DJ Steve Aoki’s Ambiguous Love Affair with Mainstream and Indie Appeal

By Joel Lynos

Steve Aoki, a well-known, L.A.-based celebrity DJ, has managed to make his appeal global. Whenever he’s not dropping the hottest beats in Hollywood, he can be seen mixing it on the ones and twos in such high-profile locales as Tokyo, Las Vegas, and New York City. If he so chose, Aoki could name-check a list of star-studded friends such as Lindsay Lohan and Danny Masterson, but for him, the focus has always been the music.

“Music was where I fit,” Aoki, who is of Japanese descent, said in an interview with L.A., Los Angeles Times Magazine. “Music became a central focus of what I wanted to be part of.” Also known as DJ Kid Millionaire, Aoki is the son of the late Rocky Aoki the founder of the Benihana restaurant chain and a fixture of New York City’s club scene and is the half-brother of model and actress Devon Aoki. (2) Growing up in Newport Beach in Orange County, Calif., Aoki was introduced to DJing when a classmate gave him the gift that would guide him down his then-future career path.

“That mix tape it changed everything,” he said in L.A. That cassette led to Aoki becoming obsessed with the art of scratching and creating music. At a young age, he started Dim Mak Records, which translates to “Death Touch,” inspired by film icon Bruce Lee. The common theme among his label’s roster of artists is that they fall into the indie or electro categories. The Dim Mak family of releases and artists includes such notables as Gossip, Bloc Party, MSTRKRFT, Armand Van Helden and the Bloody Beetroots. In addition to his production work, he’s also crafted remixes for an all-over-the-place collection of artists such as pop stars Duran Duran, rockers Lenny Kravitz and Chris Cornell, R&B crooner Robin Thicke and rapper Snoop Dogg. Aoki’s latest release, 2007’s Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles, features the turntablist’s mixing skills of contributions from bands such as Klaxons, Peaches and Franz Ferdinand with guest raps from Spank Rock and Mickey Avalon.

With his tastemaking status in music and fashion (he’s got Dim Mak clothing, several “Steve Aoki” contributions to other lines and is working on a new one with sister Devon), it’s no surprise Aoki finds himself to be a trendsetter in the oversaturated Internet age. But he recognizes that his appeal walks a fine line between the indie mindset and those who follow the celebutantes. But according to him, those who benefit from this ambiguity are the people who love the music.

“I can get criticized, but if my bands are able to tour and make music that’s important to people, then I’m going to keep doing this,” Aoki said his interview with L.A. “I could say no to these guys, but then I couldn’t afford to do what I’m doing, which is release great music that people care about.” Step into Steve’s world at www.steveaoki. com