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Steve Aoki Connects Music & The Card-Game Metaverse On 'Hiroquest': "It's About Telling The Story Of The Future Cryptid World"
Steve Aoki

Photo: Xavier Luggage

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Steve Aoki Connects Music & The Card-Game Metaverse On 'Hiroquest': "It's About Telling The Story Of The Future Cryptid World"

The trailblazing entrepreneur discusses his fascination with world-building and how the genre-bending 'HiROQUEST' album melds tradable card games and tunes in a "first of its kind" scenario.

GRAMMYs/Sep 13, 2022 - 06:33 pm

He’s a globetrotting DJ, a best-selling author, a renowned restaurateur, a label boss, a philanthropist, a film scorer, and a cake-launching showman. This vast list of titles could only belong to one man: Steve Aoki.

Aoki has unleashed energizing music since the 1990s, first lending his vocals and guitar skills to post-hardcore and punk bands like This Machine Kills, Esperanza and The Fire Next Time. He launched his own Dim Mak label in 1996 and swiftly locked into discovery mode, establishing a clear runway toward success for seminal indie-electronic acts like Bloc Party and The Bloody Beetroots while he was at it.

In the past decade, Aoki’s has focused mostly on EDM, where he’s racked up a number of accolades including repeat appearances on Forbes’ top-paid DJs list, as well as single digit placements in DJ Mag’s Top 100 poll. That’s all in addition to opening his own quick-service yakitori spot with his brother Kevin, Kura Kura Pa, and another club-based pizza concept, PIZZAOKI, as well as penning memoirs, funding brain science research, and clocking hundreds of shows per calendar year. His secret to staying on top is that he simply never slows down.

"Every single project that I've done has, on some level, been informed by my environment, and I think that’s what allowed me to become such a global artist instead of sticking to a very specific sound," Aoki tells GRAMMY.com ahead of the release of his newest LP and crossover venture, HiROQUEST: Genesis. "I think music is much more fluid than that, and that's why I’ll literally go through so many genres."

The forthcoming album, which arrives Sept. 16 via Dim Mak, is a testament to that fact. Its 20+ selections weave through waveforms shaped by rock riffs, country strums, Latin heat, hazy rhymes and the types of blissful, vocal-forward EDM hooks that make Aoki famous. For longtime followers of Aoki’s output, it’s a welcome return to his roots and a shining beacon of what’s still to come.

HiROQUEST: Genesis features collaborations with established stars like Timmy Trumpet and emo pioneers Taking Back Sunday, but it also serves as an introduction to the artists Aoki believes will be the "next big guys." The LP is intricately connected to MetaZoo, a hugely popular tradable card game (TCG) for which Aoki is also the co-founder.

"During COVID, I was into Pokemon big time — I mean, I spent $420,000 on one Illustrator card, so yeah, I’m a little obsessed," he shares with a laugh, explaining how he first became enamored with the collectibles community. It only made sense to share his enthusiasm for TCGs with his loyal fan base by bringing his MetaZoo IP and music together in a way that’s never been done before.

GRAMMY.com caught up with Aoki to learn more about how he hopes to transcend cultures with this novel crossover, and why he’s never one to shell out music — or a business plan — that’s played out or predictable.

SteveAoki

This article has been edited for clarity.

There are so many tracks on HiROQUEST: Genesis. How do they all fit together?

It's really 21 tracks, because there are five melodias which introduce the five different factions of HiROQUEST, who are essentially this world of characters who exist in the future. I wanted to really connect the world-building that I'm doing outside of [the studio] with the musical side of HiROQUEST as well, and the album was one way to do this.

Was this conceptual approach something you always wanted to take, or was it a product of the COVID slowdown?

This album was born in the pandemic, and it was completely different from any other project I’ve done. I made it in an effort to keep up with the global brand and sound of Steve Aoki — regardless of the criticism, the hate, whatever is out there, I’m always looking to explore and work in new genres, and this time the core of the album turned out to be very self-reflective.

I had so much time to experiment, and previous to COVID, I've kept a steady schedule of never breaking below 200 shows in a year. When your schedule is that structured, everything that you do has a purpose, and it has a deadline. There was no time to have free flow — and I wanted that, but I also wanted to stay on track and pump out music. During COVID, I realized there's no f—ing deadline! I'm gonna experiment. I want to grab my guitar. I'm gonna grab my bass. I wanted to have fun and also I wanted to make high frequency music because I was getting really into mindfulness and meditation, too. I was going all over the place and a lot of that music ended up in NFTs.

In that same period of time, I thought, wouldn't it be interesting to go back and focus on more of the alternative rock sounds that I loved growing up that I’d buried, almost, when I became a more prolific electronic artist? I thought I’m going to go back to my roots of being in a band and with that note, I'm gonna really put on my A&R hat and find the new artists that are really exciting right now.

SteveAokiGlobalDanModSun

(L-R) Global Dan, Steve Aoki, Mod Sun. Photo: Philippe Rivain

On first listen, its punk aesthetic really stood out, which makes sense considering Dim Mak’s beginnings. Was it cool to reconnect with that nostalgic energy?

I remember when I heard Bloc Party’s "She's Hearing Voices" in 2003, and I was like, this is f—ing incredible! And they said you're the only label we want to work with because we don't want to sign to a major label. So then I put out the Banquet EP in 2004. Then I heard the Kills’ demo and I released the Black Rooster EP. I just remember those times when it was just so exciting to hear something that you knew was going to blow the f— up.

And now I feel this way about the artists on this album. There’s Latin, hip-hop, EDM, and then we have people like Kane Brown who’s a rising massive country singer. I wanted to maintain that genreless feel, but obviously, a big part of the LP’s core is rock.

Who are some of the artists that gave you those big feels you just mentioned?

Taking Back Sunday is also a pretty exciting collaboration, because it was the first of its kind. They'd never worked with a DJ, so for me, I knew I had to do this. When I was in the studio with them, they told me "We haven’t even worked with another artist in 20 years." So, that's a big deal for both sides! There's a lot of firsts here.

I've run my label Dim Mak since 1996, and I love discovering and finding bands, and growing artists. As a producer, I also exist in a different layer of A&R that really supports artists. That’s why it’s really cool to work with No Love For The Middle Child, Grandson, Mod Sun, Global Dan and Goody Grace. These artists have their own followers and are popular in their own right, but they are also going to be the next huge names.

HiROQuest is deeply intertwined with the MetaZoo card game universe, for which you are a co-founder. Explain how this works because it sounds wild!

HiROQUEST has two parts: There's the music side, which we talked about, and there's the non-music side, and I wanted to connect these worlds together. It’s amazing to be part of different cultures where you experience a frenzy of energy and this collective chaos of love. The people that are part of the MetaZoo community, they are obsessed in the same way that crowds are obsessed at festivals. TCGs and music have never been connected in such a way before, so that’s the idea behind HiROQUEST

We created 70 characters, I think 22 of which are new and the other 48 are existing MetaZoo characters that we introduced to these five different factions. And it's about telling the story of the future cryptid world of HiROQUEST and building it out with this community that is just absolutely f—ing crazy about this stuff. And to give you an idea, we dropped a HiROQUEST CD to introduce the 70 cards in the set. Now, dropping a CD is something I haven’t done in a while! In the five hours we let it sit online, the CD sold 30,000 copies.

Steve Aoki. Photo: Xavier Luggage

Given the success you’ve seen already, do you think more TCG crossovers could emerge in dance music the same way NFTs exploded over the last few years?

This has never been done before. It’s a unique situation in that I’m half owner of MetaZoo, and in reality there aren’t a lot of TCGs out there — there’s MetaZoo, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering and Yu Gi Oh. But as with anything, if it works and people see that it works, a trend could take off.

There is some crossover happening already, like Magic The Gathering, for example, they introduced a Post Malone card and he’s been vocal about his love for the game, but he didn’t put out an entire album to go along with a set of cards. HiROQUEST is the first time something of this scale has ever happened, and I’m super excited about that. 

Are you working personally with the illustrators who make the cards that come with the album?

Yeah! We work alongside the illustrators to come up with the different characters. We've introduced most of the new characters through my single art.

Like with "Kult," for example. I told the illustrator, "Okay, I want this dude floating — you know, like a cult leader, with a hood. On his face, I want him to have these massive anime eyes. I want his mouth to be really tight — I go real into detail, not necessarily drawing it out, but sometimes I actually do just that. I'm absolutely very detail oriented on the art side.

You must have a very focused brain! Was meditating what led you to start The Aoki Foundation, which supports organizations in the brain science and research areas, or did the foundation lead you to mindfulness?

I was just in Ibiza. I sat on a cliffside over the ocean and let the sun hit my face for 10 minutes. Earlier today I had an ice bath. Meditation is so important and there’s always time for these things.

Honestly, I’m not sure which came first, but I’ve always been obsessed with sci-fi and the idea that within these worlds — even though certain aspects are depicted as fantasy — that with the right minds and research, someday some of those things could eventually become true. And I’m curious about the concepts of anti-aging; I want to live forever, I want to do all of these crazy things. I have the means to help make some of that happen, so why not put it into a foundation that can directly support emerging treatments and technology?

Are NFT Record Labels The Future Of Music?

EDC 2019: Alison Wonderland, TOKiMONSTA, Deadmau5, Above & Beyond, Tiësto, More

Alison Wonderland

Photo: Mauricio Santana/Getty Images

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EDC 2019: Alison Wonderland, TOKiMONSTA, Deadmau5, Above & Beyond, Tiësto, More

The world-renowned EDM fest has released the lit roster of over 240 artists for its 23rd annual event, set to return to its ninth year in Las Vegas from May 17–19

GRAMMYs/Mar 28, 2019 - 04:55 am

Today Insomniac, which hosts the now-global Electric Daisy Carnival and other major EDM events, announced the highly anticipated lineup for its flagship Las Vegas fest, set to take place May 17–19 this year. EDC 2019 is positively stacked, featuring GRAMMY winners Diplo, David Guetta and Tiësto, plus GRAMMY nominees TOKiMONSTA, Paul Oakenfold, Deadmau5, Above & Beyond and Kaskade.

Deadmau5 will be making his first return to the fest since 2010, bringing his new "Cube 3.0" stage setup, and Guetta will be back for his first time since the 2012 event. Australian singer/songwriter DJ/producer extraordinaire Alison Wonderland, plus GRAMMY-nominated rave icons Steve Aoki, Armin van Buuren will also bring fire to the three-day event.

Unlike a typical music festival lineup, EDC lists theirs alphabetically by day, giving way to a treasure hunt to the many gems across the lines of names. Underground techno queens Charlotte De Witte, ANNA and Amelie Lens will all perform at the event, which has eight(!) stages, along with fellow techno heavy-hitter Adam Beyer.

South African DJ/producer and underground house legend Black Coffee will also perform, as well as fellow house heavyweights Green Velvet, Patrick Topping and GRAMMY nominee Eric Prydz. Green Velvet will be offering two sets, one as Get Real, his project with Detroit legend Claude VonStroke.

Several artists will be hopping on the decks together, including Topping, who will be doing a B2B set (a.k.a. back-to-back, or collab set, for those not up on the rave lingo) with fellow British DJ Eats Everything. U.K. dubstep stalwarts Skream and Rusko are on the lineup for an "old skool dubstep set," which, as Your EDM put it, is "absolutely unheard of."

More Vegas Fun: KAOS Las Vegas To Feature Sets From J Balvin, Bad Bunny, Ozuna, Deadmau5, Eric Prydz & More In April

But wait, who are the headliners? Pasquale Rotella, CEO and co-founder of Insomniac, believes that headliners are everyone that attends the festival, spreads the love and makes all the magic possible.

"Being a Headliner means looking at the world a little differently, and seeing beauty and inspiration everywhere you look. It’s about lifting up the people around you and making time for your family and friends. This is a journey we all take together—always connected and committed to one another," Rotella said in a statement on Insomniac's website.

If you want to get your dance on and check out the carnival rides, interactive art and plenty of lights and lasers with EDC in Vegas, you're in luck; tickets are still available. Check out EDC's website for more info.

Woodstock 50 Performers: Jay-Z, The Killers, Miley Cyrus & More Announced

18th Latin GRAMMY Performers: Bad Bunny, Alejandro Sanz & More

Photo: Alexander Tamargo/WireImage.com

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18th Latin GRAMMY Performers: Bad Bunny, Alejandro Sanz & More

First performers announced for The Biggest Night in Latin Music; actors Jaime Camil and Roselyn Sánchez to host 18th Latin GRAMMY Awards live from Las Vegas on Nov. 16

GRAMMYs/Oct 30, 2017 - 05:30 pm

Current nominees J Balvin, Bad Bunny, Flor De Toloache, Luis Fonsi, Juanes, Mon Laferte, Natalia Lafourcade, Maluma, Residente, and Sofía Reyes are among the first artists announced to perform on the 18th Latin GRAMMY Awards. 

Alejandro Sanz, the 2017 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, and guest performers Steve Aoki, Alessia Cara, Logic and French Montana will also join the lineup. 

Mexican actor/singer Jaime Camil and Puerto Rican singer/songwriter and actress Roselyn Sánchez will host The Biggest Night in Latin Music on the Univision Network Nov. 16 from 8–11 p.m. ET/PT (7 p.m. Central) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

This year's top nominee is Residente with nine nominations. Also near the top of the field are Maluma with seven nominations, Shakira with six, and Kevin Jiménez ADG, Juanes and Mon Laferte with five each. "Despacito," by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee, earned four nominations.

A limited number of tickets for the 18th Latin GRAMMY Awards are available for purchase through www.axs.com.

18th Latin GRAMMY Awards: Full Nominations List

 

 

 

Set List Bonus: Steve Aoki At Austin Music Hall
Steve Aoki performs at South by Southwest

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Steve Aoki At Austin Music Hall

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

(Check back for GRAMMY.com's daily news and blog coverage from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, including reports on Recording Academy-related events. Meanwhile, visit The Recording Academy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for more SXSW updates.)

By Crystal Larsen
Austin, Texas

Steve Aoki might have thrown one of the biggest South by Southwest parties of the week. The GRAMMY-nominated DJ took over Austin Music Hall on March 13 for a nonstop, one-hour rave that involved not only music, but flotation devices, champagne and cake.

As the clock ticked near his 12:30 a.m. start time, the crowd starting chanting his name: "Aoki! Aoki! Aoki!" The chanting — paired with bright-green letters on the stage screen that read "are you ready for Aoki?" — were enough to bring the DJ skipping onstage. Aoki was decked out in party-ready attire: black jeans that looked like they had been spray-painted yellow from the knees down and a T-shirt that had "Can't Stop" written on the front and "Won't Stop" scrawled on the back. And the crowd was ready to party, too.

Hundreds of fans filled the floor and balcony of the music hall, leaving just enough breathing room so as not to alarm the fire marshal. The crowd used this open space to their advantage, engaging in a few games of "Steven Aoki Says." Note: When Aoki says jump, you jump.

Aoki is among the top in his genre, evidenced by his GRAMMY nomination for Best Dance/Electronica Album for 2012's Wonderland, the hundreds of fans his shows draw and the artists with whom he's collaborated. Most recently, Aoki teamed with GRAMMY winners Linkin Park to co-write "A Light That Never Comes," which he performed after Linkin Park vocalist Mike Shinoda made an onscreen appearance to introduce the song. But Aoki's professional accolades don't completely explain the surge of adrenaline you get when watching him perform, that moment just before the bass drops and he does something crazy like spray champagne all over you or throw cake in your face. And it wasn't just one cake and one bottle of bubbly; I counted a total of nine large cakes chucked at the crowd and even more champagne, as he popped them two at a time.

By the time Aoki served up his seventh cake, a fan in front of me was in such a state of jubilation all he could do was hold up seven fingers and recite "seven" over and over again. And he didn't even get any cake. Experiencing Aoki live is like a sugar rush, except there's no crash.

Halfway into his set a large river raft and air mattress were thrown into the audience. Fans quickly scrambled on top to see who could last longest as they surfed a sea of pumping fists. Not wanting to be left out on all the fun, Aoki got onboard one of the inflatables and, after taking a second to gain his balance, started moving his body to his own beats with even more fervor than before. Finally making his way back to the stage, Aoki said, "Holy fing s man, this is f*ing awesome!"

Aoki got back onstage, spinning remixes of 2 Unlimited's "Get Ready For This" and Kid Cudi's "Pursuit Of Happiness (Nightmare)." Before the night was over, the crowd took a big group photo with Aoki for his Instagram account. After the sobering incident that took place at SXSW just one night earlier, it's comforting to know music, and Aoki, can always put a smile on our faces.

Avicii Remembered In Stockholm, At Coachella, And By Fellow Artists

Avicii

Photo: Gabriel Olsen /Getty Images

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Avicii Remembered In Stockholm, At Coachella, And By Fellow Artists

In the wake of his untimely death at age 28, Avicii's fans and fellow artists everywhere honor "one of the most important figures for EDM"

GRAMMYs/Apr 23, 2018 - 06:43 pm

The tragic news of Avicii's death at age 28 sent shockwaves through the music community all over the world. As fans and peers of the GRAMMY-nominated Swiss DJ/producer born Tim Bergling try to process this immense loss, his impact on music and culture was honored over the weekend everywhere from Coachella to Stockholm to a special program on SiriusXM Radio featuring fellow EDM artists Tiësto, Kaskade, Armin Van Buuren and Steve Aoki to social media, where superstars like Madonna and Diplo paid tribute.

Coachella weekend two had just begun when the unexpected news of Avicii's death arrived in Indio, Calif. Norwegian DJ/producer Kygo honored the late EDM master by playing the song "Without You" while an image of Avicii showed on the giant video screens behind him, which then revealed the words "Rest in piece. We will miss you."

Nile Rodgers, who collaborated with Avicii, also paid his respects from the Coachella stage during his set with Chic, saying, "Just yesterday, one of my best friends in the world, Avicii, passed away.” 

Thousands of miles away in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 21, thousands of fans gathered at a dance music memorial to celebrate Avicii. Fans filled the city's Sergels Torg plaza, and clapped along, danced, and held up their hands to honor their fellow countryman.

On the digital airwaves, Sirius XM's BPM Channel welcomed a host of EDM superstars to remember their comrade.

"He was amazing. He just always thought out of the box. He came up with different melodies," said Tiësto. "He inspired so many other DJs as well. He's Kygo's biggest inspiration."

Kaskade also offered a remembrance of Bergling, saying, "The thing I like to think about with Tim is when he came out with the album that was so infused with country music and he went up there at Ultra and invited all those people onstage to perform. … People were hating on that moment and really thinking to themselves, 'What is this guy doing?' I think a lot of the audience, it was lost on them because it was quite different. … And then when the music came out, he seemed like the smartest guy on the planet because it did connect."

"When I really go back what Avicii did to electronic music," said Aoki, "I literally can hear him in all these songs even if they aren't his songs. He is one of the most important figures for EDM, that term, to even exist. That term is maybe 10 years old, and Avicii broke that term into existence. You know there's a few artists who can do that, and he is one of them."

Artists also took to social media to honor their friend and collaborator. Madonna posted a photo of her and Avicii, saying, "So Sad....... So Tragic. Good Bye Dear Sweet Tim. Gone too Soon."

Diplo also crafted a post on his Instagram account, saying "You were the gold standard. You made me want try and make dance music when I first heard 'Seek Bromance.' And then u kept making feel like shit cause you kept getting better and I couldn't even mix a snare right... you were the best of this generation. A real superstar."

Swedish DJ/Producer Avicii Dies At 28