Throwing Cake Is Just One of Steve Aoki's Many Skills

Steve Aoki turned up the heat at Houston's Cle last July 4 weekend.
Steve Aoki turned up the heat at Houston's Cle last July 4 weekend. Jack Gorman
One of the most famous and recognizable DJs on the planet is headed to the Bayou City on Thursday to kick off Stereo Live's "Big Game Weekend." Fresh off appearances on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon and NBC’s Today, where he played his new song with One Direction's Louis Tomlinson, “Just Hold On,” celebrated cake-thrower Steve Aoki took the time to field a few questions by phone about his career, relentless drive and upcoming performance.

Houston Press: You perform around 300 sets over a year — how do you keep your shows fresh so that fans continue to sell out your shows?
Steve Aoki: It’s like music is your narrative and I’m using the songs to tell a story. I’m constantly trying to expand my genre and change the sound, and when that happens, the story changes so it’s different for the fans. I’m always remixing and making new music. There is so much unreleased music and it’s continuously in my sets. People that come to my shows, the fans feel like they’re getting something special, because it is something special. It’s just for them.

We got to see you play one of your birthday shows this year at Hakkasan Las Vegas, and you really seemed to be in your element in that venue. But then again, you seem to be in your element just about anywhere we have seen you, like at Tomorrowworld in Atlanta or at the Clé pool party last summer. What settings do you feel most comfortable performing: small clubs, warehouses, international festivals, day parties?
It doesn’t matter where I’m playing. It’s the people that matter. It’s about the connecting with them.

What is the first thing you seem to notice when you look out into the crowd and see a sea of people?
I look for people that are connected. It’s like going to school and the kids raising their hands to ask the teacher questions, like they are involved. They want to learn. It’s like the same thing. When the crowd gives back, that’s what you’re looking for, that’s what makes a good gig. DJs that open for me have the hardest job and most difficult sets because people are just standing there or talking. It’s so hard when people aren’t connected.

What is the thought process in preparing your sets for a festival versus an indoor club versus a warehouse versus a day club/pool party? How do you decide what to play?
It doesn’t really matter about where; again, it’s about the connections with people. It’s not about being above them. It’s taking them on an adventure, but you just can’t dive into it. You have to hold their hand first and gain their trust, before you head out there. It’s also about knowing the region and what they are into in that area. It’s about knowing what is special to them and connecting with them that way too. Like dropping Vincent Fernandez singing “El Sonidito” in Mexico City or “Baile de Favela” in [Tomorrowland] Brazil, it’s all about connecting with the people.

Your work ethic and drive are amazingly evident with all of your projects and successful ventures. What has been the proudest moment of your career up to this point?
Wow, I’m so lucky and have been so humbled in my life. It’s really the little things. There’s no one big thing that takes the cake. I suppose being nominated for a Grammy was big and now another one with the movie [I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, up for Best Music Film]. This song with Louis has opened a doorway in my career in ways that I never thought possible. It’s incredible. “Just Hold On” has connected with another whole set of fans that previously weren’t connected with.”

So you're kicking off the Big Game Weekend events at Stereo Live. Do you have any surprises for the fans in Houston?
I’d say half the set [will be] unreleased music and probably hip-hop-heavy; I have a lot of new music featuring Migos and 2 Chainz, but you know, Houston has seemed to connect with “Just Hold On” too. A lot of Shazaams [song identification app] show people searching for it.”

What are the odds that we see Louis hop onstage with you?
I can’t say yes. I can’t say no. It’s not easy to travel with having so many plans. He is writing and doing a lot of things too. But I guess you never know.”

To our knowledge there has never been an electronic artist perform during the Super Bowl Halftime Show. What level of interest would you have in being the first?
I would jump at that honor. I mean, during my breaks they are mostly jock jams. And rocking those songs with that energy would be so sick! Connecting with the massive amount of people there, I mean they stand almost the entire time; that would be awesome.”

Well, one can hope Roger Goodell will hear about this and get the ball rolling on that for Atlanta next year. Thank you for taking time out of your extremely busy schedule, and we can’t wait until Thursday.

Steve Aoki performs Thursday, February 2 at Stereo Live, 6400 Richmond. The show is sold out except VIP passes, which start at $55.
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Jackson is a freelance photographer and writer covering a variety of music and sporting events in the Houston area. He has contributed to the Houston Press since 2013.
Contact: Jack Gorman