“I wanted to be jumping on a stage when I was jumping in the crowd.” – Steve Aoki
If legends live forever, then Steve Aoki‘s pursuit of happiness is achieved. And as this conundrum of a year is winding toward its 10-second countdown, Aoki is combing through his catalog before the “Bud Light Seltzer Sessions Presents New Year’s Eve 2021” livestream. Among the artist cuts he may give thought to are BTS, Kid Cudi, Maluma, Backstreet Boys, and Michael Jackson reimagined.
“New Year’s Eve, we are going to have an insane party. I want to make fans feel like, Yo! We’re still in this together,” the hit producer and DJ explained. Joining forces with Jack Harlow, Post Malone, and the 21+ interactive event’s host, Lilly Singh, Aoki will be opening the Park MGM in Las Vegas’ stage. Straddling coast at 10:30 PM EST tomorrow, the celebratory livestream calls fans to alternate performances, win prizes, enter virtual meet and greets with special guests like Saweetie, Sebastian Yatra, and more.
“We live in a social world. We are communicative, inquisitive, and curious beings. That is how we advance. Hopefully, that is why people can save the planet, ourselves, and have fun in the future,” Aoki explains of the digital adaptations.
The Knockturnal sat down with Steve Aoki ahead of his New Year’s Eve performance to talk about working with people “who get who you are,” his new LP, Neon Future IV, and the legacy that took a lifetime. He invites the interactive event’s uninitiated to become acquainted now.
The Knockturnal: Your musical contributions date back to the ’90s with the foundation of your label, Dim Mak Records. What was the first breakthrough that affirmed music was what you were meant to do?
Steve Aoki: I think the first breakthrough for me — if we are really getting back to the roots, is a mixtape. Yes, someone made a mixtape of these bands. It was stuff I never heard. I did not know music could sound like that. I was fifteen. Since then, music became my entire life.
Literally! I learned how to play all the instruments. I started recording music. I began to play in bands by the time I turned 16. I gave my entire life to the religion of music. It changed my ways. I cut my hair and dressed a certain way. I began to hang with these kids that listened to the same kind of music. I went to all the shows.
The Knockturnal: You were invested.
Steve Aoki: Then I went off to college. That is when things got a bit more sophisticated. I became more intelligent behind the business side of things. I started a label. I began to write for magazines. I was a journalist, like yourself, Bianca. I interviewed bands. Well, I wanted to do everything in music to spread the gospel of music! [Laughs]
I was a proud soldier of music — planting flags wherever I went on tour. Again, I said, “I want to start a label.” I was a broke college student. So, we put out records whenever we could. Then [my label] signed a band called Bloc Party. In 2003, I got their first demo. Eight years later became my first breakthrough as a record label owner. That was big for us. I got to hire some employees. We were making some money.
The Knockturnal: In what ways did being paid for your talent assist you?
Steve Aoki: In 2008, I signed my first electronic act, MSTRKRFT. Then came The Bloody Beetroots. That year was pivotal for me. It is when I started releasing music, and I started producing in the electronic music world. I released my first single with will.i.am. We had a song called “I’m In The House,” under the name Zuper Blahq. The rest is history for me as an artist because I started touring a ton.
Coachella was a huge breakthrough for me. It was the first festival stage that I got to play. It gave me a taste of what it is like to play in front of a massive audience. I had to tune that up. I thought, “How do I get people to want to see Steve Aoki versus another guy? How will I differentiate myself?”
The more times I performed, the more opportunities came to get on a stage. The gears in my brain started working to make my show unique and unforgettable. That was where my show raft’s idea came out — also, the crowd surfing [came into play during my sets]. I began popping champagne onstage, and the cake was the funniest moment of the show.
The Knockturnal: You do your own stunts.
Steve Aoki: Initially, I did not think it would work. In 2011, I brought the cake out for the first time. No one was caking people at shows then. I then started to do it at every show, but I am not the originator of caking people. From there, I definitely became the guy that cakes people at shows. I have been doing it for a long time.
Through this life process of being about music, I have learned that music is a tool to get your emotions out. You listen to feel a certain way. You can revel in your sadness. It can be used to get hyped up — to preserve your energy — to remember nostalgia. Music helps you think of your friends, your boyfriend, or your girlfriend. Think of those times we had [associated with a song].
There is nothing more powerful than a festival or a live show. That is why they are so addictive. Music lovers go all the time. It feels so good. [Concerts] are a natural high. The performances are amazing. So, I cannot wait until we get back to that. I can keep going!
The Knockturnal: Do you remember your first insane mosh pit?
Steve Aoki: Yes, my first mosh pit dates back to a pre-DJ world for me. My first love of music was hardcore. When I was 15, I liked straight-edged punk music. Literally, I was 96 pounds soaking wet. When a kid like that gets in a mosh pit — it’s like seeing those little blow-up dolls that get thrown around everywhere.
In the mosh pit, I was flying in the air, left and right. I kept coming back for more. I just loved that kind of energy. I wanted to be jumping on a stage when I was just jumping in the crowd.
We’d try to grab the mic from the singer. We would sing their lines. People loved it when I did it. I was so light — it was easy to guide me over their fingers. [Laughs]
That was when I started bringing that element. That energy. That rocker, rebel, love, and joy to DJ culture. Back in the early 2000s, people did not do that. When you go to a show or a rave — people would be there and kind of bop their heads or something. At the Steve Aoki shows, we are going wild! I am crowd surfing and ramping up that energy.
The Knockturnal: Given that you are a cross-genre DJ, producer, and entertainer — what has helped you maintain balance with the many hats you wear?
Steve Aoki: I am a man of many interests. I’m a human being. Imaginative things inspire me. It is so easy to tap into all of those curiosities. We all have that. It is just a matter of… as I go down these different lanes and identifying needs.
As you have said, in wearing these different hats, you can spread yourself too thin. However, if you have passionate people, it is not only fun because you are learning together. You are learning a lot faster. So, you get down these lanes quicker. You get the cliff notes of what you were going for along the way. That is why I am able to do so many different things.
The Knockturnal: Please elaborate.
Steve Aoki: For example, at Pizzaoki, I have a whole team. They understand delivery and my love for pizza. Let’s build this business up! At my record label, Dim Mak, it is the same thing. Whatever the objective might be, I have people in place. On the fashion side, there is a different team, too.
As geeky as it sounds, I am into Pokémon cards. I have a separate team and opened a store in LA. That is the great thing about the internet and the way we live today. It is easier to find people in these super-niche cultures. I absolutely love highly-detailed things.
There is likely a whole club dedicated to coffee mugs [somewhere]. Someone might say, “Oh, yeah! The best coffee mug comes from 1915.” You know? That sort of thing exists. It is cool to meet these types of people. I share and feel their passion. All those experiences go back to my shows.
The Knockturnal: In what ways do these endeavors alter your shows?
Steve Aoki: When I look into my crowds, I find the most passionate people. That is what will give me my energy. It is not the guy or girl with their head turned to talk to their buddy. I am looking for a person who is laser-focused.
I need the one who is singing all the lyrics. It is the ones who are just going off and do not care about anybody. Those are the people I am attracted to in life — beyond my shows. So, if you are laser-focused on pizza, Pokémon cards, or anything else — I want to meet you.
The Knockturnal: You released Neon Future IV this year. In your opinion, why is this your best body of work?
Steve Aoki: The album is definitely my best body of work because it is so deep. I think with anything, [storytelling] matters. It is my Homer: The Iliad. It has so many pages. There is so much context on this record. It’s comparable to the Harry Potter [series]. In a sense, it keeps going. Each song is a chapter.
The Knockturnal: The record has 27 tracks.
Steve Aoki: Yes, but 27 tracks is just Neon Future IV.
The Knockturnal: I understand that and apologize if I was unclear. For context, you said there were chapters. How did you narrow those down?
Steve Aoki: Well, they are time-stamped for me. They are bodies of work from these periods. And artists always grow! You can hear an artist, yet they have never changed their sound. Some people never changed their process.
Personally, I love change. I do not want to get too comfortable with one thing. That’s not exciting to me. I love being challenged. Once I master it, yes, I’ll take that mastery, but I will apply it to the next process.
The Knockturnal: And musically?
Steve Aoki: With Neon Future IV, I felt there was a real semblance of flow. It built the album out. It did so in a way my previous albums did not. Also, it is from experience, the artist I work with, and the diversity. Besides, I love working outside of music. Getting the author, Yuval Noah Harari, who wrote, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, was a huge victory for me. It is my favorite book of all-time.
Bryan Johnson is a scientist. He is focused on brain chemistry and technology. He is probably the leading neuroscientist in the world! So, to get him on the album was nuts. These are all [significant]. Not enough people know about him.
The fact that I got to get him in a room and talk about crazy technology was fascinating. I was like, “You need to be on the album, alongside the incredible artist I work with.” I cross rock, hip-hop, Latinx music, and electronic space. I just can’t wait for you guys to hear my next album. In 2021, I have some really exciting stuff!
The Knockturnal: Soon, you will perform at the Bud Light Seltzer Sessions Presents New Year’s Eve 2021. How does it feel to be part of the interactive livestream event?
Steve Aoki: I have been prepping for this event. Well, my setlist, for sure, will be the best setlist I have done all year. It is the end of a … [Laughs] I do not want to see it is the year we want to forget. But this year is about understanding what we are grateful for.
The Knockturnal: Absolutely.
Steve Aoki: You know what I mean? It’s like I do not want to forget about it. I want to remember this year. We want to get back to a year where we can hang out with our friends. We want to go and enjoy life together. My team will be closing a chapter of 2020 with an exceptional set.
For me, it will be about bringing the fun back for viewers. Bring the energy back. I have worked with Bud Light before. They are excellent partners. When they asked me to be a part of this, I was all in. They did a tour with me, and they totally got me. That is one of the great things about working with certain people. You want to work with people that get who you are.
The Knockturnal: You feel understood.
Steve Aoki: I know we will execute this. They go big! Their production is going to be insane. The lineup is sick. The night includes Post Malone, Jack Harlow, and more. Lilly Singh [will host], and she is so funny. We will do a little skit together, too. I know Jack & Posty — we are all homies.
We’re going to throw the biggest New Year’s Eve party ever. It’s going to be crazy. I wish that people could be there, but the best thing to do is virtual. So, I will be looking down the lens like I am looking at all the fans out there.
I want to make fans feel like, Yo! We’re still in this together, guys. I need the spirit up. The DJ is standing and kind of dictating the energy of the room. If a DJ is on her phone or looking at her friends, the crowd will respond. [Spectators] will feel like, “Okay, I’ll do the same thing.” It is similar to us engaging in conversation.
If I was here talking to you, and I’m turning my head toward the wall while you are interviewing me — you might say, “Woah. That’s really rude.” Right?
For me, I want to be going off. Once we do that together, there is a crazy thing that happens. It is a connection that happens! On New Year’s Eve, we are going to have an insane party.
The Knockturnal: This year has been unlike any other. How do you want to be remembered?
Steve Aoki: It sounds like I die.
The Knockturnal: No, in regards to legacy.
Steve Aoki: Yeah, I know. [Laughs] I’m just teasing you. For me, it is all about positive energy! I just keep filling that need wherever I go. I want people to remember Steve Aoki shows. I hope they remember the experience as something they will never forget in a genuinely positive way.
Ten years from now, I want someone to go, “Oh, I saw a Steve Aoki show. I do not remember what he played, but he caked my best friend in the face! It was amazing. He gives people smiles, joy, and happiness.”
Whenever I hear or see people experience that — or get to be a part of that conversation, it floors me. And those are the things I want to share. That vibe keeps going. Once you feel the positive energy from someone, you want to give that. From that, only good things can happen. Let the positive energy flow!