Steve Aoki puts on the kind of show that hipsters love to hate
For a while, Steve Aoki was hipsterdom’s gateway drug. More than purchasing your first pair of skinny jeans, getting top-shelf vodka poured down your gullet by the 34-year-old Los Angeles–based DJ, producer, and founder of Dim Mak Records at one of his gigs was a hipster rite of passage. Sporting his trademark mane and facial hair, Aoki delivered sets that were famous for him dancing frenetically, screaming into the mike, spraying booze on the crowd, and, occasionally, playing a few songs. It wasn’t exactly a beard-stroking, intellectual experience, but if you were looking to party, having Aoki hit the decks was like having the Kool-Aid Man burst through your wall when you’re thirsty.
“As for me now, as a gateway drug, they [hipsters] stay away from me,” says Aoki over the phone from Montreal, prior to a show. “At this point, they’ve taken me away from that image. They don’t like me. I don’t represent their culture. In 2006, I wasn’t part of the EDM [electronic dance music] community. I was a hipster. I would never say that back then, because you just don’t say that you’re a fucking hipster.”
It’s true: Aoki has found a new fan base that is far less fickle, and that isn’t afraid to proudly wear its scene affiliation on its Day-Glo, fun-fur-lined sleeves. At present—along with A-Trak, Deadmau5, Diplo, and Skrillex—he’s one of the high-profile faces of North American EDM, and he couldn’t be happier. Who can blame him? He’s traded in his hard-earned cool points for stadium-size crowds.
“The thing with the EDM world is, it’s entirely about the music,” Aoki contends. “Of course, there’s other shit that goes with the EDM world—ecstasy and drugs and stuff—but at the end of the day, people are going there because they want to get high off the music. They might pop other shit too, but that’s secondary. With hipster culture, they don’t give a fuck about the music, really.
“There’s no way a hipster would go to my show tonight in Montreal and spend $40 to be with a bunch of raging fans who are jumping and dancing and sweating their asses off,” he adds. “No fucking way a hipster would come.”
The guaranteed-hipster-free show that he’s talking about is part of his Deadmeat Tour. Fittingly sponsored by Rockstar Energy Drink and hitting 45 cities in 58 days, it touches down in Vancouver this weekend. Aoki, who estimates he’ll spend 280 days on tour this year, will be performing a live DJ set, consisting entirely of his own songs. Sharing the spotlight is dubstep DJ–producer Datsik, a recent addition to Dim Mak’s roster and a Kelowna, B.C., native.
“It’s definitely ambitious,” Aoki says. “We’re travelling with two buses and an 18-wheeler carrying production. It’s extremely expensive—I pretty much had to mortgage my house on this thing. When you’re deejaying, you don’t really have to worry about costs. You fly in and play. I spent the last six months setting up this tour and making it the most multidimensional musical experience that a fan of mine can get. I really want to give the best experience I possibly can. It costs a lot, but it’s worth it in the end.”
The tour is in support of Aoki’s debut full-length, Wonderland, a collection of singles that range from house and electro to dubstep, pop, and even thrash metal. Every song features one or more guest artists, including heavyweights like Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, LMFAO, Kid Cudi, Blink 182’s Travis Barker, Zuper Blahq—an alter ego of the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am—and, of course, Lil Jon. (What dance music collaboration would be complete without him?)
“It chronicles three to four years of my life,” Aoki explains. “A lot of different influences came into my production, and there’s a lot of different sounds in there and a lot of different vocalists. I really wanted an eclectic album.”
Though the Deadmeat Tour is a dance-music show and there’ll be dilated pupils aplenty, you couldn’t blame someone if they mistook it for Ozzfest. “The atmosphere is changing, for sure. Back in the day there wouldn’t be moshing. Now there’s a lot of characteristics from a rock concert that happen at an EDM show, like crowd-surfing or stage-diving.”
Aoki traces this rave-to-rock-concert shift back to early Justice shows in 2007. “They defined electro to the world,” he argues. “People were crowd-surfing and stage-diving because their sound was thrashing. It was aggressive. Electro was the punk of the EDM world. It was the rebel. It’s what punk was to rock ’n’ roll.”
So while the queue to see Aoki won’t look like a Boxing Day sale at Urban Outfitters, and he’s going to be performing live instead of deejaying, that doesn’t mean he’s no longer going to be dancing, screaming, and riding on top of the crowd in an inflatable raft.
“You get the full show. I really give the maximum energy and entertainment value that I can,” he promises. ”If you came for the music, then you came for the right reason. And then I’m going to give you what’s on top.”
Rest assured, he’ll still be spraying the crowd with booze—only now he’s buying it by the case, and you’ll have to fight harder to get some in your mouth.
Steve Aoki plays the PNE Forum on Saturday (March 10).