Steve Aoki On His Upcoming Album, Collaborating with Lil Uzi, and More

Steve Aoki On His Upcoming Album, Collaborating with Lil Uzi, and More

EDM legend Steve Aoki takes a trip around the neighborhood and talks to V about his exciting projects to come.

EDM legend Steve Aoki takes a trip around the neighborhood and talks to V about his exciting projects to come.

Photography: Emma Blanchard

Photography: Adair Smith

On your upcoming album, your contributors are heavily rap artists. 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, T-Pain, Ma$e, Wale, Lil Uzi Vert, Rich The Kid and more contributed to the 10-track album. Can you speak on your decision to make the album heavily rap?

I’ve been on the road to finishing my Neon Future trilogy. I’ve been producing that album for two years and in the process, I’m taking sessions from every artist I want to work with. It all kind of started, this idea to form Kolony as an album, when I was in the studio with Lil Uzi Vert. We booked a week together to work on music and I thought it was going to be for Neon Future. I was playing EDM records to him and he was vibing out and connecting with it. But when I started playing very simple raw beats, he was getting a different creative vision. I then kind of scrapped this idea of doing EDM records and producing with the EDM template and instead thought, let’s just make music from scratch. We ended up getting a flow, writing and eventually made enough for an EP. I was able to carve one song out and put it on the album. From that session, I went to Atlanta and did a session with Migos and Lil Yatchy in their studio. I also hooked up with 2 Chainz while there and did the “Without You” record. That was more of an EDM record. I had T-Pain come to my studio in Vegas after that and it all kind of followed the same rhythm. It started off as an EP, but as the EP was getting formulated other artists started jumping on and I started making more music. Soon enough, it turned into a full-scale album. Now, my Neon Future project is tabled and is going to be released probably next year.

You were awarded two Guinness World Records, one for the "longest crowd cheer," and for the "most amount of glow sticks for thirty seconds.” It's clear your fans are energetic and enthusiastic. Can you recall the absolute craziest crowd you’ve ever put on a show for?

Tomorrowland is up there. Sometimes it’s a blur because you see so many people and each show begins to feel similar. Tomorrowland is really special because when you look out in the audience, everyone wants to show where they are from. You see hundreds of flags from all these different places and you really feel like the whole world is converging into this large mass of people. That’s what’s so amazing. When you think about it, you have people even from war-torn countries. There are so many people from different religions and different cultures who might not normally come together otherwise.  I got too close Tomorrowland’s main stage three years in a row on the final day. It’s such an emotional moment because, for someone people, it’s the greatest night of their lives. I’m closing again this summer on Friday night. I’ve got a lot of love for Tomorrowland.

Can you describe your creative process of crafting a song alone versus crafting a track with other artists?

When I do a song alone, it’s for my sets. I think about it as a tool to make my sets go off. I don’t think about it in relation to radio or anything, it’s more like a proper DJ tool. Like for instance, I did a song called “Cake Face” so that I can cake people during my sets. I made a song for that act, there’s a purpose there. In those types of songs, I’m sampling my voice and I am making the drop heavy for the crowd. That’s more purpose driven for my shows. When I work on a song for an artist though, I try to keep the slate open. The song I did with Louis Tomlinson “Just Hold On,” I kept the slate open. We need to both kind of converge in the same place or else it's hard to drive down the same road. I come with my tool shed of ideas and my template, and they come with theirs. You don’t want to force people into something, though. Flexibility in those moments is good, that’s where you find something that you sync up on.

Where do you find inspiration for your music, both lyrically and rhythmically?

Every song is a different story. Sometimes I sit with the songwriters and write the lyrics, but I usually have a melody first. I am sitting on an archive of melodies so I will go in the studio and write a bunch of little sections. If the singer is actually a writer, we will also work on the lyrics of the song. For instance, Lauren from Fifth Harmony and I were making a song together. We were working on the lyrics for this one bridge section and we just sat in the studio for a couple days and worked it out. Every song has its own unique crafting process.

How did you initially enter the world of EDM? Were you always interested in the genre?

I kind of stumbled into it, I was already doing my thing in the electronic space before EDM even existed as a term. EDM really means festival electronic culture. Before that, this genre only existed in small clubs. There were these insular electronic festivals that no one really knew about, but they were raves. I was already making electro in the era when Daft Punk came out in 2007. We were doing our own thing and our own shows and we had our own little LA parties. That time was a really special time because that was a convergence of underground music where you have hip-hop, electronic music, and pop. This was around the time of Lady Gaga’s first show, MIA’s first show, you had Kid Cudi, Kanye, it was this emerging culture that was building in a room that only holds 400 people. Dr. Dre would show up and different huge names would pop in to see what type of different noise we were producing. We were building a really cool scene in LA. I would then work with some of the artists like Cudi, Will.i am and Drake and then EDM started emerging as a festival thing. I got added to those bills to represent that festival sound and now,  the rest is history.

As your sound shifts, do you find that your fan base changes or stay relatively consistent?

There might be some fans that don’t cling on to it. This is something that all artists deal with. Every artist is going to evolve and change with whatever inspires them. I live in LA, I’m part of American culture. The sound of what America truly is is very much laced into this upcoming album. Some of these artists I’ve already planned on doing collaborations with, it was about time we were able to do this! Same with Uzi, we had been talking a lot before we even got into the studio. Hopefully, people get it. One thing is for certain, the streaming culture is big. The same people who listen to Lil Yatchy listen to Martin Garrix, the same people who listen to Steve Aoki listen to Migos. There is already bridges. There are no road blocks in that.

What advice would you give to young, aspiring DJ’s?

Keep making music, keep experimenting, and put your music out there. Give it away. Put it up on SoundCloud and really build in small cultures. Be realistic. SoundCloud is a really good place for that because it really incubates these subgenres. There are artists that communicate in those genres. If you like something that’s sub-genre of dubstep, and only a few make that genre, put your music there and let the community critique it. You can then grow in that circle. The Skrillex's and Diplo’s of the world have labels that help out small artists. We are always looking for the new sound!

Your work is so unique and popular because you have the ability to integrate across genres and with many different artists. Do you have a favorite collaboration or collaborations you’ve done in the past, or on this upcoming album?

One of my favorites would be working with Uzi. We spent so much time in the studio. I also love working with the Migos, I’ve known Quavo for a long time. I love being in that space, his studio is so dope there’s so much positive energy. I was in the studio with Uzi for a week. It's great to be in the studio with an artist for that long, I usually don’t have the opportunity. Lauren from Fifth Harmony was also great to work with because we did multiple sessions on one song. Uzi and I were in the studio for like a week working on a bunch of songs. Every process is so different. Also, can't leave out  Louis Tomlinson that was one of my favorites also.

Do you remember your first show and how you were feeling when you were about to go on stage?

I was playing in bars in the beginning. My first time playing alone was at The Three Clubs, it’s a small bar on Santa Monica and Vine. I was sitting down playing hardcore records, like scream music. I was playing vinyl, but I didn’t know how to DJ. The bartender was like “you have a sick record collection come and play them here.” I told him I didn’t know how to use a mixer or turn table, but he told me it was easy and showed me how. I was probably annoying everyone at the bar but after I was like “yo! can I do this again?”

What are your top 3 favorite songs at the moment?

I like "Swang" by Rae Sremmurd, "XO Tour Life" by Lil Uzi Vert, and "Night Call." I gotta throw that one in there.

Music aside for a moment, what other activities are you passionate about?

Fashion. I’m completely immersed in my own collection. We launched the first American collection in January at New York Men’s Fashion Week. It was a big undertaking for me on every account; time, commitment, and money. We finally launched our fifth collection for fall/winter. I have a whole new team, It’s like having a second child. Of course, my first child is my label, though. I’ve been doing that for 20 years.

When you aren’t hyper-focused on music and business, what could we find you doing?

I actually don’t really have off days. I don’t kick my feet up on a couch and watch TV. When I’m in LA, I’m slammed. I’ve got less time to myself when I’m in LA than when I’m on the road. In Vegas, my studio is in my house, so its work 24/7. I don’t mind though, its what I love to do. My house in itself is my fun though. MTV cribs did a whole feature, my house is a fantasy factory. That’s where I find my fun I guess!

If you weren’t an artist, how do you presume you would be spending your days?

I always say a scientist because I love future science. Or maybe one of those extreme sports dudes who jump out of planes wearing a squirrel suit.

At what point in your career did you realize you'd made it?

Playing Coachella, I opened the stage in 2007 at the Sahara Tent. Coachella was a huge moment for me since it was my first big festival.

UP NEXT

Off to the Races: Get Lana Del Rey's V Cover Look