Alibi V.27 No.8 • Feb 22-28, 2018 

Music Interview

It Takes a Kolony

Aoki’s present is our future

Steve Aoki
Steve Aoki
Brian Ziff
All these years making fun of rave culture—from lampooning Vicks VapoRub-coated pacifiers to squelching the potentially weasely ways implied by pajamas-as-uniform wearing adherents—must now end. The snarky guffawing associated with lustrous body paint and the accumulation of brightly colored anything as currency now goes the way of the landline, folks. I’ve got the news and it comes from a dude named Steve Aoki. I think he’s from the future; or something like that.

But okay, lemme give this to you straight no chaser, carnales. EDM rules and here is why: Not long after imagining this town as the center of the metal universe—admittedly with the help of two fine heshers, named Tim Keller and Scott Ian, respectively—I got a call from from folks on the other side who wanted to know if I’d like to chat with Steve Aoki.

In case you wanna know, Aoki’s one of the totally huge brains behind a form of popular music that continues to joyfully and danceably displace the notion that rocanrol is a specific and catagorizable thing. This fascinating complication led me to put aside my Plutonic pretentions and dive into a bubble universe created in a holy intersection where the carnal silence of being meets the noise of the void, brightly, exhuberantly.

In Aoki’s praxis of postmodernism, rock is merely an aspect—a tentacle among thousands of tentacles if you will—on a trans-dimensional musical beast that spans both space and time as it lovingly absorbs everything in its path for delirious dispersal among gatherings of knowing, numinous humans who celebrate their physicality with a type of musical spirituality that implies unification at every level, from individual to global.

Aoki’s latest project, Kolony, evisions community as an essential by-product of the musical process for both artists and listeners, finding its potency in process. The diverse, individual threads woven together by a human behind a mixer come to represent the universal in Aoki’s world. That’s destination we call all aspire to, the DJ told me as we chatted on the phone about music and culture and life in the 21st century.

Weekly Alibi: Hey Steve, how ya doing?

Steve Aoki: Okay, man. … How are you?

Good dude, good. I bet you give heaps of interviews as part of your global-reach, jet-setting lifestyle as the greatest DJ on earth. Tell me a little bit about that, what’s life like, lately?

Oh, man, we’re on the Kolony Tour right now and the shows have been amazing! This is pretty much the same feeling you can imagine an artist might get when they finally get a substantial exhibition of their work. It’s, like, you know, bringing a book to life with a Broadway musical. This tour is about bring to life this ‘Kolony’ conception, this idea that I had when I made the album and the music videos that go with it. Now everything is interconnected and we get to bring it to the live stage. That human-touch-experience is so important, it’s what a colony experience really feels like—in real time. I’m living on a cloud right now because I’m so happy.

Emotionally, musically, what does that concept, Kolony, really speak to?

It’s American culture. It’s American culture to a T. It’s what youth culture is all about right now, hip-hop and EDM. Kolony has always been a reflection of that. I’ve been able to work with the loudest voices in the hip-hop community. We put together this incredible ensemble of artists. I’ve got Desiigner on stage with me—who is killing it with his mic drops—it’s all about these cross-cultural, cross-genre mash-ups, that’s what I love about Kolony.

In pop culture, hip-hop and EDM have literally taken center stage. But what happened to rocanrol?

They really have! And you know what, though, that’s not entirely true. I think there’s beauty in mixing different cultures. I just did a song with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and the singer of Rise Against, Tim McIlrath. These are two profound rock musicians from two very important bands from our generation. Rage is one of my favorite bands of all time.

So, what, you’re like the ultimate postmodernist, using everything you and I know, taking it apart, transforming the sum of the parts into something that’s relevant for the next generation, amirite?

I appreciate that, I really appreciate that, August. That’s it, the way you say that is very much the way I feel about music. It shouldn’t be—in my opinion—segmented. I hate how everything has been so separated, so disparate. Good music is good music. I’ve always felt that way about all genres. I love challenging genres, breaking them down. I have a foundation in production, but I want to get guitar riffs from Tom Morello—I wanna get … I’m working on this collaborative project with John Feldmann and Blink-182; we’ll do his tracks live, in-studio, then I go back to my workspace and apply my electronic additions, my synthesized vision, all the good things I do to make it Aoki. Then we go back to the studio and the band adds more live instrumentation. I love working that way.

Looking at the work on Kolony and the concept of building community through artistic expression, how do you think that translates to the the larger world, when that macrocosm may have grown dangerous while we were dancing separately, albeit ecstatically?

Wow. I do think that in these dangerous times it’s especially important that the voices of those who have been marginalized, people who have not been fairly represented, should speak out, should be heard. The voice that comes from the music world is a fairly strong voice, music has one of the largest potential for influence among the popular arts, to youth culture. And people don’t feel like shit is right, anymore. That’s [those feelings] where punk was born, that’s why punk was born! The punk ideology doesn’t have to solely reside in thrashing guitars and screaming vocals. It can be manifested in any genre [of music]. You could take the punk philosophy and apply it to any way of life. It’s how you live. You have to speak your mind.

What’s important to you today, about culture, about music, about life?

It’s exactly like you and I have talked about before; music has an enormous amount of cultural cachet; it’s really the basis for how people share and identify with their friends, how they present their group to the world with the clothes they wear, the way they walk, the music they hear. Given that deep connection, it’s imperative that we begin speaking up. And people are beginning to speak up in creative ways. It’s a renaissance actually, while a mindfuck is happening and there is something beautiful in that. When you go to protests and hear the passion involved, there’s so much power there, and it’s happening again; that’s meaningful.

Steve Aoki : “Turbulence”

Steve Aoki presents KOLONY US Tour
El Rey Theater • 622 Central Ave. SW
Monday, March 5 • 7pm • All-ages (13+) • $52 GA