Interview By Leslie Terhorst

I’m fortunate in that I’m able to speak with a lot of great artists. Most of them are extremely talented in their particular field of play. Occasionally, I will pigeonhole a person by the title they were given (DJ) and assume that’s all they do. Well much to my surprise, this Grammy-Nominated DJ, International Producer, Songwriter, Musician, Record Label Owner… turns out to be one of the most straight forward, focused, hardest working, talented, non-drinking, non-drug using artist I have had the pleasure to speak with. Talk about what you can accomplish… if you just put your mind to it! 

Just in case you don’t know who he is, let me introduce you to Steve Aoki. Steve is the middle son to Rocky Aoki, a former Japanese wrestler and founder of the restaurant chain Benihana’s. Born in Florida, Steve grew up in Newport Beach CA, and is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with 2 BAs; one in Feminist Studies and the other in Sociology. Not exactly what you would expect from a “DJ.”  

Photo: Steve Moxie

Steve started out at a young age collecting comic books, “I was a Marvel Comic guy. I was so fortunate to be able to interview Stan Lee, at 92 I can’t believe how sharp he is,” Aoki continued, “If it wasn’t for Stan I wouldn’t be where I am today. Collecting comic books led me to collecting albums, which got me into music.”


But, it wasn’t as straightforward as you would think. Steve’s father didn’t share his passion for music, so at the age of 18 and with $750 of his own money, he started the record label Dim Mak Records – Dim Mak means ‘Touch of Death’ a reference to his childhood hero, Bruce Lee. The now 37-year-old has over 600 releases through his label – includes well named artists such as MSTRKRFT, The Kills, The Bloody Beetroots, Felix Cartal and Mustard Pimp, as well as Bloc Party, Klaxons, Infected Mushroom, Scanners, Whitey, and Mystery Jets. Dim Mak, is still going strong after 19 years. Davey Havok and Jade Puget of Alt/Rock band AFI were recently signed to Aoki’s label for their side project, XTRMST. “Signing XTRMST was incredible for Dim Mak, and then to be on stage singing ‘Filler’ by (legendary punk band) Minor Threat with them was incredible,” Aoki said. 


‘Neon Future’, Aoki’s most recent project is an album two years in the making & It’s split into two volumes. The first “Neon Future” was released in September 2014, and the second Neon Future II will be released May 12, 2015. Aoki has transformed Neon Future into a way of life. Not only a way of thinking about the future, but about trying to prepare and sustain our future. “Neon Future I” features more “turnt up” party anthems, and in typical Aoki fashion, also includes crossover-genre collaborations with the likes of Fall Out Boy, Empire of the Sun, Flux Pavilion, Afrojack and Bonnie McKee. The album also includes the Top 40 radio single “Delirious (Boneless)” with Chris Lake, as well as ‘Tujamo,’ featuring rapper Kid Ink; ‘Born To Get Wild,’ featuring; ‘Rage The Night Away’ featuring Waka Flocka Flame; and ‘Free The Madness,’ with Machine Gun Kelly.” Aoki has also collaborated with Travis Barker, of Blink 182, for the song ‘Misfits’ off Barker’s solo album ‘Can a Drummer Get Some.’ The two have recently appeared to be working together again. “Me and Travis, we’re already working on an idea, but it’s just an idea right now,” Aoki said. “But ‘Neon Future II’ is really my main focus.”

“Neon Future II weaves together more vocals and emotions into darker tracks,” Aoki comments, “I’m really happy to get this album out, because it’s not a departure from ‘Neon Future I,” states Aoki “It’s more like an evolution. It’s not the same; they’re two different albums. It’s like a twin who just got born into the world.” “The album will feature collaborations with Linkin Park, Snoop Dogg, NERVO, Matthew Koma, featured in ‘Find You’ by Zedd, and many others. There’s the song I did with Walk Off The Earth called ‘Home We’ll Go (Take My Hand)’ which is just an incredible song, we morphed it over the course of 2-years, going back and forth, then finalizing the vocal in a studio in LA”, Aoki said. “They not only sing and put down their incredible vocals on there, but they brought in guitars and violins. It’s a true musical collaboration on that one.” Aoki added, “This is different than anything I’ve ever done. The album has been in the works since 2012.” He continues “I’m sure you’ve heard of these DJ’s that put down a song in about 3 or 4 hours, and release it out in two weeks. This is the opposite, the inspiration for these songs are over 3 years old, once I get the vocals in, that’s when I can really freestyle with the beat.  The main thing we’re pushing right now is a song called ‘I Love It When You Cry,’ with a fairly new singer named Moxie, who’s actually came on the tour.” Aoki continues,  “I’m really proud of this album and everyone who worked on it.” 


I asked him what advise would you give to up and coming artists “If you’re an artist lost, stay consistent, don’t follow any sort of model, trail your own path, even if it’s non traditional, someone will take notice, and that’s all you need. Also, if you base your art on how much money you make, you won’t go very far. You have to treat it as an art, keep it your own.” 


Finally, where do you see yourself 80 years from now? Aoki replies, “Hopefully I’ll still be alive, I will be part of the Neon Future.”