This month's cover of Athleisure Mag is entertainer, DJ, record producer, music executive and entrepreneur Steve Aoki. We've always been fans of the energy that he creates when he's at his shows, his music as well as his focus on putting good into the world with The AOKI FOUNDATION whose primary goal is supporting organizations in the brain science and research areas with a specific focus on regenerative medicine and brain preservation.
In addition to our virtual cover editorial shoot with Steve, we delved into his career, his label DIM MAK, his placement in the Smithsonian Museum, the importance of diversification while being true to the core of business, Neon Future series, Blue: The Color of Noise and his process in music and collaborative projects.
ATHLEISURE MAG: What was the moment when you realized that you wanted to be in the entertainment industry?
STEVE AOKI: Oh man entertainment is such a broad word and some of these answers are probably not going to be straightforward. I got into music when I was a teenager and then that became my whole life blood. Everything I did was involving music in every facet of life. It just became my lifestyle. From the friends I chose, to the food I ate – when I was growing up as a teenager – there was a very specific kind of music that I listened to and everyone was vegetarian. Pretty much everything down to the way that I dressed. It just became – it just became me so. So once I figured out what I wanted to devote my life to, that of course, changes over time. So from when I was a teenager, to college, to post-college, young adult – my music style changed and the way that I interpreted music and played music changed as well.
So, I was in bands in the beginning and then I became a DJ and then at that point, in the early 2000’s, I actually started seeing that what I was doing with music was actually making a profit. It was making money. Because up until then, I never looked at music as a profitable enterprise. I never thought about it that way because you give so much to something, if you really care about, it’s not like you care about getting something back. What you get back is the love that it gives you, the feelings that it gives you, the community that it brings to you. As I started DJing, I started realizing that at that point I was DJing small clubs and festivals. That’s really when that major moment came when I was like, “wow I’m on a big stage and I need to not just play records and music” – which some of them were my own and a lot at that time, were of the culture. It then became, how do I engage with these people and entertain these people?
So then that term, “entertainment” came into the fold much later in my career. I would say that it came into the fold when I played Coachella the second time in 2009, not even the first time. It was that moment when I had the budget and I could build out the stage design and I could think about ideas that could present to different parts of my show like stage diving. These stage dives aren’t like a moment where you are methodical, you feel the moment, everyone’s ready for it and you jump into the crowd. There are moments when you think, this is going to engage with people, this is going to be entertaining. I bring my raft out and I start floating on the people, they haven’t seen that yet – that’s entertaining. There’s all these little things that I did with the people like the cakes. It’s an entertaining part of a Steve Aoki show. People remember for the rest of their lives and they’ll say, “40 years ago I saw a Steve Aoki show, I don’t remember the songs but he did cake my friend in the face and it was the best day of her life! You know what I mean?
AM: Exactly yeah!
SA: I would say 2009 it all came together. Long answer for you!
AM: But that’s a great answer though. It’s all about a progression and just how things come together.
How would you define your musical style?
SA: My musical style is very fluid and of the moment and I like that. I like that like, it’s very much a gut and it’s based on feelings and it’s always going to change. It’s always going to change with my feelings and however way I feel about things or the moment on how I internalize that and not just consume, but how do I create that and how do I create from that?
I think that that’s something that I learned at a young age. When you are inspired or when you absorb something that makes you feel a certain way that it hasn’t made you feel before, like you know the best way for me to engage with that feeling is to create from it. It’s like anything, when you do it over and over again, you just get better at the process of doing it. You might not be great at it in terms of the output, but you get better at the process and that’s what’s more important than the output because the output is entirely subjective. Whether someone likes it or not is not what’s important. That’s another thing that I learned through this whole thing – whether people like my music or my output shouldn’t reflect why I did it and why I liked the process of it. I think about that question and it’s very complex. It’s not just I’m EDM or I’m this. Music is always going to change and it’s based on feelings. If you take down all the identities, all the titles and the genres – if there was no such thing as hip hop or rock or EDM and people were just like, “yo I just like the song.” When you hear a song for the first time and you’re listening to something that is totally different – you shouldn’t be limited to, “this is weird that I like it.” It shouldn’t make you feel weird. If it makes you feel really good, then that’s the whole point of it.
AM: Right and sometimes listening to the same artist and the same song at different points in your life, have a different connection and you can enjoy it. Our co-founder’s great uncle was tenor saxophonist, Joe Henderson and as a kid hearing him, she didn’t respect the fullness of his work.
AM: And then in college, there was a whole other world of understanding that gave those songs meaning.
SA: Right right!
AM: You are someone who has worked with so many artists across so many different genres as a DJ, musician, producer, music exec – what is that process like for you when you’re thinking of collaborating with somebody?
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