Steve Aoki on How His Gigs Are "About Gettin' Crazy and Going Wild," With or Without Cake

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Courtesy of SLE
Steve Aoki is scheduled to perform on Monday, March 2, at the Pageant.
By Benjamin Leatherman

As you might have heard recently, Steve Aoki is cutting back on the cake. More specifically, the electronic dance music icon has stated that he's ceasing his trademark stunt of throwing sheet cake at audience members during shows, at least at big EDM festivals where he's a support act.

"If I'm on a multi-tiered lineup and I'm in the middle of a bunch of different artists, I don't want to cake a bunch of non-Aoki fans on accident," he says.

The good news is that the Dim Mak czar and attention-grabbing DJ/producer will still be flinging frosted baked goods (which is known as "caking up") at events where he's the headliner or at his club shows, including his gig next Monday at the Pageant when he brings the Neon Future Experience to St. Louis.

Good thing, too, since it's one of Aoki's signature bits (along with spraying champagne on his audience or crowd-surfing in an inflatable boat) and is something that any hardcore EDM fan or club kid should experience at least once.

Needless to say, the 37-year-old artist is big on the performance aspect at his shows and is credited with helping to amp up theatrics in the dance-music world, which is a byproduct of his love of punk and history in the hardcore scene. Aoki, a former hardcore kid and member of such bands as This Machine Kills and the Fire Next Time, also drew inspiration for his music from the world's mosh pits and three-chord thunder.

"I went from writing guitar lines to writing in a computer, and my first [EDM] records were very aggressive, and I was sampling guitars and learning how to use distortion in my music," he says.

In advance of his Pageant performance, we talked to Aoki, discussing the more theatrical elements of his performances and how he tries to strike a balance between the visual elements and stunts with the music.

Benjamin Leatherman: I read on the Internet recently that you're not doing the cake thing anymore at festivals.

I'm doing it selectively...changing it up a bit. I'm making it more special for the Steve Aoki shows. That way more fans are going to experience something unique there. And then at the festivals, if I'm on a multi-tiered lineup and I'm in the middle of a bunch of different artists, I don't want to cake a bunch of non-Aoki fans, either, on accident. You know, for example, the whole front row is just Aoki fans then, yeah, then its a different scenario.

What about the champagne spraying or the boat rides through the audience? Those are sort of your hallmarks.

Those ones are part of all my shows, they're always going to be around.

Awhile back, Wolfgang Gartner sort of dissed DJs who do a lot of stunts at their gigs -- specifically saying, "I don't throw cake at people" -- and that he prefers to keep it about the music. What's your response?

Um, my response is that everyone has a right to their own opinion. It wouldn't even bother me if he said my name. I wouldn't be offended, honestly. Because, I mean, everyone's got an opinion and its not like he said, "You can't do it." I mean, he doesn't like it. There's a lot of things that I don't like either. I can't name them off the top of my head, but I'm a little more open-minded when it comes to what people do as a form of entertainment. If they potentially hurt people, then I'm not really down with it.

At the same time, I wish I was at a GG Allin show when he was like shitting on the ground or throwing shit in the air.

Was GG Allin an inspiration for you?

I mean, I wouldn't say that he's an inspiration for my show, but I'm a punk kid so you see these videos of what happened back in the day, like these videos of Darby Crash where he cut himself across the chest and just like screaming, his mouth bleeding. Or even David Bowie doing something or Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire, like those kind of things I remember. I love that shit. If you boil it down to entertainment entirely, you don't have to light your guitar on fire and still do a solo, but its fucking epic.

Right.

I remember seeing the Bloody Beetroots in 2011 when they played at Stereosonic and they lit their CDJs on fire at the end of the set and it was fucking sick. I mean, I come from that world, too, the world of stage dives where its not about composition, like being composed, and looking clean. It's about ripping everything apart, and that's where I gain inspiration and passion.

I just went to straight edge hardcore show in LA a couple of days ago for this new band that I just signed, actually, on Dim Mak called XTRMST. It's Davey Havok and Jade Puget from AFI's side project. Those guys have been straight edge for over twenty years and...fuck, man, that feeling of watching that kind of energy, just people just screaming over you and grabbing the mic, like everyone singing together. It's sick. I got on the stage and I sang a Minor Threat song with Dave.

Which one?

"Filler." And it...felt...so...fucking...good to be on the mic again, because I used to be in a hardcore band.

Continue to page two for more.

Do you think there's a commonality with hardcore, hard rock and punk bands with EDM? After all, Skrillex started out with From First to Last. The scene you just described could be from any big dance festival.

Yeah, yeah. The commonality I really saw was at the height of electro, when Justice was reigning supreme in 2007. Because that was the first time that dance music really cut itself away from the traditional sense of what dance music is and created its own punk genre, which is electro. I mean, it was noisy, it was loud, it really pushed the status quo of dance music away from the scene. So when you went to the shows, it was the same energy -- people stage-diving, crowd-surfing, screaming...you'd hear guitar samples, you'd hear noise.

And that's when I started producing and that's where inspiration [came from], because I used to write music. I went from writing guitar lines to writing in a computer, and my first records were very aggressive, and I was sampling guitars and learning how to use distortion in my music.

Do you have big plans for you show at the Pageant?

Yeah, yeah. Its the Neon Future Experience Tour, so its actually the most expensive, craziest production I've ever done so far. I feel like every years it's going to be like that, especially if you want to one-up your last production. It's unfortunate that it's gotta be more expensive, you know.

But it's a really interesting, futuristic-looking rig that we spent the greater part of a year developing and fine-tuning, making sure it's the image of Neon Future. But at the same time, for me, I never want to take away from the element of turning up.

That idea, like when people go out, it's not like you go to a Steve Aoki show, you go to see something sophisticated like an Aphex Twin or a Squarepusher where you're like there and you watch and you soak up the music. Here, at my shows, its about fucking gettin' crazy and going wild.

But where my head's at is on this futuristic level, so I'm trying to balance that without losing people and making sure that they're there to fucking rage, you know? Because I want people to lose themselves in the music, not necessarily too much into the visual [element] that's going to be going on. So it's kind of a balance that I'm having.

I also have that on Neon Future, my album, I and II, too. And on II, I have JJ Abrams and Kip Thorne from Interstellar on the album, Neon Future II, which I'm more excited about than anything else...

Wait, the director JJ Abrams and the physicist Kip Thorne?

Yeah, yeah. So I try to have a balance but at the same time I wrote a song called "Cakeface" that's just about fucking getting caked in the face. So, it's a balance. For a lot of people outside who are looking inside, they're probably just thinking like, "What the fuck is going on?"

Steve Aoki 8 p.m. Monday, March 2. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $31 to $33.50. 314-726-6161.

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