Steve Aoki — the untold story


Photo by Dove Shore

A newspaper being what it is, most writers can’t include everything they want due to the physical constraints of the paper (aka as a “newshole”—yes, snicker all you want. The industry is full of such terms, e.g. copy editors who take the first look at a story are called “rimmers.” But I digress.)

To fully appreciate the context of this blog post, you should first read the article that ran in the paper. This post is not that article. This post is the stuff I wish I had put in/the stuff I maybe should have really put in/notes I made about him/observations about the interview, etc., a “behind-the-scenes” look, if you will, of the article.

Steve Aoki can talk. A lot.

That’s what first impressed me about him. Sometimes it’s a chore to get people to say anything, as people are understandably nervous about talking to people who will publish what they say, usually in truncated form, but from the first question, he was off and running. I don’t know if he was well-coached/familiar with these types of questions/using a technique to thwart potentially embarrassing questions, but the verbiage was voluminous.

And his verbosity was matched by his eloquence. The man actually used the phrase “ethos of the DJ,” as In, DJ AM taught him the “ethos of the DJ” when he was first starting out, which apparently has to do with a respect for hip hop. (I know because I asked him, “What is that?” and that was his reply; but really I had meant, “What does ethos mean?”)

Maybe he learned the word at UCSB, where he got two B.A. degrees, one in Women’s Studies (!) and Sociology. He told me that if he wasn’t a DJ, he would have gotten his Ph.D in “something interdisciplinary” — not to become a college professor, but to do research.

I thought it was sweet that he acknowledged DJ AM, who by all accounts was a close friend of his. There was a time when DJ AM (he of “engaged once to Nichole Richie” fame) and Steve Aoki would be spoken about in the same breath; it seemed if one was playing somewhere, the other was sure to be around. I have heard both of them spin and no disrespect to the departed DJ AM, but truthfully, I prefer the sound of Aoki. DJ AM had the party delights, but his sound was chunkier, while Aoki had inventive grooves with smooth transitions that kept me dancing way past the “my feet hurt so bad I have to take off my heels” stage into “I have danced so long and so hard my feet are numb and I like it.”

But Steve Aoki has long been acquainted with fame and fortune, even before he ever met DJ AM. His father is Rocky Aoki, a former Japanese Olympic wrestler and founder of the restaurant chain Benihana. And no, I didn’t ask if he gets to eat there free for life (but dang! maybe I should have). His sister is Devon Aoki, she of “2 Fast 2 Furious” fame.

I wish I had said something about the way he creates his music in the print article. I didn’t realize that he actually writes music; I thought he heard beats and samples and mixed them. He told me that sometimes he writes the music with the artists he collaborates with, and that “it’s always a different process.” For example, when he collaborated with of Black Eyed Peas, he said, “will.iam really vibes off songs he likes. I’ll play him a couple different ideas, he hears the one he likes, boom! he’s on it and writes a song really fast.”

The artist I was most surprised to see on his new album, “Wonderland,” was Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo. It sounds like it even surprised Aoki. “He’s one of my favorite artists,” he said. “When I got him on a record, that’s just a dream come true.”

(Give “Earthquakey People” a listen. It’s trippy to hear the singer of such sunshine-y and pleasing-pop melodies as “Buddy Holly” and “Island in the Sun” half-rapping about dancing and sounding ethereally strung-out to an electronic dance beat (with reverb!) And yet he still sounds distinctly like Rivers.)

The only thing I took issue with during the interview was the way he ended it. He may or may not have used Skrillex to give him an out-call. (“Do you mind if I take this call? It’s Skrillex.” Really?)

Even if it was an out-call by someone who may or may not have been Skrillex, I still give Aoki props because it means he must have recognized I had run out of good questions and dipped into the B team: the lame questions writers use to try and generate quotes (“So how do you feel about…?”).

The interview had ceased to be a conversation and was rapidly turning into quote-pumping. Plus he may have noticed that I was fast approaching the end of my 10-15 minute allotment (I know, right?). But he was gracious enough to agree to a call-back if I had any other questions.

Well played, Steve, well played.

Steve Aoki will be at the Senator Theatre with Datsik on Jan. 22, 8 p.m. Tickets around $40, available at and

Follow me on Twitter @JammieKarlman

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2 Responses to Steve Aoki — the untold story

  1. Bjorn says:

    liked the “behind-the-scenes” info… Pretty impressive the names this little town draws… out-calls and all…

  2. It always amazes me. And I can’t wait to see the semi-truck pull up 🙂

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