Steve Aoki: Devoted To The Music | Noctis Digital Cover

In the rich world of music we currently live in, Steve Aoki floats as a maestro whose journey from punk rock kid to EDM sensation has been nothing short of an explosive diary entry full of anecdotes, genre-jumping, worldwide travels, sold out tours, cake throws and close A-list relationships. 

Steve started at the age of 14-15 by dipping his ears into vibrant subcultures of punk and hardcore music, a journey sparked by the desire to belong and find a voice among like-minded friends. Reflecting on those formative years, he shares, “For me, getting into music was more about finding a group of friends that you fit in with. I don’t want to say it was, like, too difficult for me to find a group of friends, I had friends here and there. But when you find a group of friends that are very passionate about one thing, it gets exciting.”

This tight-knit group propelled him into a world of punk and hardcore music, where passion and energy became driving forces. “Then it was game over for me. I was like, I’m going to devote my whole life to music, in all forms, and I basically did,” reminisces Steve, now a 46-year-old music icon. From playing all the instruments in a band to writing zines, his teenage years laid the foundation for a lifelong commitment to music and genre-jumping. Steve made his world music by playing “pretty much all the main instruments you can learn in being in a band, recorded my first demo, played all the instruments, recorded, sang, and did everything. By the time I was 15, I was in a bunch of different bands. I just went down the whole rabbit hole of doing everything I could do to contribute to this world that really gave me a voice,” he says. 

I’m going to devote my whole life to music, in all forms

Fast forward to today, and Steve’s music is a testament to the global influences he’s absorbed over the years. “You know, 30 years later, I’m still making music, still excited about music, so passionate about it, and it’s all from a small group of friends that brought me in.” His extensive travels around the world since 2007 have broadened his sonic palette. He notes, “Every time I would travel, I would just arm my curiosity. I let my curiosity lead and it would bring me into studios, and bring me to meet different artists from different rhythms, flows, sounds, and musical journeys that would inspire me, instigate me, and open my eyes and ears to whole new cultures that would later inform my musical creativity process. There’s no doubt touring the world has really opened me up. It’s actually quite important for me to represent this multi-genre and represent all the different sounds from the world in my albums.”

This global perspective is evident in his new album, HiROQUEST 2: Double Helix. This album is a rich mix of pop, EDM, festival anthems, and a significant nod to Latin music. Steve shines in enthusiasm while representing the diversity of sounds that have influenced him, establishing to us, “I really want to represent Latin music. It’s a big influence on my musical process.” A standout track from the new album is ‘Lighter,’ a collaboration with none other than Paris Hilton. The music video for the song is a throwback to the iconic 80s Maxell Cassette tape commercials. On the collaboration, Steve shares, “Paris and I go back 20 years. We’re both club kids. I was DJing, she was the star of every party. She really is a superstar in every form, in every way. She, at the same time, was one of the most genuine, humble, kind, wonderful humans that I met and through my life for the last 20 years. So it was just a matter of time, and I knew it was going to happen… It’s just a really great song for both of us.” 

The nostalgic theme of the music video aligns perfectly with the song’s vibe, creating a captivating fusion of old and new. He attributes this creative direction to the directors, Maxx & Madison, stating, “Nostalgia is so strong right now. It’s fun and it’s exciting for the new kids, it’s like a time they didn’t see. Like, oh those are some cool ideas from an era that I didn’t grow up.”

However, ‘Lighter’ is just a taste of the sonic adventure HiROQUEST 2: Double Helix promises. 

Steve delves into the collaborations on the album, mentioning artists like ERNEST, John Martin, KAAZE, Blasterjaxx, Danna Paola and even hints at collaborations with Kid Cudi and Lil Jon coming next year. “I want people to listen to the whole album so they can really feel the breadth of the diversity,” he says, emphasizing the global nature of his music. “There are a lot of interesting things on the cards, and I hope people get curious about that and join us in the card game.” Speaking of card games, fans can now become HiROQUEST2 collectors of limited edition trading cards, “We just dropped a bundle with the first card set just like Pokemon cards. We have a whole character list, all these different worlds that we’re introducing. So I’m dropping my first card set, my first book, a 260-page book in early 2024. I’m excited to share the story, the fantasy, and the cards, as well as the music.”

Reflecting on sheer breath of the album’s influences, Steve continues “HiROQUEST: Double Helix is a multi-genre album. I have pop music, I have pure EDM joints on there, I have festival bangers. Latin is a pretty strong fixture on the album, I really want to represent Latin music. It’s a big influence on my musical process. Cartagena in particular was an incredible song. We shot the video in the Las Vegas desert which was a lot of fun to do. Another song that I dropped with the album was ‘Us’ with ERNEST. Countries are becoming more and more something I want to always include in my album process.”

Live performances, especially at festivals like Tomorrowland in Belgium, play a pivotal role in Steve’s music journey. It’s on stages like these that new tracks are unveiled, and the energy of the crowd influences the creative process. Discussing the impact of Tomorrowland on ‘Lighter,’ he shares, “We decided for Tomorrowland, we’re going to make a banger. We’re going to make a techno banger.” 

Beyond the beats and melodies, Steve opened the curtains to his life in the Grammy-nominated Netflix documentary, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” (2016). Offering an intimate look at the road to his first Madison Square Garden show, the documentary provided a glimpse into his family dynamics. Reflecting on the impact of the documentary, Steve says, “I do definitely think that the documentary changes the perception of me to a lot of people because I think a lot of people might only see me throwing cakes at fans and not know the details of my story.”

Away from the decks, Steve is deeply involved in philanthropy, with a particular focus on understanding the brain and combating degenerative brain illnesses. “I want to help find the cures for degenerative brain illnesses and issues in the brain,” he states passionately. “I think the human brain is the single most important phenomenon in the universe and we really need to understand the status up in our heads. I love every day that I’m alive, I’m so grateful and blessed to experience things and remember things, and I don’t want to lose that memory. I think losing memory and losing your mind has to be one of the saddest things that could possibly happen to any human.” A cause very close to Steve’s heart, he is dedicated to helping and funding people to get them to the resources they need, as well as being an ardent supporter of research into increased life expectancy.

The human brain is the single most important phenomenon in the universe and we really need to understand the status up in our heads.

As the conversation wraps up, Steve’s enduring inspiration becomes apparent. It’s rooted in gratitude and a profound love for what he does. “I’m always gonna follow my passion. But most importantly, it’s all rooted in gratitude,” he expresses. From Dim Mak Records to ventures like the A0K1VERSE NFT community, Aoki’s innovations are driven by a desire to connect with fans. “For me, The A0K1VERSE community is the best way to bridge and connect with my fans in so many different ways.” 

Steve Aoki’s journey is a tapestry of genres, collaborations, and experiences woven together by a passion that shows no signs of waning. As he concludes, “I work hard because I love what I do. Because I’m grateful for where I’m at.” His musical odyssey continues, a celebration of diversity, gratitude, and the unending pursuit of creative expression.

I’m always gonna follow my passion. But most importantly, it’s all rooted in gratitude

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Words: Izabel Rose
Photographer: Jana Schuessler
Stylist: Justin Lynn
Hair and Makeup: Imogene Marrone
Cover Design: Charlie Harber Wincott