Steve Aoki is on fire, and he likes it that way. In addition to making a worldwide name for himself and earning a Grammy nomination for his album Wonderland, the legendary DJ/producer has his own label, Dim Mak Records, which has released music by a variety of artists such as Datsik, Infected Mushroom, Zeds Dead, Bloc Party, Battles, Mystery Jets, The Kills, The Gossip, Klaxons and more. This, of course, is in addition to his own collaboration with Tiesto, MSTRKRFT, The Bloody Beetroots, Felix Cartal and Mustard Pimp.
Having just finished up a residency in Las Vegas, we caught up with Aoki as he was settling into an isolated cabin up in Mammoth Mountain to begin working on ideas for his next album.
I'm good, just started a writing session in Mammoth Mountain. I just rented a cabin to start writing ideas for my next album. So Afojack is gonna meet up with me in a couple days so we can do some Afroki kind of music out here too.
What made you pick that location?
I wanted to be totally isolated. I wrote Wonderland in my studio at my house in L.A. I wrote Its The End Of The World As We Know It in various studios throughout the year in 2012. And I wanted to get some new inspiration in a new place, and I love Mammoth. I think it's a five-hour drive from L.A., and I can get some writing in too, and writing. So I can snowboard, and focus on my music as well.
What do you ride?
Yeah, I'm a snowboarder, not a skier, and I have a Burton. I don't ride it as much as I used to. I only go on like one snowboard trip a year now.
I'm curious to your reaction to the overload of stimuli. To go from playing in front of thousands of people to holing up in a snowbound cabin in Mammoth.
I get a lot of inspiration from playing shows, especially with different crowds from different parts of the world. 2012 was filled with a lot of experiences and inspiration for me. If I don't have my computer set up in my hotel room to write ideas there, I'm literally humming ideas into my phone. So I have about a million different voice memos just full of little small sessions that I've done on the road. I don't finish songs like that – I've tried it on the road, and for me it doesn't work and I get frustrated. I finish songs in a focused environment like this. So now I can bring all those ideas and inspirations to a central place and start really harnessing it all.
When you're throwing down these ideas, do you have any sense of direction that you're leaning in, or do you just allow the creativity to bloom in the moment?
It's completely wide open. The whole point is that you're supposed to catch these fleeting moments when they come, and then they're gone. Like a dream – if you don't recall that dream right when you wake up it's completely gone. It could be one of the most amazing dreams you've ever had. That's what's amazing about playing music. It's all about catching something magical that could be gone in a second, if you don't catch 'em yourself.
Sometimes you have something in your head that you think is fucking awesome, and then you start piecing it together and you realize it's really bad.
It has to help knowing that you have an audience that's more open-minded stylistically than people would've been just a few years back. The fact that there was a lot of support and attention when you and Tiesto collaborated on a track is awesome.
Exactly. It's all about pushing the envelope. You need to evolve the music, move it forward. Whoever's out there actually writing music that's influencing the scene, you want to make it diverse, you want to make it exciting. And at the stage that EDM is, and the stage that how people are discovering and accessing music, there's no longer that institutional format where you could only find something through TV and radio. You can find it through the internet, YouTube and all that stuff. And because of that, artists are now creating their own genres of music. There's a Skrillex genre. That's just one guy. Same with Deadmau5. You can say the same about Swedish House Mafia. You can say the same about a lot of different artists.
I think because of the fact that you can write music and put it out yourself, and you can build your own sound, you don't need to subscribe to a certain kind of sound, you create your own. So it's really exciting.
It's fascinating, especially because we're of a generation that straddles the old world and the new. We remember life before the internet, while you're playing to an ocean of people who don't have any reference to the pre-evolutionary digital age. All these things are happening so rapidly and changing so quickly with technology, and in tandem, the art that can be created with it. You've got a song called "Singularity" – is that a concept that interests you?
Oh yeah, I'm obsessed with it. I'm a big Ray Kurzweil fanatic. I've read three of his previous books already: The Age of Intelligent Machines, The Singularity is Near and I'm halfway through How To Create A Mind. That's where we're going, with or without Ray Kurzweil, we're already heading there just by the fact that we're extending our lives longer every year we're alive.
We're improving technology, eating healthier, just so we have longer lives. We're already exchanging organs – that was happening 15-20 years ago, organ transplants and stuff. But now we're printing them. Printing organs with a 3D printer, and implanting them into mice, and there's no defects. That's the start. Everything is exponentially changing, where there's more acceptance for radical progress than ever before. And there's always going to be roadblocks. Ray Kurzweil's books were published in the 80s, and the things he expected to happen by 2010 aren't happening now. But that's the thing, without those religious roadblocks, the religious pundits in the community, I think we'd have already been there. We're close to what he's predicted.
There's been leaps of advancement now that there's so much more openness about stem cells and genetic research, and we don't have dinosaurs in office that are resistant to science and see it as some demon.
Exactly, yeah. Exactly.
I find it fascinating though, because people talk as if there's going to be a switch flip where Skynet comes alive or what have you, and the Singularity will be upon us. But it really doesn't seem that it's headed in that direction. We're all getting acclimated to the idea of evolving way that we take in and share information. The internet itself being the dirt road network grid being laid for whatever will come down the line, but we're already all connected. The cell phones or Google Goggles or whatever… it's not a part of our bodies yet, but it seems like we're slowly being prepared for that point, where it's going to be casual just to get that chip under your thumb or whatever the method may be.
It's the same thing you could say about the internet. When the internet became worldwide, the world wide web, there were a million theories about how the internet is going to destroy the world… like the Y2K bug. Everyone's got some kind of scenario that gets spread. Same goes for any new technology that comes in. There are always going to be safeguards put in place. We've survived this far. It's a slow moving pace as it is already, so I don't really worry about that.
There are definitely two sides to that blade. The people who found power in restricting information and sheltering knowledge now no longer have the ability to hoodwink and bullshit on a grand scale anymore. I think you're seeing that a lot in the deconstructing of religion around the world, especially in more advanced cultures where people are collectively asking these analytical questions and holding a light up to shady practices – the Catholic church for instance – or just promoting unsubstantiated nonsense. There are a great many sacred cows being slaughtered that are freeing up a communication and ability to really interact with people in a way that creates a more common understanding.
That seems to be branching into music now as well, where people are way more accepting of a hybridization of style, expanding into their own cross-section subgenres and niches. It seems like an incredible time to be someone in your shoes, where you've got so many pots on the fire. Fashion, the label, performing and everything else you do. It's got to be overwhelming at some points.
Yeah, of course it is. But I fuckin' feed off of it. I'm addicted to it, honestly. I can't get enough. Everyone's got their vices, and I've luckily steered away from the vices that keep you unproductive. So I'm just addicted to all that overwhelming stimuli.
You've said "Under the Dim Mak arm, we’re not just in the business of selling records, we’re in the business of advancing music and doing all sorts of business with music."
I've always been interested in focusing on signing cutting edge artists, artists that are evolving their own genre. And also not being pigeonholed. And that's why we've survived through all these genre-oriented labels that were putting out amazing music with a specific genre. When the genre died, the label faded away as well, and some of these were my favorite labels. For me, I'm a collector. So when I love a label, I collect everything from that label. So back then, I was putting out more rock stuff. But even in the rock world, I was putting out all kinds of different genres of rock. You've got The Kills which is more rock n' roll to Bloc Party which is more indie rocked to Battles, which is more instrumental post-pop kind of stuff. To even straight experimental noise like Sissy Spacek, to Gossip which is more art punk. And now in dance music, we've got a pretty diverse roster. Infected Mushroom, to Datsik which is full-on dubstep.
Now we're signing bands again which I'm really excited about. Bands that are really inspiring me, like Scanners. Their new album is incredible. Check out their new video, "State of Wonder". It's like a British version of Arcade Fire. It's amazing. Incredible. I'm just blown away by them. So we have their third album coming out. Then we have New Ivory, which is another band I'm obsessed with – we have their new album coming out. Will Brennan is a hip-hop artist… we're just keeping it eclectic, and signing artists that are pushing the envelope.
I just caught your Facebook post about the big boats movement – think it'll catch on?
Oh yeah man. Especially at these really, really big shows, I'll get these small little water rafts… they're so flimsy, and people fall out of them really fast. I don't like when the boats capsize, because you don't know how they're going to fall. But the bigger boats, man, most of the time they end up coming back on the stage. So whoever wants to get in won't fall out. I've fallen out of boats many times, and you can fall out on your back, your fuckin' face…. it's dangerous.
So it seems like a no-brainer for promoters.
Yeah, I'm always kind of joking around on Instagram and Facebook, but there's a lot of truth in that post.