Steve Aoki played at a packed out The Wall (這牆) last Thursday and rocked it hard. Aoki polarizes opinion. He is either an innovator, setting trends for modern electro, or an all-image rich party boy unable to mix or produce, cashing in on fame, rehashing the past and selling it as the future.
The Vinyl Word hung out with Aoki, partying at his hotel and getting massages. We discussed the criticism of his so-called trust fund success, “selling out” with “Brand Aoki,” his album Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles and the hipster scene he inhabits.
“When you put yourself out there you are gonna get positive and negative criticism,” Aoki says. “Everyone has their opinion and everyone has the right to talk shit.”
The mission statement for Dim Mak Records that Aoki founded is “by any means necessary.” “Because my dad founded the [‘Japanese steakhouse’ chain Benihana] everyone assumes I just live off a trust fund,” Aoki says. “That is not true, I did it myself.” (In 2006, Steve Aoki was one of only two of his late father Rocky Aokis’ six children whom Rocky did not sue for trying to “wrest control” of his companies.)
It may appear that Aoki is selling out “by any means necessary” with superficial merchandising deals such as a new blue headphone collection (Aoki’s current favorite color after last year’s green) in partnership with WESC: “It’s not the sound but how they look. I almost would rather wear headphones that sounded shittier and looked better. Like wearing an expensive jacket that’s uncomfortable but looks fucking dope on you.” Other tie-ins like an Aoki character for the NBA 2K8 video game and a non-skating shoe for skating company Supra — Aoki admits he can’t play basketball or skateboard well — lead to similar conclusions.
Aoki has no problem with this or being labeled a brand. “What is wrong with being a brand? Brands constantly need to be revived,” he says. “That’s what I’m trying to create with Dim Mak records … a brand that has longevity and integrity … if we started signing Paul Oakenfold, Paul van Dyk and fucking Armin van Buuran, we would become that second-rate, washed-up mainstream thing.”
Aoki’s record label, as well as his strongest passion, is producing some of the biggest names in electro in the world right now. He believes this counters any claims of selling out and shows his finger is firmly on the pulse. Aoki has signed MSTRKRFT, The Ready Beetroots, Machines Don’t Care, “groups that define the next wave of music … that will never get old,” he says. “We signed Bloc Party in 2003, we signed The Kills in 2002. We signed all these groups before they blew up. We want them to blow up. We want them to become mainstream ... It’s not like I wanna stay underground.”
Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles is hated and loved. Many think Aoki has just re-mastered tracks to their detriment, some a year or two old, with lame hip-hop vocals on top. Others call it a masterpiece of new-wave electro. Aoki only calls it, “a fun record … an introduction to the world of hip-hop and electro.”
At the end of our long mid-week party, it is hard to dislike Aoki. He is engaging, interesting, energetic and knows everything about electro. He may party hard, get wasted on the decks, have a penchant for big breasts and incur the wrath of purists who are annoyed he doesn’t produce his own music or mix that well, but luckily he doesn’t care. He cares mainly about Dim Mak: the baby saving his long-term credibility as the vultures circle, waiting for the electro bubble to burst.
What he says about hanging with hipsters defines his attitude toward life: “Hipster to me is like the same thing for all the kids who are fashion-forward … trying to be unique in the way he is dressing … If I had to hang out with that kid wearing lime-green jeans and a bright yellow T-shirt wearing crazy sunglasses at a club, or a fucking dude that works at a fucking hedge fund that I have nothing in common with, I’m gonna hang out with the crazy fucking jeans. That’s my scene; I don’t care if he is dressing crazy. Everyone has to find their own way.”
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