within the diverse assortment of artists and styles that Aoki has embraced over his successful musical career.
“Every vocalist and producer on the album are all friends of mine, or people I’ve known for quite sometime,” Aoki reflects.
“This whole album is very personal to me, because it’s been entirely built on my relationships with them. Some of these people I wasn’t always good friends with, like Rivers Cuomo, but I knew them in some capacity and as we worked together we became better friends over time. And some of these tracks are out of the box for the vocalists, but because these were such personal relationships I was able to get them to do these things that were definitely out of their comfort zone.”
Shock and awe moments are delivered in spades, as Aoki features past classics such as “No Beef” and “Turbulence”. But it’s his collaboration with punk legends Die Kruezen and The Exploited in the track, “The Kids Have Their Say” that will definitely turn heads.
The song is an unexpected marriage of electronica, distorted guitar riffs and relentless punk vocals that bring vocal cord abuse into question. It is the ideal representation of Aoki’s rebellious musical spirit, as well as a keen reminder that Newport Beach native is only getting started with his stealth takeover over the electronic scene.
But that’s not all Aoki has in his arsenal, as recent stints within the rap world have provided him with infectious singles, such as his remix of Drake’s “Forever”, that turned the mainstream hip-hop world in his direction.
As such, “Wonderland” features a biblically proportioned collaboration with Kid Cudi and Travis Barker titled “Cudi the Kid”. It employs sparse, melodic soundscapes, fuzzy synth textures and Barker’s merciless drum fills guiding the song towards Dubstep-tinged phrases of wobble bass glory.
“Getting Travis Barker and Kid Cudi on one track, even though their both really good friends of mine, and having those two iconic personalities on one song is pretty epic to me. But everyone I worked with is amazing, cause you have people like will.iam, who is a pop genius, and then Rivers Cuomo, who was my fucking hero ever since I was a little kid. It makes this whole experience that much more enriching, because this album is ultimately a summary of who I am as a person and as a musician.”
Ideally, “Wonderland” is an autobiographical account of the scene that Aoki has helped construct over the past 20 years. Other collaborations with Rivers Cuomo harken back to his roots within the confines of UC Santa Barbara, serving as the aggregator of a scene that was playing to a particular audience.
But other musical unions with LMFAO & Nervo, as well Angger Dimas or will.I.am, insist that Aoki recognizes the wave of the Pop Culture future before it even comes to fruition, making him more than a Taste Maker, but a global auteur of all things worth listening to in the sprawling realms of dance, hip-hop, electronica, house, pop, punk and rap – with “Wonderland” serving as the road map towards a musical horizon that thrives upon unpredictable shifts in style and substance.
Thankfully, Aoki is more than happy to guide us along the way.