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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > July 2019 > MT COVER FEATURE STEVE AOKI

MT COVER FEATURE STEVE AOKI

In this wide-ranging interview, we talk to the world’s most travelled DJ/producer about his studio, DJ’ing no-nos, futurism and how to survive life on the road…
© Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Steve Aoki is such a huge star in EDM, it can be hard to think of him as a teenager struggling to find success in a hardcore-punk band. But that’s exactly how he got his start in the music industry. And his popularity now is in no small part due to his persistence with Dim Mak Records, the DIY label he set up in 1996 to launch bands in the hardcore scene that he was a part of.

Both Aoki and Dim Mak have evolved enormously since then. The label, having had its first taste of mainstream success releasing Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm in the US, is now a major force in breaking new talents including The Chainsmokers and Zedd and releasing records for the likes of Battles, Gossip and MSTRKRFT. Aoki’s simultaneous journey has seen him become a household name in production. But what exactly does he do in the studio?

JOURNEYMAN

For Aoki, his role as a producer is defined by his writing process. Considering how much time he spends on the road – he’s set to perform over 200 shows this year alone – it’s no surprise to hear that the nucleus of a song idea will often be something that he hums into his phone, while on tour.

“I have a bunch of different melodies and ideas saved in my phone from when I’m touring,” he tells us. “That’s an accessible way for me to make tangible something that’s fleeting in my head. As I travel, I’m always around new sounds, new cultures and different artists which actually informs my music becoming more global.”

And all that time on the road means Aoki has time to develop ideas. “I bring my computer with me, and

I use Ableton Live as I go. I have basic rudimentary ideas that I produce on the road, but when using headphones, I can only go so far. I bring them back to my studio, the Neon Future Cave in Las Vegas, and that’s when the real experimentation happens.”

The Neon Future Cave, which Aoki describes as his “lab”, is where he filters out his best ideas. “If there’s an idea that works, that’s when I start building out the drums and synths. I add all the different instrumentation that can develop the basic skeletal structure of a song or a track,” he explains.

SERIOUS CONNECTIONS

Once these elements are in place, it’s often the case that Steve starts thinking about potential collaborators who would be a good fit for that track. Whether they’re singers, rappers or other musicians, Aoki’s hard work as a promoter and a label owner has translated into some serious connections.

Even so, Aoki tells us: “I only end up getting 25 per cent of the collaborations that I want. I reach out to many, many artists and I constantly do it over and over again, because I love working in many genres. It’s hard work to get some of these songs made with some of these artists I work with. It takes time and it takes effort on both parts, but that list is very long of who I want to work with.

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