Decoding an artist as eccentric and accomplished as Aoki isn’t easy but we sure as hell tried.
During his debut tour of India last October, American DJ-producer Steve Aoki played to full houses in Delhi and Mumbai, practically leaving behind nothing but the dust of pure, unadulterated destruction (of the good kind of course). We caught up with him for a brief tete-a-tete. Between talks about the ever-changing landscape of EDM, his production style and freedom of expression the artiste – who founded record label Dim Mark – began to unravel. Snippets from our conversation ensue.
Your solo album, Wonderland, released earlier this year and you’ve collaborated with a number of artistes on this album. What was that experience like?
‘Wonderland’ took around two and half to three years to finish. I decided to make this as an entirely feature-based album, keeping key on the vocals of the musicians and working with diverse songwriters. So it really extended by production calibre. We’ve got Kid Cudi to Travis Barker and Wynter Gordon to LMFAO.
Some of your tracks, such as ‘The Kids Will Have Their Say’ are topical, even subversive. Is that a deliberate attempt to break away from the upbeat image of electro-house as a genre?
Not really. I am not trying to break away from anything. It’s really a place that is part of my range. It’s about empowerment, and voicing your opinions and not being afraid of being censored. The key is that the kids are being united by their freedom of expression. ‘The Kids Will Have Their Say’ is a good example of the music I grew up listening to.
Who were your musical influences while growing up and have they become a part of your music?
‘The Kids Will Have Their Say’ is a good example of the music I grew up listening to. Born Against, Korn, Tragedy were a few of my favourite bands.. Today a lot of bands from the Indie world that are represented by Dim Mak records are all inspiring to me.
What projects are you working on currently?
Right now, I am working on collaborations, one with United Party, which will be coming out soon. A lot of singles and remixes will be coming out too. New projects and albums production will only start in January.
You started with Women’s Studies in college and ended up becoming a DJ, how did that play out?
In college I was very politically active. I was influenced by feminist theory. My favourite teachers were in the women’s study department. So I took up the subject as a major, besides studying sociology too. I was also very politically active with my music. So as a singer in the band, I used all the education and learning in my songwriting.
In the years that you have been in the business, how has the DJing scene changed, in terms of the emergence of various sub-genres within EDM?
The industry and music scene changes and evolves. But I feel now, we are changing faster. But I also see a musical harmony going on. It has become one big EDM world – where dubstep artists, electro artists and even trance artists working together in a lot more harmony. A lot of new genres are coming up. The concept of genres is going through a revolution, with new artistes coming up with their own genre. It’s getting bigger and vast. At the same time they are all linked in a harmonious way.
Your style of production varies from song to song, but seems to follow a ‘less is more’ philosophy. Vocals, in particular, are often much ‘rawer’ than most electronic music producers like to leave them. Would you agree?
I work with a lot of different kind of people. Like Rivers Cuomo, who has raw, more edgy vocals. My vocals, too, are definitely raw and noisy.Will.I.Am has a very pop kind of style. Kid Cudi is my favorite vocalist – I love working with him.
Pollstar says you’re the top-grossing dance artist in North America in 2012 so far. How competitive is the EDM scene in America now?
The competitive environment is not so apparent. There is just room for everyone. Everyone can get jobs with their different styles. Your music is going to be the big trip to all your fans. It’s different from hip-hop or rock bands. Electronic music just grew in camaraderie in a very modern way. I think friendship more than kinship is how we look at competition.