Constantly shifting gears
While Mulholland Drive high up in the Hollywood Hills may have the views and legacy, it’s Wonderland Avenue that has the street cred and infamy (ex-porn star John Holmes was involved in a 1981 quadruple homicide at an apartment on the narrow road). Now, Wonderland Avenue may soon gain notoriety for something new: the world’s most unlikely road where some of America’s most beloved recent electronic music has been made thanks to Steve Aoki who named his debut for New York-based Ultra Music and his own label Dim Mak Records, Wonderland.
“There’s some iconic personalities walking up and down Wonderland” Aoki laughs, but that’s not why the artist chooses to live on Wonderland Avenue—he’s there for his home studio and access to big name guests from around the world (think everyone from Kid Cudi to Lil Jon to Afrojack) who are happy to drop by and record with one of the party scene’s greatest rockers.
“Every single day I’m in L.A. I’m recording at my house,” says the busy touring DJ and producer, who by his own admission is only in Southern California for less than 100 days a year these days. “Luckily, L.A. is a place everyone wants to come visit and it’s a cool environment up there” he adds.
Arguably no producer has done more to raise the international profile of Los Angeles in underground electronic music circles than Steve Aoki. He broke bands such as Bloc Party, The Bloody Beetroots, Klaxons and The Gossip though deftly marketed single and full-length releases on his Dim Mak label, which he began in 1996 and now has over 250 releases. Those releases often dovetailed into performances at his weekly Dim Mak nights including Dim Mak studios (still going strong every Tuesday night in the heart of Hollywood). As a label owner and shrewd curator of talent from around the world, those club nights have hosted the debut US performances of hundreds of acts over the last decade from Lady Gaga to Ed banger Records & Justice, Ke$ha, Skrillex, Kid Cudi, Kaiser Chiefs, No Age to Boys Noize. Aoki’s become a force of nature who has helped turn underground house, electro and harder-edged EDM with rap and rock leanings into the phenomena it is today: regularly pulling in 150,000 + fans at events such as Las Vegas’ Electric Daisy Carnival and the debut of the IDentity national electronic touring festival.
Aoki’s punk roots go back to the art of the house party, when he was just a student at UCSB he was already booking bands such as The Rapture, !!!, Jimmy Eat World, Hot Water Music and At the Drive-In at his Pickle Patch bash and forging relationships with big names that would end up serving him well in the future (he met Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo at a secret show in college). Now, Aoki is readying the next stage of is incredible music career with his first proper full-length release with Wonderland, bringing a lifetime’s worth of passion for bands, DJs and artists of all stripes he has met and/or worked with over the past two decades to the forefront.
“This album is a collection of singles with all different kinds of songs,” Aoki says, adding his new single with Rivers Cuomo, “Earthquakey People,” is resonating big time with rock, pop and dance fans. The song shot straight to the upper echelons of Beatport’s electro house charts as soon as it was released in October 2011. True enough, Wonderland is a dizzying, addictive and satisfyingly winding journey for all kinds of music boosters through Aoki’s mastery of nearly every sub-genre of dance music from “Earthquakey People’s” buzzing Les Rythmes Digitales-esque dance pop to dubstep, rock-infused disco to commercial house.
“I wanted this album to show all the different kinds of production sounds I can do,” says the globe-trotting DJ who has been on a hot streak lately thanks to singles like his “Turbulence,” which emerged as one of 2011’s bigger anthems at large-scale dance events at happing from Belgium’s massive Tomorrowland to Miami’s annual Ultra Music Festival.
Wonderland contains not only past hits such as “Turbulence” , “No Beef”, and Aoki’s well-known remix of “Pursuit of Happiness” (featuring Kid Cudi), but several new standout singles that may well see Aoki break into U.S. pop charts now that the scene he helped build in America has crept into mainstream pop radio channels with a sound leaning heavily on dance music.
“People are really going to like ‘Ladi Dadi,’” Aoki says of his pop skewing offering with Wynter Gordon on Wonderland. “Dubstep is a major influence in my production lately,” he said of the track.
But “Ladi Dadi” isn’t the only surprisingly radio-friendly track on Wonderland featuring female vocals—Aoki teamed up with CSS singer Lovefoxxx for deep house pleaser “Heartbreaker” as well as recorded with chart-topping firestarter Nayer for his “Come With Me (Dead Meat)”
“It’s actually the first track I wrote for the album,” says Aoki of “Come With Me (Dead Meat),” which features commercial house production. “I’ve updated the song probably six times through the years but I’ve finally found the right vocalist with Nayer,” he adds.
Wonderland is far from your average dance music collection of singles, however. The record bristles with fresh-sounding collaborations beyond club jams that light up VIP sections from Moscow to Miami. “Anyone who knows anything about punk knows the Exploited,” says Aoki of one of Wonderland’s more unique offerings “The Kids Will Have Their Say,” which features members of legendary punk bands The Exploited and Die Kreuzen as well as Dutch producer Sickboy.
“I love molding two different genres and two generations of music in a song,” Aoki continues regarding the track, which effortlessly fuses punk and dance music in homage to Boston hardcore band SS Decontrol, who also had an album of the same title released in 1982.
“It’s bringing back punk hardcore influenced vocals to a dance beat and hopefully this album will come across in a way that people will get immersed in and really get involved in the lyrics,” he said of the track, which features defiant lyrics in the best tradition of hardcore songs from the 1980/90s. “Kids at my shows are like the same group of kids I grew up with. They are so excited about this music and they want to hear new sounds, next level music.”
Rap gets a big look, too, on Wonderland with Aoki’s collaboration with Chiddy Bang and Lil Jon called “Emergency”, “Dangerous” w/ Zuper Blahq (follow up to their hit single “I’m In the House”), “Cudi the Kid” featuring none other than Kid Cudi and another followup to a track Aoki did together earlier this year “Misfits” w/ who Steve calls “the best drummer in the world” Travis Barker, as well as Aoki’s new song with chart-toppers LMFAO, “Livin’ My Love,” which contains a special message for jealous haters and also features NERVO.
From rap to punk, electro house to alt rock, Wonderland is truly a unique cross-genre whirlwind tour of music in 2011/2012 as Aoki sees it and as akin to driving down Wonderland Avenue at dizzying speeds…. constantly shifting gears.
“This album is a spectrum of music that influences me,” says Aoki.
America, suddenly insatiable when it comes to dance music in all its splendor and variety, is now ready to take a proverbial drive down a street the DJ and producer knows well.
Livin' My Love