Steve Aoki has been an icon in EDM for over two decades, as an artist, a promoter and a label executive. He's also had plenty of critics, who've accused him of being a champagne-spraying, cake-throwing showman first and a DJ second. But what's never been called into question is his work ethic.
This past weekend, Aoki made his way to Texas as part of the lineup for both the Dallas and Austin JMBLYA Music Fest dates. We caught up with him in his trailer backstage and got the scoop on his career, his upcoming summer release and why he's all about festivals.
“Playing this festival the timing couldn’t be any better because I have music coming out with [many] of the main artists that are performing," Aoki said, sitting in a beige recliner. "I’m really excited for the release of all of these singles. We’re doing a video for each song so we’re really going in hard on this one."
The pre-order for Kolony will be available in June, along with the song Aoki recorded with Migos and Lil’ Yachty, "Night Call." Kolony will also include songs with JMBLYA artists Gucci Mane ("Lit") and Lil’ Uzi Vert (“Been Balling"). The lead single, “Without You” featuring 2-Chainz, was released two weeks ago.
Aoki has lots more festival dates coming up this summer. He feels it's essential to participate in the festival circuit to remain relevant, and he has one favorite.
“The festival I look forward to the most is Tomorrowland in Belgium,” he said. “I’ve been playing there consecutively since 2010. They’ve helped incubate a lot of my songs into popularity in Europe. That’s a great example of how festivals are another source of radio. It’s how a lot of people hear songs for the first time, either through attending or watching them online.”
This year, Aoki reached an impressive milestone when his record label, Dim Mak, turned 21. Aoki is proudest of the artists he's developed through the label, many of whom are now mega-stars in their own right.
“My aim has always been to find young talented musicians and give them a platform to share their creation,” he said. “We’ve been lucky to develop artist like Chainsmokers, Zedd, Carnage and Showtek."
And Aoki anticipates big things still to come.
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"There’s an artist called Rain Man who used to be part of the group Krewella; he’s doing his own production and killing the game right now," he said. "There’s also this young man named Max Styler who’s barely 21 and he’s just really hungry for it. He reminds me of myself when I was really young.”
The 2016 documentary I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead gave fans a deeper look into Aoki’s punk rock origins; insight into his relationship with his father, wrestler and Benihana founder Rocky Aoki; his grueling touring schedule, and its effects on his health. Aoki said he's now making more time to tend to his well being.
"Getting enough sleep is definitely hard to do. I don’t get that eight hours that most people need. But I do my best; we work out on the road and I try to eat healthy.”
Self-care is particularly important for Aoki during festival season, which begins in spring and continues through the summer. "No matter how many people you’re playing in front of, whether it’s five people or 50,000, you have to truly have an authentic connection with your music, and the experience you’re providing for others or you’ll get jaded,” he said. “I have to remind myself where I’m standing and how fortunate I am to be in the position I’m in. But the music brings me back to a place mentally where I want to do this a million times. Music is my religion."