Best known for:
“‘Music Means Love Forever’.”
Tune of the year:
From: California, USA
Rising star DJ/producer of 2021: “Ninja Attack.”
Producer, DJ, published author, label boss, restaurateur, sheet cake-launching showman — with this ever growing list of titles, Steve Aoki proves himself to be a Renaissance man time after time. In April 2020 he dropped his sixth studio album ‘Neon Future IV’, a diverse collection of pop-centric singles with performances from the likes of the Backstreet Boys, Zooey Deschanel, will.i.am, ALOK and Sting, just to name a few. In January 2021, he followed that LP up with ‘60KI — Rave Royale’ EP, a handful of hardstyle bangers crafted in collaboration with names like Timmy Trumpet, k?d and Brennan Heart. This six-track collection kept fans sated until it was safe to catch him in the flesh again.
Though the baking industry likely took a hit when last year’s tour was postponed due to COVID-19, the ovens are heating up once again. Aoki brought frosting-flinging performances to clubs and festival stages across the globe this summer, making stops at Untold Festival in Romania, HQ2 in Atlantic City, and Beyond Wonderland at The Gorge, with a set at the first-ever Electric Zoo Adventures resort party in Cancun, Mexico still to come. These action-packed spectacles were a welcome shift following the forced hiatus brought on by the pandemic, during which the Dim Mak label founder claims he spent focusing on mindfulness, self-reflection and time with family. “We can all use that,” he adds.
Speaking of which, meditation is especially important to the two-time Grammy nominee. Though his on-stage antics have earned him the reputation of fun-loving stuntman, his contributions to science are noteworthy, too. His charitable 501c3, The Aoki Foundation, “has a primary goal of supporting organisations in the brain science and research areas with a specific focus on regenerative medicine and brain preservation.” Part of the way this is achieved is through in-person and live-stream events, the most recent of which was a record breaking $1 million invite-only Pokemon Box Break Charity Event that took place in October. “Also, NFTs to the moon!” he adds. “Collectible culture has been a fun joyride for me so sports cards, Pokémon, and most importantly (especially if you are even remotely interested in this space) keep your eyes on MetaZoo!”
Steve explores his rich interests, among others, in his two biographical books. In 2019, he published his second, in which he lends a deeper look into the life of the rebellious herbivore turned EDM-blasting pioneer. Aoki revealed the story of his incredible come up in Blue: The Color Of Noise, an introspective and critically acclaimed memoir that details his relationship with his late father, Rocky Aoki, founder of the Benihana empire. Though they didn’t always see eye-to-eye, Steve has since gone on to open restaurants himself, the most recent venture being Kura Kura Pa, a Japanese Yakitori joint he and his older brother Kevin Aoki brought to Resorts World Casino on the Vegas strip this past August.
Always one to surprise, Aoki unveiled his new tech-house alias Ninja Attack in October with his debut single, ‘Aurora’, which sees the producer meander into darker, minimal territory, a stark contrast to the colourful mainstage sounds many associate with the unmistakable artist.
Aoki continues to say he’s got a new album in the pipeline. “This is going to be much different than what most people will expect,” he says. However, if there’s one thing he’s shown us repeatedly, it’s to expect the unexpected. Oh, and also to hang several meters behind the rail, unless of course you want to spend the rest of your festival evening in a sticky-sweet layer of sugary goo.
How was your first gig back after Lockdown?
“The crowd was twice as wild and twice as crazy. People were so excited to be at a live show again!”
How has the last 18 months changed how you view your work/life balance?
“I enjoyed the lockdown. The reset is what I may have needed because I’m always on the go. More mindfulness, more self-reflection, and more family time — we all can use that.”
What further steps should the industry take to combat climate change?
“More education creates more action. Education is the key.”
What’s the best bit of tech you’ve added to your studio or DJ set-up this year?
“I haven’t changed much in the past few years. If it works, why fix it?”
What’s the best album you’ve heard this year?
“’Go Global’ by Global Dan.”