Steve Aoki Talks Identity Festival & Dim Mak Records

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The Identity Festival arrives just as a friend said to me, “There are no good festivals in New York this year.” Don’t you just love it when that happens? This is a good one. Talent lined up includes DJ Kaskade, Steve Aoki, DJ Shadow, Booka Shade, and DJ Chuckie. The shin-dig will be at the Nikon Theater at Jones Beach this coming Sunday, August 21. There are 3 stages; the Skullcandy Main Stage, The Rockstar Energy Drink x Dim Mak Stage and the Beatport Stage.

One of the headlining DJs is my old pal Steve Aoki. Back in the day I befriend Steve Aoki’s brother Kevin who was promoting events at my clubs. We became friends and through Kevin met Devon his wonderful actress/model sister (now a mother) and his famous father Rocky Aoki. I was amazed at the level that they all worked. I consider myself quite the dynamo, with 5 careers taking me from 7am every day until late at night. But I am tortoise to these hares. We always run into each other. I designed the WESC store on Lafayette and Steve is friends with owner of the brand Gregor Hagelin. Steve designs some of the brand’s DJ headphones, in fact the ones I use. Our mutual friends have mutual friends who are friends with us. He is DJing at all the hotspots but is doing something new for the Identity Fest. I caught up with Steve Aoki as he headed to NYC for this incredible Identity Festival gig.

First of all, great to connect again and congrats on everything you’ve been doing. Tell me about the clothing line. Steve Akoi: The clothing line’s doing great. We started a new branch of the line called D1 and we’re going to be showing it in January 2012, to sell in fall/winter. The full range includes outwear, knits, and our tees. It’s more of high-end men’s range. And we still have our Dim Mak T-shirt line with that.

Do you still co-own the Korean BBQ joint, Shin? Yeah, I’m still part owner and I actually just opened a new restaurant called Eveleigh, like a year and a half ago.

Where’s that? It’s also in LA, in the Sunset Plaza area. I co-own it with these Australian guys that have amazing restaurants like Kingswood in New York. They have restaurants in Australia and New York.

You come from a restaurant background. Your dad, Rocky, was a food guy, opening all those Benihana restaurants. Is your brother Kevin still running Benihana? Kevin’s focusing on Sushi Doraku which is his restaurant and that’s his main focus. Benihana is run by a publicly traded company, so there’s a board of directors. There’s like two arms of Benihana, there’s BI that handles all the domestic operations and then there’s Benihana Tokyo that handles all the international rights.

Are you still managing DJs with Deckstar? Yeah, in the beginning when DJ AM wanted to start a management company with his manager, Paul, I got involved then and me and Matt, my manager, formed a sub-management underneath the management, which is now pretty active. We’ve gone from being a DJ-driven open format club organization to artist management, and now we have bands like Blink 182, Rancid, Travis Barker’s work, other rock and indie bands, and obviously DJs.

And you’re working on Aoki Magazine as well, while touring as a DJ? The touring is about 250 gigs a year now, so my main projects are producing music and finishing my album, which is coming out the end of the year. That’s been a three-year project for me, in addition to touring and running my record label. With the clothing line, since we partnered with an amazing company that’s going to help develop and finance the line, I leave a lot of the day-to-day stuff with them. My main business right now is the label Dim Mak Records and I’m on the Identity Festival tour right now.

The Identity Festival is billed as an electronic musical festival, bringing a club type atmosphere to an outdoor setting. How do you guys coordinate with each other so you don’t have the same vibe? With Identity Fest, there’s so many different kinds of artists including Rusko and Kaskade on the Dim Mak Stage, which is the stage I was involved in curating. The idea is to make a very diverse, eclectic array of artists on that stage. We have Holy Ghost, which is more disco and funky and then DJ Shadow who’s the one probably the one that stands out the most, because he’s more break beats and hip-hop, mixing his own music and sampling. Then you have Nero, who’s a dubstep artist from the UK and Crystal Method who’s been around for ages, with platinum albums and then I’ll be headlining. I’m doing a live show for the first time across 20 dates and that’s been a really big deal for me. I have a trailer entirely full of technicians, people that are in the structure of the rig of the live show doing the visuals and the lights. It’s an elaborate process to put the whole show together.

How is your set different from a club set? I’m doing an hour and a half of entirely Dim Mak music and my own records, in exception to two unreleased tracks that aren’t on the label. Because they are unreleased tracks, I can get away with putting it in the set, and they go so well with the set. For the most part it’s Dim Mak music, all records from the record label and all my own music, probably 70% my own music.

How many days a year do you wake up and not know what city you’re in? Actually, on that last question, if you go to and click on a couple links, you’ll get a picture of what my live show looks like. There are also live videos at YouTube’s Dim Mark Records page; they’re putting up videos online everyday and you can get an idea of the crowd, the action, as you see the show live.

It sounds exciting as can be, but how many days a year do you wake up and not know what city you’re in? Today. I woke up and was like, where the hell are we?