DJ Steve Aoki knows what he wants. “Before I even get in the studio, before I even start [a new] song, the whole concept is I want to drive people’s emotions so high they crack their own ceiling and they explode,” Aoki said in a recent phone interview. “If I can get myself to want to bang my head through the ceiling and then scream at the top of my lungs, I’ve successfully created a song I wanted to create. It’s as simple as that. If I can do that to myself, I think other people might feel the same way.”
Judging from his success, Aoki’s strategy seems to be working just fine. Six years ago, Aoki had yet to do a remix, produce an artist, or perform a DJ set. Today, he is one of the most sought-after producers/remixers in electronic music, and his DJ sets in dance clubs are among the most in-demand — not to mention wildest — spectacles of their type.
Aoki feels the unhinged nature of his live performances — and the quality of his music itself — has played a key role in his rapid rise to the upper tier of DJs/producers/electronic-dance music artists.
Aoki’s performances are far different from the typical electro/dance show, where the DJ simply grooves along to the tracks he plays. He is a whirlwind on stage, pogo-ing to his songs, sometimes leaping from the stage to crowd surf. Aoki said his over-the-top doings are a direct result of his earliest concert experiences.
“I bring in what I know, what I grew up with, which is being at hardcore shows,” he said. “When you go to a hardcore show, it’s status quo to see at least 50 stage dives. It’s like everyone and their mom is crowd surfing.
“It was … not just about stage diving, but about participating and interacting with the band.”
Despite starting out on-stage in bands, Aoki’s original idea was to work behind the scenes in music — a plan that came to fruition while he was in college at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He began booking house concerts there and founded his record label, Dim Mak, at age 19.
And just as he had been preparing to enroll for post-graduate studies, he heard a demo from the band the Kills. Feeling the band could be the next big thing, he put aside academia and took the full leap into the record business.
“I’ve always been more of a record exec, before anything else,” Aoki said.
Before long, Aoki had relocated to Los Angeles, where, ironically enough, his work heading Dim Mak opened the door for his transition into being a DJ, producer and now songwriter and artist in his own right. And he drew attention to his label with parties that featured hot bands — Bloc Party, the Killers — as the DJ.
He also started Dim Mak nights at Cinespace, where emerging acts would perform live — often making their American debut at such shows. Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, the Kaiser Chiefs, No Age and Skrillex all performed, and the Dim Mak became known as a barometer of hot new musical talent.
And, in the process, Aoki became a hot artist himself. Today Aoki is stepping into a new frontier: songwriter and solo artist. He released Wonderland, his first solo album of original material, in early 2012. Wonderland shows new sides to Aoki’s talents. In addition to writing the songs, instead of simply producing or remixing the tracks, he also wanted to take his music in new directions that reflected his wide musical tastes.
It’s something that’s apparent in the vocalists performing on Wonderland: Weezer singer Rivers Cuomo, Lil Jon and Chiddy Bang, Kid Cudi, Blaqstarr.
Aoki said his move into songwriting has been brewing for some time.
“Some of these are just like I’ve been so excited to unleash and let out because I’ve been like cooping them up and getting restless. … It’s been a daunting task for me.
“It’s been the longest project I’ve worked on, but now I feel fulfilled.”
Steve Aoki with Datsik, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, DJ Beauflexx • Mon, March 12, at 7 pm • Knitting Factory • $26.50 • All-ages • ticketfly.com • 244-3279