Growing up in Los Angeles means being surrounded by a galaxy of different people from every walk of existence, each with their own traditions, lifestyles, and taste for music. Being primarily robotic, I’ve always felt at home amongst the vibrant variety of crowds loosely grouped together as the electronic dance music scene, exploring the edges of electronic sounds and technology; the kind of guy who wakes up grooving to Kutski’s KTRA series, Armin’s ASOT sets, Iboga compilations, festival track lists, or Monstercat podcasts.
So when I heard that Steve Aoki, one of LA’s EDM hometown heroes, was back in town to sign his new book ‘Eat Sleep Cake Repeat’ at The Last Bookstore in downtown LA, I leaped at the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
For people not yet familiar with the legendary brands that Steve Aoki has founded and led to international fame, I’d like to introduce Dim Mak. From its beginnings as a record label featuring releases from talent including MSTRKRFT, Bloc Party, Atari Teenage Riot, Borgore, Pase Rock, Deorro, Zuper “I’m in the House” Blahq, Dada Life, The Bloody Beetroots, Armand Van Helden, and more, Aoki and the Dim Mak family rapidly expanded Dim Mak into a lifestyle brand with multiple apparel lines and collaborations, festival stage takeovers, eyewear, and now book publications.
MP: We’re joined with the man, the legend, founder of Dim Mak records, and now a celebrated author, Steve Aoki. Thank you for joining us.
Aoki: Thank you for having me!
MP: Absolutely! So about this Cake Book… tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write it.
Aoki: Well, I’ve been traveling with a photographer for the last five years and previous to that, I was always with a good friend of mine that photographed everything that I was doing. So, it was about time to actually put it all together in one book. It chronicles back to the 2006 era, but there’s only a few photos from that period of time. It’s really around 2010-2015 and it’s just all the exploits, all the adventures from around the world, all the different artists I’ve worked with from the studio to different stages and crowds I’ve played in, and, you know, just all the interesting “Aoki jumps” – all these different things that I was lucky to be a part of. The composition, the backgrounds, the scenery, the mountainscapes, the city life, everything. It took us a while, there’s only 200-something odd photos in there. We boiled them down from about 1000 photos that we selected to be in the book.
MP: Wow, that’s amazing! So you’ve been performing around the world and your brand is just what is known as the “extravagant everything”. The cakes, the champagne, it’s wonderful. So where have you not yet thrown cake? Where have you not yet had champagne to toss?
Aoki: Transylvania. I just talked to a friend of mine who was like “I’m going to Transylvania!” and I was just like “wow that sounds so cool!” There is a lot of Eastern Europe I haven’t touched, a lot of the Middle East I haven’t touched, a lot of Africa I haven’t touched — I’ve only been to South Africa. There’s a lot of places I’d love to go, including Maldives. I’d love to go to Jamaica, I’ve never been down there. Four months of the year I live in Ibiza. I tour all over Europe, so the other eight months I’m all over the states. I live in Vegas so I’m out here a lot, through Asia a lot, Australia, all over central and South America.
MP: Absolutely! I mean being one of DJ Mags top 10 DJs in the world means you’ve got to travel a lot, right?
Aoki: I mean I enjoy it already, so regardless of any statistics it’s a level-minded plane from different people, different countries, ethnicities, walks of life. That’s what’s exciting. You go down to a country like Europe- a one hour flight and you’re in France to Spain to Portugal to Italy. They’re all speaking different languages with different cultures and they’re all dancing to the same tune, to the same beat and singing along to the same songs. That’s really, really cool to see.
MP: I guess that’s one of my favorite things about the EDM scene, we all dance in the same language no matter what you speak and even then sometimes the vocals don’t matter.
Aoki: Exactly, that’s the great thing about electronic music – it has the universal touch – it doesn’t matter what language you are, what religion you are, what ethnicity. If that beat moves you, then it can move anyone. It doesn’t matter where you’re from.
MP: Absolutely powerful. So we’re from Tattoo.com… do you have any ink yourself?
Aoki: I do! It’s more like little bits *points to outer left arm* *shows inside of left bicep* – me and Waka Flocka got this together on the tour. This is the band I was in with [inaudible] I have a Dim Mak tattoo back here *points to back of right arm* our label, we hit 20 years next year. “By any means necessary” is a slogan, that’s how we live our lives. I have a [inaudible] tattoo on my back from back in my straight edge hardcore days. I’ve got all kinds of tattoos.
MP: Absolutely, so I guess we gotta see who in our community has Dim Mak tattoos!
Aoki: You know what, should we get you right here? Maybe get you one right here? *points to Matt’s forehead*
MP: Start my own collection? I mean, maybe. One day I’ll start, but it’s got to be the right ones, you know, it’s all about freedom of expression in my opinion and one day I’ll know what my message might be a little bit better. I guess that’s my excuse for now. So tell me a little bit more about the Dim Mak collection. It’s a record label, you’ve got glasses, what else?
Aoki: So we’ve been doing Dim Mak as a label, we’re going to hit 20 years next year. It’s always been a label and a publishing division really supporting all the different artists. We started with punk and hardcore and now we’re primarily all electronic. We’ve just launched our fashion collection in Japan which is going to be having an opening ceremony in the fall of this year. The eyewear is a capsule collection that I put together and is out now, www.aokieyewear.com. It’s a brand new collection that we’ve been working on close to two years now. There’s always fun stuff in that world that comes out and just turns out online.
MP: That’s a powerful brand. What else might you go into? What are your thoughts? Any ideas for the future?
Aoki: There is a lot of stuff, man – there’s no limitation to doing other things outside of music and other things that interest me. I just want to make sure that if I’m going to get behind it that I really know the business and build it properly. It takes time, you know? With the fashion collection, I started getting into the magic trade shows in 2006, printing tees and selling them store to store back then. We finally have a collection in 2015, nine years later. So sometimes it does take that length of time to really put something together. I don’t want to just rush into things. Dim Mak has been around for 19 years as a record label business and the eyewear took two years to develop, so whatever I do, I really want to make sure that we have the right team in place and that we’re well educated in that world too.
MP: Excellent. So rumor has it that you started DJing out at college parties in Santa Barbara, is that accurate?
Aoki: That’s not accurate. When I was in SB, I was in bands and I didn’t know a single thing about DJing. Like, when I was in UCSB I turned my living room into a venue and bands played there. Over 450 bands played in the living room. Jimmy Eat World played twice, At the Drive-In played, you know, to name the bigger bands, and then every hardcore band, every emo indie band they would all come through and play. That was the heart of Dim Mak. That’s where I was able to find artists that I couldn’t believe didn’t have a record out and it was a great place to be able to start a company.
MP: Absolutely, I mean that’s where I first heard of Block Party was on some Dim Mak releases.
Aoki: One of our big breakthrough releases was the Block Party Banquet EP release and we ended up with a major label deal with Vice and Sound Alarm album which in America had 350,000 physical albums for indie releases – pretty crazy.
MP: I got one last question – who are some of the rising stars of Dim Mak today?
Aoki: There’s a bunch…I mean, we just released Crookers new album, and the Bloody Beetroots are back as SBCR. We put out all kinds of stuff – a lot of house music. Actually, we put out music every single Tuesday, so just check out the website www.dimmak.com.
MP: No. not at all
Aoki: You sure you don’t want to try some?
MP: I’m alright.
Aoki: Smell it.
MP: Smell it? You’re killing me. Alright, alright.
Aoki: *smashes cake into face*
MP: Thank you, thank you. For Tattoo.com, I’m Matt Prince. Thank you, Steve Aoki, you’re the best!
Click here to purchase a copy of #EatSleepCakeRepeat
For more information on Steve Aoki, visit www.steveaoki.com