Miami-born DJ/producer monolith, business mogul, cake thrower and rabid Crossfit enthusiast Steve Aoki is a divisive force of nature that evokes a bit of a love/hate reaction in people – he’s essentially the EDM equivalent of Marmite. But the millionaire brother of globe-trotting model and Nick Knight-favourite Devon is having the last laugh, building his own music and clothing empire and living life to the maximum. Utopia, anyone?
Rollacoaster: Steve Aoki
Steve Aoki is Miami’s polarising EDM enigma. What will become of his self-made empire? Russell Dean Stone investigates for Rollacoaster.
Rollacoaster: Hey Steve. Describe a typical day in your life.
Steve: I just got back to LA today. I landed at 1am and left the studio at 6am, so I’m just taking every chance I can get. This is a critical time for me to finish projects, because soon I’m starting on a rampage of touring. This is where the crazy schedule starts and it doesn’t matter, the train’s going to keep moving regardless of if I’m sick, or whatever. I have to keep going.
RC: That sounds vaguely terrifying. What happens when you’re not in the mood, and everyone is expecting you to be in the party zone?
SA: You have to turn on all the time no matter what, even if you have a shitty day. Everyone’s looking to you to have a good time. You have to almost let go of your own ego and say: “This is not about me, this is about the party, stop being a diva, stop being a little bitch, stop flexing your muscle and your brain and bringing the self-pity and grow up.”
RC: This might seem like a silly question, but I want to ask it. Have you ever partied too hard?
SA: I have serious FOMO. If you isolate yourself, you miss out on cultural cues that help shape your next project. When you’re a big artist, you’re pampered like a little fucking baby, anything you want you get and soon, if you act accordingly, you could be the worst kind of human being to deal with. I don’t want to become that ever, so I try to stay as grounded as I possibly can and know that whatever I’m doing now, it might not happen tomorrow. I don’t care what success I had with one thing, it doesn’t matter, it’s all gonna go away. I’m just fucking lucky to be doing what I’m doing.
RC: How do you deal with the haters?
SA: The common mythology out there is that I’m a huge fraud to the industry, or something. The problem with me [is that I] I need to be doing something constantly, I constantly need stimulus, that’s just my personality. It’s like Andy Warhol said: “If people don’t like your art, you just keeping pumping out more until they get tired.”
RC: Also, you have the last laugh because you’re a millionaire.
SA: I think you have the last laugh because you’re creating something and they’re commenting on what you’re doing, not what they’re doing.
RC: You’re known for “caking” your audiences. Is this not a flagrant waste of cake?
SA: It’s not, because I’ve seen plenty of people eat it off other people’s faces and enjoy it. It opens up a new way of eating cake.
RC: Where in the world is the best place to buy cake?
SA: I don’t eat cake. I’m trying not to get diabetes.
RC: 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of your record label Dim Mak. How do you feel about this?
SA: In the beginning, I was in my college dorm room and now we’re in downtown LA with a whole floor of a building on Spring Street, and I built my studio there and we have green-screen and live streaming areas and a showroom for our clothing line. I might be the guy that makes the executive call, but there are people working at headquarters making sure that the brand is [firing] at full cylinders. It’s taken a long time, a lot of hustle, a lot of failing. The only way you can survive is if you put your heart and soul into it, knowing that there might not be a profit. It’s almost like gambling, you go in playing Blackjack knowing you’re going to lose, but if you win or come out even it’s a bonus.
RC: You mentioned a new clothing label — can you tell us anything more about it?
SA: I’m involved in the early stages. I’m not a designer. We’ll discuss the palette of colours we’ll use for each season and I’ll put together my mood-board of what I’m expecting. As the designs come together, I’ll come in before we get to the sampling stage and try to give my input on different things that will make it more unique. It’s high-end menswear, but it’s also high-end sportswear. It’s doing well in Japan.
RC: Where do you shop in Japan?
SA: LHP is a good stomping ground. Midwest is one of those stores that’s been around for 60 years of something in Japan and there’s a reason why. They’re very cutting edge with the brands that they carry.
RC: You’ve shot a documentary film called I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. Can you tell us about it?
SA: That’s something that these guys filmed throughout three years traveling with me across the world, and opening up a personal door that I haven’t necessarily opened up. I travel with a crew, so I already have a videographer with me everywhere I go; we document incessantly. We have over 200 episodes of On The Road on my YouTube channel, but this documentary isn’t the YouTube channel on steroids. It’s not like: “This is the story of EDM through the eyes of Steve Aoki.” The last thing I want is to be like: ‘Hey guys, I’m super-cool — watch how cool I am and watch me fly in my expensive planes and see how crazy, beautiful and lavish my life is.”