It’s not news anymore that DJs have taken on the lifestyle of rock stars and have become idolized as such over the past several years. If ever there was a rock star to embody this philosophy and lightning-speed fate, it is Steve Aoki. Long before Steve’s LA takeover and his founding of Dim Mak Records in 1996, music was his destiny, becoming a hardcore and punk rock music fan and joining bands growing up. In the late 90s at UC Santa Barbara, Steve and his band booked hundreds of shows out of their apartment, bands like AFI, The Rapture, The Kills and Jimmy Eat World, and later led to Steve’s earliest Dim Mak signings, like Bloc Party, Gossip, Neon Blonde and The Kills, all before the electronic music explosion.
Fast-forward two decades, the animated Steve Aoki has created an almost ubiquitous presence. He has broken global touring records and is a purveyor to the world’s hottest parties, including a stop at Randall’s Island Park’s Electric Zoo where his current Dim Mak roster will celebrate September 3 with northeast dance music fans at Aoki’s curated 20th Anniversary Dim Mak stage. Dubbed “Wild Island” for this eighth edition of EZoo during Labor Day weekend, the festival (9/2 – 9/4) promises sets from top electronic acts.
You founded Dim Mak Records in 1996 and you are heading to New York for a very special reason this month beyond the fact that you are playing Electric Zoo at Randall’s Island Park – it’s the 20th Anniversary of your label. What are you most looking forward at your curated showcase with Dim Mak artists?
We’re doing twenty big parties around the world, of course we have to do New York. Electric Zoo was a prime time to do it because it’s like a satellite for all the electronic music that’s coming into the area. I’m trying to bring a lot of attention to the Dim Mak stage, to have the focus on the stage instead of just me headlining. This is the new roster of the label. I haven’t done a big New York show in a long time.
One of the most exciting aspects of electronic music is you get to join forces with vocal artists. From rock to rap to pop music with artists like Linkin Park, Snoop Dogg, LM- FAO, Travis Barker, Lil Jon, Rivers Cuomo, Kid Cudi, which has been one of the most important collaborations of your career and who is next on your radar or wish list?
I can announce I have one of my favorite punk rock bands Blink-182, and they have never worked outside of their own world. To work closely with them in the studio and to have them on my album – I’m still reaching new heights and there are so many new challenges, I’m constantly thinking about working with my first country act for Neon Future as well. I have songs [coming] with Mike Posner, Wale, 2 Chainz and DVBS.
Your documentary I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s just made its commercial debut last month on Netflix and covers your biggest concert date up until that point, 2014’s show at Madison Square Garden. What did this moment mean to you and why document it into something that is not private but rather public?
Honestly, I don’t want to tell you. I want you to watch the doc. There’s like a twist at the end.
You can see the process and the kind of ramping up to MSG – it’s one of the most iconic venues. It represents my father, he’s like the underlying catalyst of my ambitions in life. So it goes into this whole story.
You are immersed in the worlds of music production, artist development, fashion, video and cinematography and the food industry. During your travels to NYC, do you ever get to participate in Fashion Week, do you get to check out your favorite restaurants or new or get your creative juices owing some other way in town?
I have a small restaurant on Broome and Orchard, it’s a cute little spot. We just expanded and we have a deli area there, it’s a really unique venue. I hang out there a lot, it’s Dudleys, I chill there and do work. It’s kind of like my hub. I’m usually down there, Lower East Side is like my stomping ground, it’s always been, like back in ’05 and ’06 when I started DJing.
What is it about Electric Zoo that you have enjoyed the most over the years and do you get to enjoy any of the sets when you are not on stage or with your artists? What’s different about Electric Zoo from other festivals and why should people go to this one?
Yeah, I mean festivals are kind of like a social – they’re like the Soho House for DJs, we see each other in the common area and sometimes collaborations emerge or we are admiring each other’s music. Tomorrowland is like that, EDC, Ultra is like that, this harmonious spirit that I love about the scene and everyone gets along. I’ve been pretty loyal to them, they treat me well, they are really great at organizing for the entire area. I enjoy playing for an entire area that represents not just New York but the whole upper East Coast, so it’s really important for me to play there, I’ve always had incredible shows there. In America you have to play in the hot spots, and the upper East Coast, if you’re a DJ you gotta represent there. Electric Zoo is one of the most important avenues.