Photo | Bridger Clements | @Bridger
Creative + Fashion Direction | AllanTroy | @allantroy_
Fashion Editor | Alexandra Mandelkorn| @mandelkorn
Talent Coordinator | Lauren A. Camp |@steveaoki
Grooming | Marley Gonzales | @marleythebarber
PR | Ryan Mitchell | @theslaygawd
Videographer |Sam Haskell | @TragicStreez
Kode | Your latest album, Kolony, features a lot of collaboration with hip hop artists like T-pain and Gucci Mane, what was it like working with these music heavy weights and what was your thought process in wanting to work with them?
I wasn’t sure where it was gonna go, if I was gonna be making music for them, or just jumping on future or a project. It was just kinda like winging it and having fun. And then, there was a really good flow happening with some of the artists. I was just in the studio with Lil Uzi Vert, and I would just jump in the studio with Migos, Lil Yachty and then the flow started getting created where it just made sense to do a whole new brand and finish off a project that ultimately became the album.
And now it’s bigger than the album, now I’m going to be making music underneath the Kolony moniker. Now it’s just it’s own vehicle, it’s own brand. And, I’m going to continue with the brand because it’s a pretty strong, solid concept. I’m very proud of it. A lot of these artists I’ve known for quite some time, whether I’ve played with them at festivals or we reached out to each other through social media. So, it was great to be able to kind of blend EDM and hip-hop in a way where it is very much indicative to American culture. And I get to see it, I’m in the UK, doing the Kolony tour out here and I love how all the fans have gravitated towards my new album, and singing along to the songs. And it’s different. It’s sing-a-long-able. Everyone’s kind of like joining in on the chants and joining in on that culture. It’s a life of its own.
Kode | Definitely. So, when it comes to releasing under the Kolony moniker, will you continue to do full albums or will it be singles that you drop? Like throughout the year? What will be the structure of it?
I’m always doing sessions with different artists, and then I gauge it on when I get enough music done, whether it’s going to be an EP or whether it’s an album or whatever. I don’t want to announce them yet because it puts pressure on me to release it. I’m still running on that Kolony train obviously. I’ve been on the road to Neon Future 3 for years, for a few years now, so I have songs banked and I’m ready to kind of start slicing off some of those songs for Neon Future 3, which I have already been doing. Singles like “All Night” and “Just Hold On” are like kind of precursors to Neon Future 3. But it’s pop-driven, it’s very much EDM and pop combined for Neon Future 3.
But last year was very much Kolony, this year is all about bringing back more of my EDM bangers and Neon Future 3. So, I’m dropping 5 Loki, which is my follow-up to 4 Loki and it’s all collars with different EDM artists, and we’re just making pure festival bangers. So, I have one song with Hardwell, one song with Laidback Luke, one song with Quintin one song with Loopers, and one song with Vini Vici. I’ve been testing them out, tooling them, reworking them, but they just work great. Hardwell already played out one of our songs; he says it banged out. Laidback Luke’s been playing our song. Quintin and I have been playing our song for quite some time because we made it like last year, and finishing that off. It’s gonna be a lot of bangers coming out. Slowly but surely I’ll be ready to drop Neon Future 3, and putting out singles, tons of my singles that are cross-collaborative, cross-genre.
Kode | That’s awesome. Seems like you’ve definitely got a lot of new music pumping, and the gears are definitely spinning. Seeing as you’ve been obviously like a pioneer in the world, world class DJ for well over a decade, and obviously categorized as a legend, what is your take on the current state of EDM and what the music culture is around that? What have you witnessed in your transition through the years of being within the industry?
Well, it’s funny because it’s like what you see … an analogy I would put with the EDM is what you see on TV and what’s real are two different things. When you think about EDM and you think about the term EDM in media or in conversations that we have online it’s almost like a bad word. You know, it’s almost like, “Oh, I’m not EDM. I don’t want to be known as that. I don’t want to be seen as that.” But then when you go to festivals and you’re raging with your audience, they want EDM. They want energy. They wanna go crazy. They wanna get lit. They wanna leave their skin, leave their body. They wanna just go nuts with you.
But then when you talk about it in the conversations like, “No, no, no. We can’t make EDM anymore.” It’s kind of like now, 2018, it’s all about reclaiming that word in a positive way. It’s been this kind of a bad word for the past few years now when it became so big, and now for me it’s all about reclaiming that word. For 2018, it’s all about EDM for me. So that’s why I made a big effort to team up with other EDM DJs and make pure EDM bangers for our world. To feed our world what they really want at the shows.
For me as an artist, I need to expand and involve and try new things and experiment and work with different genres. I find a lot of inspiration when I’m in the studio with someone from a completely different world and we make something completely different and surprise people. That challenge is exciting and it’s always going to provoke and find a new creative process that’s going to spark something brand new. And I love being able to do that. I love challenging myself, being uncomfortable in situations so I can learn. And, once again, the most important life lesson is that I know very little in life because I’m always a student.
You have to go into things thinking that you know nothing to very little, and you have so much to learn. And even though I’m 40 I’m still very much a student of life. And when you have that train of thought, you find yourself filled with inspiration and filled with so many more perspectives.The two things I wanna stay away from is being jaded and cynical.
Kode | I’ve always kind of said the same thing, being an eternal student of the universe. So that’s definitely right on the money. I definitely feel that vibe, and everyone’s kind of been on that wave of trying to find existential meaning in the past two years. With some of your recent collabs, can you tell us any one of your favorites? I know you just recently, like ‘All Night’ with Lauren.
Recently, I think the Backstreet Boys were pretty interesting to be in the studio with. I love those guys, they’re kind of like legends. However, to this day one of my favorite collaborations ever is Linkin Park. I haven’t been in the studio with them in a while, but I just started working on a couple songs with Mike Dashing for his new project. I’m not sure if it’s gonna be on his project or if we’re gonna like trade off. We’ll do one song for my album, one song for his. But I mean, literally you hear his stuff and you just wanna break down. It’s very emotional, very human and I love Mike to death. I love Linkin Park, I love Chester. So being able to work with him and get him through his pain, through music, I’m just like glad I can be a friend and do that.
I’ve also worked with Tom Morello and with Rage Against the Machine, one of my favorite bands in the universe. That was very, very exciting to work with Tom. And the singer of Rise Against is on the song. He recorded his vocals in the studio with Jim Atkins from Jim Eat World.
Kode | You definitely have a great list of favorites. You also just recently worked with BTS and you know they’re a huge K-Pop group kind of taking over America. What was that process like and being a big step for them and their American domination?
I absolutely love these guys. Beyond the music, we have a real and really good bond. Honestly, I remember just hanging out with Rap Monster or RM and the whole crew. I gave RM my sweater and he’s like, “Yo, I love your sweater and I gave him my sweater and he’s like take my jacket. We gave each other clothes. You don’t just do that with other artists. You know what I mean? They’re like my brothers. We really have a really great bond, and that changes the way we work together. You know, it’s just a different process.
My favorite collaborations are ones where you get inspired to work with people and you find really good friendship and a bond like that. Like working with Louis Tomlinson has been such a pleasant surprise. We just became really good friends over that song. I really feel a strong bond with BTS and with RM and when I hear their name I get all excited like they’re family. And I love how “Mic Drop” just blew up. That remix blew up. I love that I was part of that. And we got some really exciting stuff coming up. There’s no date yet and there’s not much I can say because we’re still working on it, but I know it’ll blow people’s minds. I know it’s not just for the fans. It’s definitely gonna be for the general public and they’re really gonna hear. People that don’t know who I am, people who don’t know who BTS are, they’re gonna know about this song. These songs that we’re working on are really, really good.Kode | Who would you say are your dream artists? Like on your major wish list to collaborate with, that you have not yet?
I’d say Eminem, he’s like the milestone. Eminem, for sure and also Drake. I’d put both of them at the top of my list for sure. Same with Kendrick, too. Kendrick and I were in the studio back in the day. We were really close on doing something, but nothing seemed to come out of that. Hm, and Kanye too, he would be on the list as well. You know what, this is pretty different, I also just like being in the studio that changed the game that influenced. So, doing a song with Elon Musk would be amazing too.
Kode | Interesting. That’s dope.
I would love to put him to the creative and just have him do some spoken word, you know? Collab on a musical idea. It’d be just really interesting to come up with melodies with him and then maybe like have him jump on the mic. So, I love having that kind of element in the studio.Kode | That’s super interesting. I love that idea. And you have Dim Mak, which is your independent brand, your own label. It also now features your own clothing line and everything. What’s kind of been the whole process behind having your own label, and where do you wanna take that. And your own fashion line. Where do you expect for those things to go? And how do you wanna grow the Dim Mak brand?
It’s kind of like an octopus brand. There’s a lot of different aspects, like we have a central nervous system, but then we have different organizations that come out of the community. So, just having a business in the music world for over twenty years is already like a testament to the community itself. So I’m very thankful for the community that supported the business and the ecosystem because we wouldn’t be where we are without our community. That’s for sure. And Artemis that have really supported us, and we’ve taken risks on supporting and they’ve taken risks on us. It’s definitely a copasetic relationship.
But the fashion angle has been a major responsibility. And it’s been something that’s been consuming a lot of my time as well. Outside of the studio, I’m working heavily on the fashion side and it’s such a different wheelhouse. It’s a different business, it’s a different infrastructure, different team. Absolutely, incredibly challenging. And it costs lot of money, it’s just really expensive and lots of risk involved. Where the music side of things it’s a self-sustainable business. It’s grounded and has a very solid foundation. Fashion is ever-changing and I’m new at it still. Even though I’ve been doing it for quite some time I feel like we have a lot more work to do.Kode | Definitely. So there’s obviously a lot of young, fresh talent within the music industry as a whole, but what are some advice that you would give to some of the younger artists in EDM, in Hip-Hop, in R&B like throughout the entire music scope? What’s something that, as a legend in the industry, what is something that you would give to them to help them get to the next step in their careers?
You know, whenever there’s a very popular genre there’s going to be a lot of artists trying to get into that field because it’s so exciting. It’s so exciting to see and you wanna participate. First of all, there’s room for everyone. There’s room for everyone to try. So don’t not think that you don’t have what it’s got to make it. When I first got into DJing, I definitely wasn’t thinking like, “OK, I’m gonna be one of the top guys.” I’m just gonna do my thing in a very small setting and do the best I can. And that’s the same approach that we could take.
Doesn’t matter what period of time you’re in when you start, no matter how saturated is. What you’ve gotta do is you’ve got to make whatever you do that’s in front of you, you’ve gotta make that special. The music or product that you put out there, you’ve got to make that unique to you and that tells your authentic life experience. There’s no one else that can tell your life experience but yourself. And that’s where you find your unique qualities. That’s where you start developing your signature sound is by going into your own life experience and bringing that out into the world.
Kode | That’s great, great advice. I fully believe in that 100%. So at the end of the day, you’re Steve Aoki. What would you say keeps you the most grounded in your humanity and in the realism of the world and the universe outside of the world of being a superstar DJ?
Going back to your roots. You’ve gotta go back to your roots. You need to really go back to the beginning. And you’ve gotta remember your history. You know? And then you realize the things you might complain about now, you definitely weren’t complaining about it in the beginning. You’re like, “Holy shit, if only I could be there.” You know what I mean? If only I could be on that stage or if only I could fly first class or only if I could be delivered in a car without my driving. Whatever it might be that you’re complaining about now, you definitely weren’t complaining about that in the beginning.
Kode | Yeah, it’s like they say, “Remember when you prayed for what you have now.”
Kode | That’s awesome. Thank you so much, Steve. Those are definitely some great points. I really appreciate you taking the time out to chat with us. Thanks, man.
Alright, man. Thanks a lot.