It is not often I will choose to write about Steve Aoki. Even as one of the artists on top of pop-culture’s rendition of electronic music, I don’t find that I would have many positive things to say about him. I have played the defensive role towards the large EDM-festival orientated artists many times before. While some of the artists that have made it big during the wave of popularity have alluded my taste, I understand that they have a large audience of fans that find something special within the music. I can’t argue with that. If you came up to me and told me you think Richie Hawtin sucks, it wouldn’t take away from my fascination with Plastikman at all. One of the highlights of music, to me and I would assume many others, is the personal connection you are able to find within the music. Something that speaks to you. Something that takes you out of your mindset and into a world of sonic exploration. While I have my definition of what it takes for music to bring me to that level, I also understand that the definition would vary from person to person. A musical act caters to the audience in which it attracts. While all of this is certainly true, the focus of this perspective lies within the music. While Steve Aoki may certainly be an ‘act,’ I would’t go about calling it musical.
“… the guy throws fucking cakes in people’s faces. What the fuck is that about? You throw a cake at people? That’s the main attraction?”
-Seth Troxler, speaking of Steve Aoki.
Let’s face it, there are more people turning to Planned Parenthood to learn about abstinence than there are festival goers attending an Aoki set for music. The guy puts on an incredible visual performance that has served more \’rage-fueled\’ appetites than the local McDonalds, and that is because he is good at it. He has chosen his path as an ENTERTAINER, and fills those clown shoes quite well. None of this can be denied. While he exists in a world that I would never attempt to defend, I can understand that it is his thing and the impact it has on me is generally non-existent. The shows I choose to attend continue to be scheduled and so do his. There is no need for them to cross path, and for that I can be thankful. Or can I?
THE POWER OF BEATPORT
In comes this beautiful chart presented to the world from the team over at Beatport. The chart depicts, as it’s title would suggest, the trend of sales by genre over the past 10 years. While this chart is apparently based on actual track sales on Beatport, it leaves off one small, yet incredibly important detail: That all tracks on Beatport are categorized into one of a select list of genres, no matter what level of bastardization the classification might be to the genre in question. For now, let’s accept the fact that this isn’t likely to change in the near future and under this model, \’deep house\’ is the current track sales champ. Beatport, one of the world\’s largest electronic music digital stores, is a fairly reliable source for market analytics. As such, sales trends on the site can be indicative of consumer taste and more specifically, where \’the money\’ can be found in electronic music. It isn\’t surprising that many of the large acts in electronic music utilize these trends to shape the direction of their \’brand.\’
You might have noticed that I choose to use the word \’brand\’ rather than \’music\’ to label the directional change the artists take. I utilized this term specifically because that is exactly what artists such as Steve Aoki have become, despite what their neon snapback wearing fans might argue. When discussing Steve Aoki in this context, let\’s ignore what he has accomplished as a label owner and concentrate on him as a performing \’artist.\’ When the electronic music world discusses which artists rely on pre-recorded performances or release music created for them by ghost producers, it doesn\’t take long for Aoki\’s name to enter the debate. While I don\’t have any proof to present you to either claim (and thus will not present them as fact), it does not take much observation to find the rumors agreeable. Aoki\’s sets feature antics such as throwing cake at his fans and surfing the crowd in a giant inflatable raft. Meanwhile, the seamless mixing on stage continues. Aoki\’s productions list more credits to producers such as Justin Bates as it does to himself, if not more (For more information). While I certainly can\’t claim this to be definitive proof of his productions not being his own, it certainly is enough to present them as questionable. So what exactly is he responsible for? Simply put, he is responsible for maintaining the image that has become associated with his brand, and like any other major brand, relies on the rest of the company to fill in the other gaps.
EVOLVING THE BRAND
Sharing the same concerns as any other modern company, a pop-culture artist brand must evolve with market trends or die off to the next big thing. Sharing this ideology, Steve Aoki has declared to Mixmag in a recent interview that he will be releasing deep house tracks under a new alias. While it shouldn\’t take a rocket scientist to be able to connect the dots at this point, he gives credit to his performances in Ibiza as the inspiration behind the change. While I would love nothing more than to believe Ibiza has presented the artist with some sort of eye opening experience, I prefer not to succumb to the same mind numbing lack of judgement he expects of his followers. Aoki is chasing the large paychecks and with all indicators pointing towards deep house, he has found a new genre of choice to fuck up beyond recognition.
\”I agree on the criticism of the guys who just put in their USB sticks and press play and basically just shout “raise your hands in the air,” then jump all around the stage, or you know…..like, throw food at people. That’s not really what this whole electronic music culture is all about.\”
-Paul Van Dyk on the state of EDM
Steve Aoki has defined himself as an artist of the EDM generation of festival orientated rage music. He has an unapologetic approach to turning a DJ performance into an ass-clown mockery of the scene that relies on the \”Turn down for what?\” mentality of festival goers and music consumers. He hasn\’t tried to defend himself from this position either. The poster boy of big room destruction seems to be perfectly ok with his position as such. While this hasn\’t been much of a concern to me previously, that lack of concern is changing as he openly admits to deep house being within his destructive crosshairs.
A MATCH MADE IN HELL
While many Steve Aoki fans seem to sheepishly follow artists like him and choose to be ignorant to the formulaic cookie-cutter music they are being fed, deep house fans are a bit less forgiving. Rather than simply relying on a white noise or Pryda snare abusing builds into a bass heavy drop, deep house artists must rely on a multifarious approach to musical creation, void of formulaic repetition. By no means am I stating that deep house has somehow managed to avoid artists with such an approach, but I can claim that not many of them have left any impact on the scene. Historically, niche genres have been left in destructive ruin when they reach pop status. The same pop path of finding a genre that can appeal to the masses, driving the genre into the ground through over commercialization and ditching it just prior to it\’s decline in popularity has been seen over and over again. From disco to punk to what is unfortunately labeled as \’house\’ these days, music commercialization is a cancerous condition that milks the life out of a genre and quickly moves on to another host to support it\’s appetite. From Big Room and \’Electro House\’ to the current Deep House target, Aoki has proven his contributions as a performer to be similarly cancerous.
When discussing this potential news in a music discussion group, I was presented with the comment \”Um the point of raves and what not is for the experience, making memories, more than just the music. Although the music is very important, the other \’supplements\’ are just as important\” in defense of Steve Aoki. While I will allow the person to remain anonymous who used this quote (as I believe she was providing a statement on the expectation of festival attendees rather than a personal attestation), I bring it into this discussion as it is a perfect example of what \’performer\’ DJs are capable of causing. Not only is this mentality insulting to the talented producers and DJs who put every effort into creating a MUSICAL experience for festival attendees, it is a clear demonstration that even fans of Aoki can\’t justify his popularity in a musical context. Which brings us into the bigger picture.
TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS
If you are not familiar with Seth Troxler, he has been the outspoken voice of the underground scene\’s opposition to the mainstream EDM culture that has taken over stateside festivals. While I believe that the influx of electronic music fans found at the mainstage will provide a trickle down effect for new fans of the underground electronic music scene, never before has a quote such as the one in the picture above been supported by such a prominent example. Despite the analytics provided by Beatport, deep house has remained a genre more closely catered to the underground scene and while the genre has seen some mainstream adaptation, it has been presented in a way that is more representative of the big room culture than the strong culture supportive of the underground deep house scene. It is this sense of culture, after all, that is the foundation for the music. From the roots of house evolving out of the club scene\’s devotion to disco, to the impact on techno that came from industrial Detroit and the fall of the Berlin wall, the preservation of the cultural aspects of our music are not only vital for preservation purposes, but also to maintaining the integrity of the music. While the mainstage culture is here to stay, the distinction from the underground should as well.
We have accepted the gigs. We have tried for the last two years to play the festivals, and I can honestly say we tried, but it is not really working. It’s not the same. I can say for EDM you go for the energy and for the throwing your hands up. In the underground its about closing your eyes and getting lost in the music. It is really different approach to the dancing and the music.
-Apollonia, interview with EDMChicago.
At this point, I know what Aoki fans might be thinking. This writer is a hipster arguing against his music reaching popularity and becoming \’uncool.\’ I can assure you this couldn\’t be further from the truth. If it were up to me, true deep house (along with other related genres) would be accessible to all who would appreciate it. I have no desire for the music to be catered to only a select audience. Instead, my argument is for maintaining the integrity and appeal that the music has established for itself, organically. My call is not for new artists to shy away from exploring the genre as they shape their artistic direction, rather it is to approach the genre with the respect for what it is, not to approach it for it\’s potential to increase your brand\’s bottom line.
While I do not believe I carry the weight of being able to speak on behalf of the deep house genre or underground scene in general (although I do believe Seth Troxler fits this roll quite well), I don\’t believe there are many within the scene that would disagree with my message. The Deep House music scene, especially in Chicago, has remained true to form. The commercialization attempt by artists such as Steve Aoki would impact the scene in the same way it has to the mega-festivals that host such talent. From minors being rushed to the hospital after spending their parent\’s money on tainted drugs to the mosh pit environment that has formed in front of musically ungifted artists, it is a change that I consider to be very un-welcomed. So on behalf of deep house fans, those active in the underground music scene, and music fans in general, I would like to officially respond to Steve Aoki\’s latest conquest with a resounding \”Fuck off.\”
If you agree or disagree with the message of this article, please let me know.
My twitter account for responding to article comments is here: @312_JohnC.