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EntertainmentMusic & NightlifeMidnight Sun

Steve Aoki crowd-surfs to EDM prominence

MusicMusic IndustryDisc JockeysSteve AokiKendrick LamarNervo (music group)

Steve Aoki can barely contain his excitement over the tour he has orchestrated.

"This lineup is phenomenal," said Aoki, the dance music DJ and producer. "We've only done four shows so far, and it feels just like a festival with all these different artists."

This type of passion is what helped the 35-year old producer rise to the top of the world of electronic dance music in recent years. Performing an average of 250 shows annually, Aoki has galvanized the scene and won over fans with his upbeat house music and stage antics, such as crowd-surfing and launching birthday cakes at concertgoers.

Aoki is headlining the "Aokify America Tour" with Waka Flocka Flame and Pharrell Williams — two hip-hop artists who make for a disparate, yet energetic, program.

"I did this tour with [rapper] Kendrick Lamar about four months ago, and that's where I saw these two worlds of music coming together," Aoki said. "Seeing his crowd and my crowd having fun and dancing made me realize that for the next tour I'd want to mix it up and get some hip-hop guys."

Left-field collaborations of this kind are nothing new for Aoki. He has worked with artists such as Kid Cudi, Travis Barker and Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, and most recently wrote a song with Linkin Park called "A Light That Never Comes."

"Most of the times, I build friendships with people, we gel in the studio and then make music together," he said.

On top of his tour schedule, he keeps busy writing new material.

"'Neon Future,' my next album, is something I've been slaving over on the plane, in my studio, on the bus … every bit of spare time I have," Aoki said.

His newest single, "Bring You to Life," with Rune RK and featuring Ras, has a slightly different feel than his previous single "Boneless," released in September.

"It's all about timing. I wanted to release 'Boneless' as a summer record because of its summer feel. Now that we're entering winter, I wanted to release a more emotional record with more vocals," Aoki said.

Aoki is the owner of the successful Dim Mak record label, which specializes in independent dance music and has keen insights on the ways EDM is evolving.

Electronic dance music is a genre dominated by male DJs and producers, but Aoki is optimistic that will soon change.

"These twins from Australia, Nervo, are killing it right now," he said. "They're incredible songwriters, vocalists, DJs and performers. I really think that they're going to pave the way for a lot of female DJs out there."

He's also one of the more outspoken artists on the rise of "molly," the street name for the powder or crystal form of MDMA. It's become an increasingly popular — and dangerous — staple at raves and EDM concerts in recent years. Aoki was recently cast in a public service announcement regarding the dangers inherent with club drugs.

"Everyone wants to maximize their fun, but if you're going to be doing that stuff, at least know the damage and repercussions it can amount to," he said. "A lot of people don't know that it can kill you."

The outcry began after the deaths of two Electric Zoo Festival attendees from an overdose of the drug.

"I flew into New York and found out it was cancelled and couldn't believe it," he said. "We all came to celebrate music and this amazing culture, and it was just so sad."

Aoki thinks a drug education program could help save lives.

"When I was in school and in driver's [education class], you were educated on what happens with drunk driving — you'll die and kill someone else while you're at it," Aoki said. "At the end of the day, it all boils down to education."

For some, the EDM culture equates with drugs and death, which Aoki said was unfair.

"It's hard for them understand until they see it and they're a part of it," he said. "It requires that patience, and they've got to get involved. I think it's going to take time."

For the foreseeable future, Aoki is here to have fun.

"The kids who are at these shows now will become parents, and they'll know what to expect and raise their kids with this music."

alandi@baltsun.com

If you go

Steve Aoki performs Friday at Merriweather Post Pavillion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Doors open at 4 p.m. Tickets are $18-$125. Call 877-435-9849 or go to merriweathermusic.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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MusicMusic IndustryDisc JockeysSteve AokiKendrick LamarNervo (music group)
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