Fifteen years ago Steve Aoki was a student at UC Santa Barbara, singing in a punk band and throwing hardcore concerts in Isla Vista, California. Today, he’s a DJ virtuoso, record label owner and Billboard Award-winning producer, but there’s still some punk to his long-haired persona.
It’s Monday night on the Strip as Aoki descends from the XS stage and leaps fully clothed into a pool full of half-naked fans, crashing a party raft and inciting splashing squeals of drunken delight.
“When I play my music today it brings out the punk spirit. The antics come out as natural manifestations of the music,” he says. In other words, the boy can’t help it.
- Aoki's House
- With Steve Aoki
- December 2, 10 p.m., $30 men, $20 women
- Surrender, 770-7300
Born into the Benihana family (his father, Rocky Aoki, founded the franchise), Aoki was raised as a SoCal socialite. But you don’t eat teppanyaki with a silver spoon—and Aoki wouldn’t be a global phenomenon without a blue-collar work ethic and a keen entrepreneurial sense.
He founded Dim Mak Records in 1996, a year after graduating from high school, and in the 15 years since, the label has evolved from punk, rock and hip-hop to mostly electronic dance music.
“I’m an amalgamation of all these genres,” Aoki says. “[The Dim Mak lineup] is eclectic and diverse … iconic artists with cult followings like DJ Shadow, Classixx, Nero, Crystal Method, Le Castle Vania.”
This past summer Aoki and Dim Mak toured the U.S. with IDentity Festival alongside EDM stars like Kaskade, Afrojax and Skrillex. Aoki got involved early and developed a Dim Mak Stage, promoting his brand and his roster.
The upward trend in festivals reveals the shrinking juxtaposition between EDM and its commercial half-sister, popular dance music. “You can’t deny the growing fervor ... Lady Gaga, Britney, Katy Perry, Will.i.am—once they touch it, it’s no longer dance; it’s straight pop,” Aoki says.
And the DJ/producer has mastered the art of popular-indie-dance. His 2010 single “I’m in the House” featured Will.i.am’s alter ego, Dim Mak artist Zuper Blahq, and the club banger reached No. 1 on the U.K. Indie Chart. The first two singles from his recent Wonderland album feature Weezer vocalist Rivers Cuomo (on “Earthquakey People”) and Tiësto (on “Tornado”).
As his music gains exposure, Aoki maintains a rigorous performance schedule, comparing DJing to surfing. “When I’m playing my sets, it’s about finding a swell and riding it the right way. It has to translate and connect so people can keep riding with you.”