Steve Aoki Interview
Steve Aoki Interview with Dont Party
A while back Dont Party was lucky enough to talk to Steve Aoki, a few dropped calls and some bad reception later, we got to the end of what was an extremely insightful chat with the man behind Dim Mak Records [Click for Dim Mak Site], who founded and released artists from Bloc Party, The Kills, Klaxons, MSTRKRFT, The Bloody Beetroots, Mystery Jets, The Rakes, The Gossip, Envy, who is also the same man behind the production moniker Weird Science that has remixed Peaches, Snoop Dogg & Bloc Party. Under his own name, Aoki has remixed The Killers, Robin Thicke, Lenny Kravitz, Duran Duran and Timbaland, Chester French, S.P.A., All American Rejects, Chris Cornell & more. In the past he has collaborated w/artists from Boys Noize, The Faint, D.i.M., The Bloody Beetroots and Junkie Xl.
Often referred to as a serial entrepreneur because he’s involved in numerous ventures, Aoki has developed lines for KR3W Apparel, Supra Footwear, headphones for WESC, and in ‘09 sunglasses with KSUBI, headwear with NEFF, bags with Burton, & a brand new men’s/women’s range with his sister Devon. He even has a stake in a Korean BBQ restaurant.
It will be around 75% original material as in tracks I produce; either remixes or tracks from my album or collaborations I’ve worked on with other producers. The other tracks will be artists on the label [Dim Mak] like the Bloody Beetroots or any other artists coming out on the label. So at the end of the day it’s going to be a sort of Dim Mak experience!
Your sets are said to have a strong performance aspect to them. How do you blend performance together with a DJ set?
I do have a couple of vocal tracks where I’m singing, that’s maybe why you heard about my performances, because I do some live vocals. I recently started a new band called Rifoki with Bob Rifo from the Bloody Beetroots and I do perform that song. Its not a dance track, it’s more a punk song. So it could throw a curveball into the whole bored dance vibe.
Speaking of Rifoki we recently interviewed Bob Rifo of the Bloody Beetroots [click] and we spoke about the new band. Rifoki has a really new sound from the two tracks we’ve heard: Sperm Donor and Zombie Attack. What made you decide to venture back into punk rock, and how does it tie into your previous projects?
It’s a really natural progression for both Bob and I since our backgrounds really were in live music. It feels really good to be singing again in a band even though we’re not touring and stuff. It’s a completely new type of scene to when I was in the Machine Kills when we would be touring and playing these really like fucking mad house shows and basement shows, and fucking like really grimy punk spots, and now I’m able to perform this underground punk sound to people who might not even listen to punk at all, and probably don’t.
“Playing these really like fucking mad house shows and basement shows”
You’ve performed along side some major artists all over the world, what stands out for you as a defining moment in your career?
I’d say one of the defining moments was definitely Coachella 2007. It was one of the first festivals I played, and to me Coachella is one of the most important festivals in the world.I think it was like a really big point for me as a DJ playing that and moving on, moving forward.
You know there are certain tours that sparked up a huge interest in different territories, like my first tour in Asia, or when I started my residency in Ibiza in 2007 that felt like it was a really important moment for me, cos it kind of set things up for me.
In 2008 when I ended up doing the essential mix for Pete Tongs show on Radio 1 that was all setup because I played a really solid residency in Ibiza for 2007. I don’t know different territories have different shows that make it important for me to keep coming back.
Australia as well, its probably one of my favorite territories to go to. I’d say the Summerdayze, Future Music tour I did in 2009 was an epic tour for me, playing the festivals in front of all those people. I’m gonna be going back there in June.
You seem to really active and involved in a lot of different ventures such as owning a record label (Dim Mak) which later spread out into a fashion label run by you and your sister Devon, you’re bringing out a sunglasses range with Ksubi, bringing out Aoki headphones with WESC and you even co-own a Korean BBQ restaurant Shin, never mind the music production, world tours etc… How do you find time to keep all these projects priorities in your life?
With every big project there’s a whole team based on the project, without those people working those different things it wouldn’t be possible. The fashion label has its own team and we just partnered with a big line/company that handles all the factoring, sampling and manufacturing.
Then on the label side I’ve been doing Dim Mak for almost 13 years so I’ve slowly built up a team that handles all the production, marketing and distribution of the records, so yeah we have a pretty solid team on both those fronts.
As far as the restaurant goes that was something a few of my friends and I got together and we basically backed this guy who has this really amazing menu of Korean BBQ so he runs the restaurant on his own and we sort of just support him.
“With two of the first signings – MSTRKRFT and the Bloody Beetroots – which kind of helped forge the sound of dance music”
Dim Mak has been signing a lot of new artists to the label, we actually recently threw an event with Gtronic a new signing. What do you look for in new artists and what can we look forward to in 2010?
Tons of records! We have an EP with Gtronic coming out, Felix Cartel’s album, Scanners, Armand Van Helden’s next album, Herve’s greatest hits album.
A bunch of new tracks from The Bloody Beetroots, new MSTRKRFT tracks, more tracks from myself, as well as collaborations I’ve done with Armand Van Helden, Afro Jack and Laidback Luke – those will all be coming out this year. Also Sounds of Stereo, Malante, there’s a new band from San Diego which is sort of like Punk and dance music combined. There also new albums coming out, like the Rifoki album.
You can check out the Dim Mak site for more releases, oh and Sonic C and Autoerotique, I think that’s about it.
The tracks that I hear come out of Dim Mak are pushed to the limit, they are always loud and pounding, it’s almost hard to fit tracks into sets because they are so hard. But despite this each instrument and sound occupies its own space on the records. Was this a conscious choice to kind of say “screw it, let’s just push our tracks up, make them loud as fuck, drown out the competition”, or was it a natural development and just the best fit due to the type of sound typical Dim Mak artists seem to have?
We definitely have a diverse base, I mean as I said earlier we started the label about a decade ago releasing rock music and then we went into dance music with two of the first signings – MSTRKRFT and the Bloody Beetroots – which kind of helped forge the sound of dance music. That’s the kind of music I play as a DJ, and it’s in the same realm of music that Dim Mak is kind of part of.
I guess its a natural approach to releasing records since we do release records of that aggressive state, we get in a lot of music similar to that by other artists, or they will send us music they think we’d like. Half the time it’s not really what we want to put out, but then you know we release the records we feel are a fit with what we’re doing.
We try to rebrand ourselves outside of that sound as well, we’re putting out, say take, Scanners for example, is a rock band with girl singers, its like a dark melodious rock record, even the Afro Jack record is very different to say The Bloody Beetroots, its also in a complete different category of music in the dance world.
Is there a set direction you wish to take Dim Mak or do you sort of take things as they come?
Yeah it’s tough to have like a long term plan with music in general cos music changes and evolves faster than any other art form I’ve ever really been a part of. Fashion’s the same way, fashion changes really quickly, but I feel that music changes even faster. It just funny you look back one or two years ago and look at the state and what was popular and you look at it now and it’s a completely different programming of music, you know what was really popular in the clubs now will change in six months, and even the sound, the actual genres, the switching of genres changes.
I feel like even with producers, once they feel they’ve maximized their sound and they’ve gotten to a really good place for their sound, a lot of times you hear them changing their sound for they’re next record, you know to try and do something different because everyone else is stealing their sound
Its like with Dim Mak I just want to pump out records that move me, it doesn’t have to be the most aggressive sounding record you know, and I’ve heard tons of aggressive records that were just too much for me. There are some records that are just too much, and there are some records that are just so aggressive and so powerful that it makes sense for us to release. So it’s not like we’re releasing everything that’s like fucking loud and abrasive that’s not the only thing we’re putting out, we’re not like Relapse Records where we put out fucking the heaviest metal records as a dance label, you know we’re definitely trying to be diverse in the sense that there’s good music regardless of the sound
“We’re definitely trying to be diverse in the sense that there’s good music regardless of the sound”
You clearly have a strong link with photography, being photographed around the globe and indeed in South Africa by the Cobra Snake, we’re just curious as to how that relationship formed and developed?
Mark [ Cobrasnake ] is my best friend. We’ve been working together for like ten years now. You know he’s just one of those guys. I remember I took him for his first trip to Japan maybe like five years ago and you know that was one of our first international trips together. We got along so well outside of just seeing each other and doing fun things around LA. So after that, every time I could go on an international trip/tour or whatever, I’d always do my best to see if I could bring him along, since then we’ve grown a strong bond just as friends in LA, but also as traveling friends.
Cool, well we’re all really looking forward to seeing some South African photos on the Cobra Snake
We’re both excited, I’m just so happy he’s coming. We’re doing these two dates with you guys and then we’re going on a Safari, and doing the Safari thing, which is great. Its so out of reach, South Africa for us you know? I mean it’s like a going to the edge of the world kind of thing; it’s like totally different.
We heard Die Antwoord played at a Dim Mak event at Cinespace in Hollywood. What do you think of them?
Yeah well they’re my favorite thing happening right now at the moment. I’ve been ‘big upping’ them to really a lot of people, even for like the last like six months I’ve been really backing them up. I’m a major, major supporter of them. When they came to Cinespace to do the Dim Mak party I was on vacation so I missed their show and it really, really upset me that I wasn’t there, but I’m just such a fan and the fact that they played at a Dim Mak party was really an honour.
On a personal note, what kind of gear do you use to make your music, what kind of audio editing software do you use and do you have a preferred VST (virtual studio) synthesizer that you know backwards?
I’m almost 90% in the box I produce everything through Logic in my studio in my house. I have some synths that I use like I have a Tritan, I have Nord V that I rarely touch and a Juno that I work with on a few tracks for the most part I work in the box or if anything I’ll even sample the synths that I would normally use and just put it all on my computer so then I don’t really have to mess around with the keyboard and stuff at all.
I stick with a few sounds, I don’t know if I really want to give them away (laughs) I started out with Ableton and now I’m on Logik. I’m pretty standard with it, you know I do most of the writing for the tracks that I make just on the spot. There are different processes that I use when I make remixes to when I make originals.
You seem to enjoy making remixes, do you find it hard to create your own sound when working with someone else’s work, what drives you to keep pumping out remixes like you do?
Remixes are definitely easier to work with than doing originals I’ll tell you, just because you have something to work off, and you have like a template, you definitely have a structure that you can use. For some remixes I just cant use the actual track so I just use the acapella. Which is also fun, to just have an acapella to fuck around with. Like for example with the Kid Cudi track it was great to be able to work on that track because the chorus is such an epic chorus, so finding that sound that comes into the real chunky part of the track that was great. So I felt like I honed it down and I worked it right adding just the right elements, you know you don’t want to add too much to anything you want to stay at the bare minimum if you keep adding to much it takes away from the main point of the track.
Although with the Tiga remix, I did use a lot of the original elements from his track. I didn’t really use much of his vocals, as much as I did use a lot of the different precussive sounds, and different sounds that were in the track, mainly because, for example, the Proxy remix of “What you need” [Listen], he killed it on that remix but he used the main vocal line he pushed the vocals up in a pattern that I would have used in a second, but I couldn’t do that, so I couldn’t even use the vocals that I wanted to use.
I don’t know, each remix is different, and they’re all interesting. Sometimes it takes me three weeks, sometimes one day. Sometimes I make four or five versions and I cant hit it on the head cos I’m not happy with the outcome. For now I’m really just trying to focus on finishing some of the singles I’m working on. I have the “I’m in the House” single that just came out, and I just finished studio time with Lil Jon yesterday. I got studio time today with two female vocalists, and I just did a track with Romanthony and Weezer, and I’m almost done with the track with Kid Cudi.
And Lastly when can we expect to see your new album on Shelves?
The Album is scheduled for release in the last half of 2010
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