Exclusive Interview: Steve Aoki Talks Collaborations, Dim Mak And The Future Of Dance Music

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You do a lot of collaborations. Some artists though prefer to work solo so they don’t have to compromise any of their vision or sound. Why do you enjoy working with other people so much?

Steve Aoki: Well, I grew up in a band format, playing guitar. I remember being in the studio, recording guitar and vocals and getting feedback from everyone else – it’s a pain in the ass. I know what you mean. And of course, going in the box and being your own producer, you don’t have to deal with anyone else, which is great.

My new song, “Can’t Go Home,” is a good example of why I like to collab though. I had the topline and it was so heartfelt. I wanted to go in a direction that I knew I couldn’t get to entirely on my own. So I started writing it and I had a pretty strong idea, but I knew it wasn’t going to get where it needed to go. So I thought of different producers who could come in and mould their sound with my sound so we could get there.

Felix Jaehan came to my mind. He’s from a totally different world of music, but those collabs are the most exciting, because they’re so different. You hear two different ideas coming together. He brought exactly what I wanted, but I couldn’t think of it myself. And once Felix and I had worked that all out, then we sent it to Adam Lambert, who was at the top of our list for the vocals.

I write so many ideas and sometimes I’m ok with them but sometimes I need feedback. And sometimes that feedback comes from other producers who want to add something to it and I’ll just tell them to join in. My whole thing with collaborations is always about building community. With Dim Mak, I share my stage and studio with everyone. Everyone’s invited. There’s no locked door.

I just like being around people. When I’m doing my own music, not collabs, I do like having the control. But I come from a band background, so I’m used to working with people. When I started Neon Future, I rented a cabin and I brought a bunch of friends to the cabin and different artists and musicians just because I wanted different ideas flowing. I just wanted to hear all the different ideas and work with them all. I love working with people outside the dance world, too. They bring new and different ideas to the table.

It’s almost like you don’t want to be in the box alone because the people you work with are so great and give such good input. Like with Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy, when I worked with him he was writing the topline on the spot. It was incredible.

You can’t be married to your ideas so strongly, either. I used to be really married to ideas that were confined to one sound. Then I decided to let that go and be more flowing. When you’re more open to letting go of things and being flexible, then your sound changes and transforms and evolves into a better sound. You don’t want to make a sound that’s from 2 years ago, right?

It’s so interesting, though, that after a few days in the studio with another artist, you’ve usually shifted away from your original ideas because you can now see that they don’t work. Being stuck in a room alone with no one around, it’s just not my style. Sometimes I can do that, like when I’m travelling, but I don’t love it.

Seeing as you’re a futurist, what do you think the future holds for dance music?

Steve Aoki: Everything is changing faster and faster. People are digesting music quicker and quicker. Songs aren’t being stuck in your head as long as they used to. They don’t have the same real estate just because there’s so much coming out.

Afrojack and I did “No Beef” in 2010 and released it in mid-2011. I’d been playing the song live for like a year and a half and when it came out it was still a huge record. You can’t do that anymore though. More sub-genres are being created and everything is changing much quicker.

That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Steve Aoki very much for his time.