Steve Aoki on Recent EDM Show Deaths: "We Don't Want That Stain on This Music Culture."
On Sunday night, the Identity Festival -- billed as the first-ever touring festival exclusively featuring EDM (electronic dance music) artists -- will make a stop in Dallas at the Gexa Energy Pavilion in Fair Park. The EDM extravaganza showcases some of the biggest names in the genre, including The Crystal Method, Kaskade and Steve Aoki. In this coming week's print issue, we take a long, hard look at the fest, which certainly comes at an interesting time.
For starters, EDM is huge these days. It's everywhere -- in Top 40 radio, in background music, in commercials. And its artists are drawing bigger crowds to their shows than ever before. But the EDM scene is also facing some struggles of late. As its popularity grows, so too does word of the dangers surrounding live displays of the genre.
Earlier this month, we caught up with Aoki -- a guy who can safely be called the hipster DJ of the universe -- and spoke with him about the festival, the current state of EDM and more. To his credit, he was rather candid about it all -- the genre's increased popularity, its drug associations, the ways in which technology has made EDM music easier to create and so on.
Read our Q&A with him in full after the jump. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for another Q&A with DJ and producer Kaskade coming later today.
You're a little bit into the festival at this point. How's it going?
A lot of fun. For me, I get to debut my live show. It's something I've been planning for four or five months, and I've finally unveiled it to the crowd now. It's a whole new production for me. It requires a rig, a truck following the bus. It requires a lot of work.
When I interviewed Kaskade, he said the dress rehearsal he had for Identity was the first one he's ever done for a show. Is it the same for you?
Yeah, I checked out Ryan at the dress rehearsal, and his set is amazing. He has like two buses. We're both kind of like, "It's a lot of work, it's a lot of stress, it's a lot of money, it's a lot of time, it's a lot of labor." But in the end, because we can travel by bus, we can actually bring production.
Is it the first tour you've done by bus?
I did a bus tour in '07 with a friend of mine, Danny Masterson. We did like a Laverne & Shirley fun DJ tour, and we got sponsors to pay for the bus. But this is officially my first bus tour.
What, specifically, was your involvement in putting this festival together?
We got involved with doing a Dim Mak stage. There's three stages for this event. We teamed up with the Identity people and put the stage together and I mean, it's, like, revolving. So some artists are changing, but for the most part it's myself, DJ Shadow, Nero, Datsik and Holy Ghost!, which is a band on DFA. So it's a pretty cool stage.
EDM Festivals have been in the headlines a great deal of late -- and not just the music headlines, but news ones as well. What are your thoughts on the recent problems at the Electric Daisy Carnivals (including the deaths here in Dallas and in Los Angeles)? Have the ways in which those events have been presented in the news changed the way you've approached Identity, either as a performer or as a curator?
I mean, yeah, anyone who dies at any festival, it's a tragedy. It's horrible to hear when anyone dies. But I have to say when you put that many people together you never know what to expect. And it's so hard to control something of that range. Let's say you go to a soccer game, and it's like how many tens of thousands of people there? It's unfortunate when someone gets trampled on or does something like that. In any case, these things happens, and it's really shitty that it affects the electronic community. People are coming for the music, and there's going to be some fucking idiots that are going to come here and sell drugs and do drugs, and that's something that I'm not promoting for sure. And I think most of us, we don't want that, we don't want that stain on this music culture, we want to keep it thriving and positive and growing. And, even for myself, I don't even drink, I don't even do any drugs, and that's not something that I really care to publicly share often. For me, this music is my life. It's what I really want to do.
What are your thoughts on the riot that broke out at the L.A. premiere of the Electric Daisy Carnival Experience?
Y'know, I just heard about that because I'm so late in the game. I was out of the country for like two months. I just found out about it like last week, or a couple of days ago. I think it's crazy. It's a huge culture, especially in Southern California. That whole rave culture is so fucking big. The thing is it's been going on for decades. EDC's been going on for, like, 15 years. It's funny because, back then, like five or six years ago and beyond, there were festivals that were doing this with like 50, 60, 70 thousand people back then. And now it's like the numbers are around there and more, but still that's a lot of people. Like, everybody knows about Coachella. Everyone knows. Even though it only holds 70-80,000 people, everybody knows about that festival, everybody wants to play it, and be in it. And then there's, like, the dance festivals. They've been going on way before Coachella was around and no one really knew about it unless you were a dance [guy]. Right now, it's breaking boundaries and people from outside the world are coming in. Everything is changing politically, diplomatically, and all these different things are happening.
Where do you see EDM going?
I know for one thing that it's not a trend that's just going to fade away. It's going to stick around. It was around before it was a trend and started breaking boundaries. It's not just [happening in] music circles -- people outside the music world are hearing about it. And also with the way music is consumed, it just makes it more accessible. It makes it more accessible for people to hear electronic music, whereas the radio isn't as important of a tool for music. I mean, now people are going to Youtube, people have their Spotify accounts, people can choose and discover their own music in the way they want. MTV's gone. Radio is only playing 40 songs that people can hear. And, then, now everyone has access to finding and hearing new music anytime they want through their computers [and] their phones. It was the computers first, right? Like, OK, I got a computer, I got a Spotify account, I got iTunes, I got Youtube. But now it's the phone. The phone is the next computer. Now everyone has a smart phone. Now, with that technology, [people] become completely immersed in accessing music. Underground music is just getting bigger.
Who are you super stoked to see at Identity?
I'm excited to see -- oh, man, there's a ton of them -- Holy Ghost! I love them, I've been really close to them since they were in this band called Automato. Dim Mak, my label, we put out their record in 2003. That was Alex and Nick's band before Holy Ghost! I've known those guys forever. So, I'm going to try and see their live band. They're amazing musicians, Alex is a great vocalist. Love them. And Datsik, he's one of my favorite dubstep artists. I saw Kaskade's dress rehearsal, his show looks sick. Ryan's a great guy and his music is of epic proportions. When you hear his music, the builds keep going, and when it drops it's like angels are floating above you.
Why should people watch your set at Identity?
If you know my music and you like my music, that's the number one reason, because everything else is all based around that. I'm playing all my records, I'm playing a lot of new songs -- a new record with The Exploited, a punk band from the '80s. And, now, specifically on this tour I'm doing my new live show. And this live show is such a big deal that I can't really bring it out on any other shows. So the only time you can actually see this live show is on this tour. My bus alone is full of technicians; I got visual, I got production, structural technicians. It's like a big ordeal. The rig that I have it's like 20 feet wide and like 12 feet high. It's a big deal. For me, I spent a lot of time and money to make sure the end outcome is epic.
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