Steve Aoki on Life, Politics, And His New "Just Hold On" Collab
When renowned DJ-producer Steve Aoki isn’t gallivanting the globe with his highly energetic live shows, he’s busy plotting what he’ll do next. True to his Netflix Originals doc, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, which was nominated for a GRAMMY in the “Best Music Film” category—Aoki is indeed restless when it comes to his ability to multi-task his diversified talent. He debuted his distinct fall-winter 2017 Dim Mak Collection during the men’s edition of NYFW. His latest chart-topping collab with One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson, “Just Hold On”, is just the beginning of what Aoki has in store for 2017.
Here, Milk.xyz chats with Aoki about his relationship with his mother, musical reawakening, and the risks of being vocal as an artist amidst an ever-changing political environment.
I saw the Fallon performance with Louis Tomlinson. You guys killed it!
One thing that really stood out to me with this collaboration is just how unique it is. What would you say you’ve appreciated the most about working with Louis?
He’s a creative spirit. He has such an incredible voice. He’s absolutely talented. I get inspired when I’m around him. I get this new wind of energy and inspiration. We worked on a song (“Just Hold On”) on a clean slate. So, we went into the song with something completely new. I’m just happy with the way it came out. It took time to get to where it did, but obviously this is new ground for both of us.
For sure. I can’t say that I’m too shocked about the partnership because you’ve collaborated with so many different artists in the past. You have a diverse background, but it was cool to see something like this come to fruition.
I appreciate that.
I’ve too really liked everything centered on the 20th anniversary compilation and the RVCA collaboration. Adding The Blood Brothers to the album was such a nice touch.
It’s a classic.
They’re a really big part of Dim Mak. Not too many people will know that. There’s definitely someone like you out there that finds value in that. This compilation is for you, you know what I mean. There’s a lot of gems out there—it’s a part of your history. We’ve been around for 20 years, so there’s a lot of different age groups that can really relate to the music.
So true! The album kind of made me reminisce. We’re living in such a time where releasing tracks back in the blog house days could take months, but now fans expect something now!
How do you keep the balance of staying true to your signature sound while being able to release something fast for your fans?
You kind of do both. There are songs that are meant for radio, like “Just Hold On” is meant for an audience to listen to it in all forms. I did the 4OKI EP in the summer last year with Dim Mak and I was producing house records. I was having fun with more of the house sound. I dropped an iOS game called “Beat Bomb” and I produced a few instrumental, more house-y records for just the game. You can download some new music from playing the game. So, I’ve been having fun in all different regards—making hip hop records with Lil Uzi Vert, Migos, Lil Yachty and 2 Chainz—doing the stuff that some people expect. Just having fun with it. I love hip hop. I’ve been producing a ton of hip hop as well.
Very cool! Congratulations on the GRAMMY nomination for your documentary (‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’). I’ve had a chance to watch it. I really found it endearing the relationship you have with your mom. How has she helped you in your career and just keeping level-headed?
She’s the sweetest woman you’ll ever meet. She’s the most compassionate, generous, kind, always giving—just selfless. She’s all of those human traits. Growing up and having that as a mom—I’m so blessed. I feel lucky to call her “mom” and be close to her. I’ve been lucky and fortunate financially enough where I can afford to buy her house. So, I bought her a house right next to mine.
That’s cool. Did she get a chance to see the documentary too?
Yeah, we saw it together. We were at Beacon Theatre at Tribeca Film Festival in April or something and she came with me to New York to watch it.
What did she think?
Yeah, she liked it. Honestly, we don’t really talk about it. I think she liked it.
Nice! You mentioned something on Twitter that you think that there’s a need for more people of influence to use their voice. How do you feel about being vocal when it comes to the political climate? Do you think there’s a danger as an artist?
Of course there’s a danger, that’s why most artists don’t choose a side. If you do, you could offend a lot of people. At the end of the day, we’re here to really connect with all people. I’m all about inclusion. I’m not about being exclusive. When I throw a party, I want everyone invited. I don’t want to exclude anyone. So when I’m doing this, I am excluding people. I am choosing a side, but I think in a time like this we have no choice. We have to. So much progress was made in the last eight years with Obama as president and now we’re taking steps back. All the progress that was made could go to the side if we don’t have a voice; if we don’t really get out there and speak and use our voice to continue the progress we’ve been making for the betterment of all people. I’m more afraid of what’s going to happen to people of color, people that are not of Christian religion —all the other people that are being affected like that—the underrepresented people. They’re going to lose more of their voice [and] rights as citizens and immigrants.
The Women’s March happening the day after the election or inauguration really showed the force and the magnitude. It was just incredible to see how amazingly organized how many women came out. I really hope that happens more often. I think it’s going to happen more often. There’s going to be a renaissance that will occur at this time. The same that happened when the punk movement was created due to the Ronald Reagan era. It’s gonna happen again. There’s gonna be some great, loud voices coming out of the wood works. There’s gonna be some exciting things to come—an awakening is almost happening. You got to look at the positive from the negative. There’s a lot of great things that will happen in reaction to what’s going on.
I definitely agree with you on the renaissance that will take place. If anything the next four years will produce some really great music.
Are you kidding? When Rage Against the Machine came out, there was a void before they came out. When they came out, they came out swinging so hard. The whole world listened. It was just incredible to be around. So, I think it’s gonna happen again and I can’t wait for who that will be.
Same! On a lighter note, what changes would you like to see take place within the electronic music scene?
The DJs are breaking out of their own shells and having a personality. There’s so much more than the music that’s out there. I hope that expands and adds more color to the scene.
Featured image courtesy of Brian Ziff
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