Steve Aoki: From Straight Edge Hardcore to EDM Superstar
Steve Aoki is one of the biggest names in electronic dance music (EDM), known for his high-energy DJ sets, electrifying productions, and collaborations with some of the industry's biggest stars. And yes, you’re probably thinking it … for caking people in the crowd.
His musical journey has taken him from the gritty world of straight edge hardcore punk to the glitz and glamour of the EDM scene. Along the way, he has influenced countless artists, broken records, and cemented his place as one of the biggest names in electronic dance music. Seeing as our latest limited edition vinyl release is with Steve Aoki and Richard Orlinski, we thought we’d explore Aoki's evolution as a musician, his passion for straight edge hardcore, and the bands that inspired him along the way.
Those Early Years
Steve Aoki grew up in Newport Beach, California, exposed to a wide range of music and cultures from a young age. However, it was the straight edge hardcore scene that really captured his imagination.
In the late 1990s, Aoki formed his own band, This Machine Kills, which played an aggressive, politically charged brand of punk rock. He also played in various other bands including The Fire Next Time, Esperanza & Rifoki; which is featured on the vinyl we’ve just released with him.
Straight-edge is a punk subculture that emphasises a drug-free, alcohol-free, and often vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, as well as positive values like self-discipline, self-reliance, and community. Aoki embraced this lifestyle and became a vocal advocate for its values, even as he began to explore other musical genres.
The Birth of Dim Mak Records
In 1996, Aoki founded his own record label, Dim Mak Records, the name being a reference to Bruce Lee's Death Touch martial art technique and the label started out of his college apartment at the University of California, Santa Barbara. At the time he also began hosting punk and hardcore shows at The Pickle Patch, which was actually just a nice name for the living room of his college apartment. It quickly became a notable label in the punk rock scene, eventually broadening its horizons and working with indie, electro & hip hop acts too, including Pretty Girls Make Graves, Bloc Party, Mstrkrft & more. It also released Aoki's own music, including his first solo EP, Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles.
Aoki's early music was heavily influenced by the straight edge hardcore scene, and he continued to release music in this vein throughout the 2000s. However, he also began to explore other genres, including electro, house, and other forms of EDM. This eclectic approach helped to define his sound and set him apart from other DJs and producers.
Rise to Fame
Aoki's big break came in 2010, when he released his debut album, Wonderland. The album was a critical and commercial success, featuring collaborations with some of the biggest names in music, including Kid Cudi, LMFAO, and Travis Barker. The album's lead single, "I'm In The House," became an international hit and helped to establish Aoki as a major force in the EDM scene.
Since then, Aoki has continued to push boundaries and break records. He has headlined festivals around the world, collaborated with artists like BTS, Fall Out Boy, Blink 182, and Backstreet Boys. He even had Guinness World Records for the "longest crowd cheer", and also for the "most amount of glow sticks for thirty seconds.". His high-energy DJ sets, positive energy and electrifying productions have made him one of the most sought-after performers in the world, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Influence of Hardcore Bands
Despite his success in the world of EDM, Aoki has never forgotten his roots in the hardcore punk scene. He remains an active member of the straight edge subculture and continues to promote its values through his music and his activism work. Aoki has cited bands like Gorilla Biscuits, Avail, Youth of Today, Refused, Earth Crisis, and The Fire Next Time as major influences on his early work and his ongoing exploration of different genres and styles.
These bands and their music have had a significant impact on Aoki's sound and style, and he continues to pay homage to them in his own music. The aggressive, full throttle spirit of hardcore punk is evident in his live shows, which are known for their intense energy and crowd interaction. Aoki's use of punk rock samples and influences in his electronic dance music has also helped to bridge the gap between these two seemingly disparate genres.
Steve Aoki's journey from straight edge hardcore punk to EDM superstar is a testament to his creativity, passion, and hard work. His love for music and commitment to his values have helped to shape his sound and his place in the world of electronic dance music. From his early days in the hardcore scene to his record-breaking performances around the world, Aoki has remained true to himself and his vision, and has inspired countless others to do the same. Whether you're a fan of punk rock, electronic dance music, or anything in between, Steve Aoki's music and message are sure to resonate with you. That’s why we’re so incredibly excited to have worked with him on ‘Year Zero’. An incredibly limited 12" vinyl release that pays homage to his hardcore roots and tells the unexpected story of punk music’s influence on Steve Aoki’s meteoric rise to superstar DJ.
‘Year Zero’ is also a co-curation with the French contemporary artist, Richard Orlinski, who art directs the collaboration and creates the original character, Punk Kong … but we’ll dive more into his work in our next blog post.