Steve Aoki is a household name in EDM. But the Grammy-nominated electro house DJ and producer is just as well known for the music on his L.A.-based, independent record label, Dim Mak.
Started out of his dorm room in 1996 at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Dim Mak has grown into a global brand that continues to release music by the likes of The Chainsmokers and Keys N Krates, is part of major tours and festivals worldwide, and also operates its own lifestyle and clothing brand. And it turns 20 this year.
Aoki has diversified even further into films and video games but never seems to let the music drift too far from front and center. Although always seemingly on the road, the DJ and entrepreneur loves having multiple projects going at once and shows no signs of slowing down.
He hits KAABOO during the late hours of Saturday as part of Dim Mak’s 20th anniversary lap.
DiscoverSD recently spoke with Aoki by phone from his Las Vegas home about Dim Mak’s milestone and his passion for juggling it all.
Q: What were your initial thoughts around how you were going to mark the 20-year milestone?
A: The first thing that popped into my head is that we’re a global community and our business and culture is every bit global as it is local. So we decided to do 20 parties around the world. That was a big part. And then we’ll also be releasing a collectible vinyl package with four different records and a booklet that will talk a little about the history of Dim Mak. And that harkens back to our very first release that we put out on vinyl. I haven’t put out a vinyl in f****** years. I’m really excited about that.
Q: Along with music, the anniversary and constant touring, you have a video game coming out and you’re in a movie that opens on Christmas. Do you ever think about taking time off?
A: That doesn’t excite me. Right now, how I think about life is that what I enjoy, and what makes me happy, is what I do. I absolutely love it. And I enjoy connecting with people through different mediums. At the end of the day, it’s all about connecting through culture and lifestyle. We started working on this video game (Beat Bomb) in 2012. If I’m going to release something that has my name on it, I want to make absolutely sure that it’s something I love. I wrote a song for it - that you can only get in the game - and I’m going to write more. And just like music, you want these things to be timeless. These things shouldn’t be based on any trend. It should just be a quality service, a quality delivery system. I’m proud of the game and all of the stuff that’s happening. But just like anything, if whatever I produce doesn’t connect with people, you have to evolve and change. You have to be adaptable. Maybe there will be a point in time where the music I make doesn’t connect and I’ll have to do something else. But until then, I’m really grateful to be in a position where people care about what I do. And I just want to continue to deliver.
Q: Well, so far, so good. To what do you attribute these 20 years of success?
A: It’s all about how you connect with people. And knowing who your core audience is, making sure you’re connecting with them. You can always be on a trajectory to any goal and something happens - some sort of variable that you can’t control. And in a moment, it’s gone. I think about a lot of my contemporaries, people I really looked up to, people I felt had a real place of influence, and think about where they went and what happened. Whether it was their own choice or not, they’re not around. For me, I take that critically and I take it very seriously, because I love what I do. And while I have an audience, I’m going to create.
After hours at KAABOO
Encore stage presented by DiscoverSD
8 p.m.: OMNIA House DJ
9 p.m.: Andrew Luce
10:30 p.m.: Matoma
12:15 a.m.: DJ Snoopadelic
1:45 a.m.: WeAreTreo
9 p.m.: Savi
10 p.m.: RAC
11 p.m.: Ludacris
12:15 a.m.: Steve Aoki
1:45 a.m.: Brklyn
Scott McDonald is a writer, on-air personality and consultant with 15 years of experience in the San Diego music scene. He has interviewed hundreds of artists, from the legendary to the underground, for print and television.