When I try calling Steve Aoki on a Monday evening, I get a recorded message: "Please text me 'cause I don't really check my voice mail. Thanks." His publicist and manager admit they don't know where he is. The next day, it takes his publicist nearly 10 minutes to track him down for our rescheduled interview. Even then, it isn't long before a hurried Aoki asks if he can put the call on speakerphone as he gives instructions to people around him and asks me to repeat a question. The hardest working man in Electronic Dance Music? Possibly.
"Music's my life. It's a way of satisfying myself," Aoki, 34, says from a tour stop in Kansas City. "I just feel that when you're a music junkie, you can't ever stay off of it. Luckily, that's my drug of choice."
Aoki, a California-based DJ and producer, is currently on the road for his Deadmeat Tour featuring Datsik, the dubstep artist whom Aoki recently signed to his Dim Mak record label. The tour will stop at Charlotte's Fillmore on Feb. 10, supporting Aoki's studio debut, Wonderland. A mixtape of sorts that took three years to complete, the album features collaborations with Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, Chiddy Bang, Lil Jon, LMFAO, Nervo, Blaqstarr, Travis Barker, Kid Cudi and plenty of others. It's a record Aoki feels showcases all sides of his abilities.
"Singles define a DJ while albums define bands," Aoki says. "When you finish writing a song, you want to get it out as soon as you can. When you're working on an album, you have to hold a bunch of songs hostage. I was writing songs for an eclectic album that uses different genres of EDM to define my influences — progressive, dubstep and new sounds that people don't hear from me as a songwriter. I wanted to unleash it all at once."
Now that his own album is out, Aoki is working with Datsik to release his debut. The two DJs had plenty of time to talk during last year's Identity Festival, which led to Datsik's signing to Dim Mak as its first dubstep artist.
"We became really good friends on that tour, I signed him and it just made sense to do a tour together," Aoki says. "We're mixing our two worlds and having a really interesting crowd. We had more than 7,200 people in San Francisco, which was my biggest headlining show I've done."
For the first time, Aoki's set is completely his own music. He spent six months creating an all-new show — sonically and visually — that fans won't see him do again. It combines tracks from Wonderland with those songs of his which people are already familiar with.
Aoki, whose father founded the Benihana restaurant chain, has seen lots of changes in his 15 years in the business. Pairing his electro house style with Datsik's bass and dubstep isn't something EDM fans would have seen in the recent past.
"EDM itself is becoming more of a unified group of sounds being able to work together whereas three or four years ago, you wouldn't be able to do a show like this," Aoki says. "It's changed a lot. There's a lot of collaborations happening. In general, a lot of underground sounds have so much energy that everyone in the community takes notice. The way the state of music is now, it's changing at the most rapid rate that I've ever seen because of the way people access music."
As for being possibly the hardest working man in EDM — when Aoki finishes the current 45-date tour, he'll head out for a European run. Later this year, he'll release some "club bangers," a collaboration with Knife Party, his collaboration with Tiësto called Tornado and another with Australian rapper Iggy Azalea. There are also a few "secret" projects that he's excited about, but can't yet mention, in addition to possible involvement with this year's version of Identity Festival. Perhaps when all of that is done, he can start working on his next album.
"If I made an album with a wish list of collaborators, it would have Zach de la Rocha and Chester Bennington — people who I love what they've done," Aoki says. "Since I've finished album one, album two will be much easier to do. It's not gonna take me another three years. I have to put out music that affects me in a positive way. As long as it does that to me, I'm happy with it."