Steve Aoki uses the word experiential
liberally when discussing music. His engagement with the philosophy of the experience of existence is apparent from his crazed wild-eyed live shows, which feature regular stage-diving and crowd interaction.
Live music as a medium is clearly a visceral force that should catalyze something transformative, or as he says, "Dance music is largely experiential -- you go and you experience the music and then it changes your whole lifestyle. It's not like just listening to the song on the radio -- now you experience it, and your whole life changes."
This is an ideal that he has managed to breach not just as a live artist but through Dim Mak Records - the label he founded in 1996 in Los Angeles. The label broke bands such as Bloc Party, The Bloody Beetroots, Battles, Klaxons, and The Gossip in the US and now has over 250 releases. The current roster which he'll take to Miami includes EDM notables such as Datsik, Felix Cartal, Nervo
, and Dirtyphonics. The continued success of the label while much of the music industry experiences commercial meltdown derives from a refreshing spirit of independence.
"We're in this business of music, not just in the business of selling records - we are in the business of promoting and advancing the music that we love in all respects and we wholeheartedly support our artists and, strangely enough, our primary income is still from record sales. We are definitely more of a familial and community spirit label. We are our own kind of community that drives the business. I don't even take a salary; I've never taken a salary from my own company. I've never taken money from Dim Mak, ever."
While operating largely within the field of commercial dance music, far removed from the punk and hardcore scene defined by labels such as Dischord, Alternative Tentacles, and SST, Aoki's vision shares with these labels a dissatisfaction and alienation from popular culture. "All these kids, you starve people the remaining access point of getting something and they have no choice but to find the alternative and the alternative is the internet. There's no good music on the radio and there's no good music on the TV, so the only thing you can find is on the internet," he says.
"And the internet is still with the underground. It's not just dance music; Odd Future were taking the world by storm and all they do is say, "Oh we want to fucking kill everyone" and they're completely underground, the beats are underground, the lyrics are completely crass yet they really and rightfully took everyone's heart because it's fucking real shit. That's what's so exciting, when popular culture starves people of underground music then a choice feels good. I love that the reality shows are all over TV because people have to get good music themselves."
It's highly convincing and delivered with the sort of passion and that you rarely hear from your standard global superstar DJ. It is interesting to think of where his career will arrive, having moved from DIY punk basements to the Ultra main-stage while somehow still retaining an entrenched credibility and fierce idealism.
"I just keep going until my heart isn't in it anymore I guess. I might get tired, I might get frustrated from no sleep or having shitty fucking food. The no sleep thing is really fucking tough. But at the end of the day if I get that sleep and I wake up happy and that show was amazing in that one city wherever I am, then as long as my heart is in it I'm going to keep on going, there's no reason for me to stop."
Steve Aoki will be performing at Ultra Music Festival on March 25 at Bayfront Park, 301 North Biscayne Boulevard, Miami.
Dim Mak Miami with Steve Aoki, Datsik, Joachim Garraud, Felix Cartal, Nervo, and others. Tuesday, March 20. Mansion, 1235 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The party starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $40 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-695-8411 or visit mansionmiami.com.
Dim Mak Miami Music Week Pool Party with Sidney Samson, R3hab, Joachim Garraud, Felix Cartal, and others. Saturday, March 24. Dream South Beach Hotel, 1111 Collins Ave., Miami. The party starts at noon. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-673-4747 or visit dreamsouthbeach.com.