Steve Aoki walks through the door of Reckless Records dragging his feet. Last night was an all-nighter (thanks to his weekly party, Dim Mak Tuesdays at Cinespace in L.A.), followed by an early morning flight to Chicago and a power nap at his hotel. Record label head, DJ, producer and promoter, Aoki is a man of many hats, but right now he dons the one most indigenous to him: record collector. As soon as he's in front of the bins, he perks like a double shot of espresso, flipping through records with a practiced and purposeful flick of his wrist.
“Record shopping was my favorite thing to do from ages 14 to 26 — that was my vice,” says Aoki, who still collects vinyl but uses Serato Scratch Live to DJ live. “I spent all my money on records. I was into the fidelity of record labels, so I'd always buy everything a label put out, even if I didn't know the band. ”
It isn't long before he comes to an album he released: ie by Japanese hardcore band There Is a Light That Never Goes Out. Dim Mak Records, Aoki's label, is famous in the indie music world for bridging the gap between punk, electro and indie rock. In 1996, Aoki — an undergraduate women's studies major at the University of California Santa Barbara — started throwing concerts in his living room, entertaining about 80 people. The Rapture, At the Drive In and Jimmy Eat World were among the many now-famous acts to perform. “I put on 450 shows in three years,” Aoki says. Around that time, he started the label with a total budget of $400, mostly to release 7-inches by obscure hardcore bands. But by the early 2000s, Dim Mak was putting out much more than fringe-punk: In 2003, he released a live recording by The Gossip; the next year, he released Bloc Party's self-titled debut and Battles' sophomore album, B EP.
Dim Mak is a family of artists less tied together by a singular vision of music composition than by Aoki's discriminating taste and his affinity for innovative sound. That ethos shines in Dim Mak's latest release, which is also Aoki's personal DJ debut. Titled Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles, it's a cross-genre mix of current club and indie music hits. And Aoki pulled all his strings to get original drops from a handful of rappers on the verge: Micky Avalon spits a verse on Kim's “Wet N' Wild,” and Kid Sister raps over Green Velvet's “Shake and Pop.” The result speaks to an exciting intersection of people and sounds at the cutting edge of the industry.
“I want to create something special for everyone that buys it,” Aoki says. “‘Cause I'm a consumer as well, and when I feel like there's something special about something, I value it. I might even frame it.”
BIKINI KILL/HUGGY BEAR
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah Split (Kill Rock Stars)
This is a really classic punk-rock record. Huggy Bear is from London. They're an amazing, amazing punk band. Bikini Kill is obviously Bikini Kill. When I was in high school, I used to own this record; I would listen to these bands all the time. I love dropping punk rock in my sets.
Make the Music With Your Mouth Biz (Cold Chillin')
I bought this 60 percent for the cover. I love this image; I almost want to use it for a T-shirt — so sick. Actually this morning I was singing [the Biz Markie track] “It's Spring Again” at the airport, so it's funny I found it.
“Control” (Fool's Gold)
I have this in my computer already, but I bought this to support my homie Melisa [Kid Sister]. I love her. A-Trak is one of my best friends. Love this guy. I want to support [his label], Fool's Gold.
Power of Salad (Load)
This band brings me back to a time when I was really involved with the hardcore scene. They're the most insane live band I think anyone can witness. The energy, it's loud. It's so noisy.
THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL
Everything Playing (Kama Sutra)
This is what you call taking a risk. Before Serato existed, I would take risks like this. The cover of this record is so random. The guys look like strange-looking guys. All this artwork, the bubble letters — I look at records as art, and I'm an art collector in the end. It's worth three dollars to just run through the record to see if there's a sample I can use for production. Or maybe I could play it out.
NBA 08 (PlayStation)
The whole idea of Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles is my life for the last year and a half. I've been flying around everywhere, meeting amazing people, and ultimately the record is collaborations with my favorite artists that I've met. The reason I bring that up with this [video] game is that I travel so much that the PSP has become my best friend. Strangely enough, I'm going to be a special character in this basketball game called NBA 2k8. Q-Tip is also a character. [My character is] 7'2" — I designed my specs 'cause I want people to use me. Why would they use some random Asian guy with long hair that looks like a Samurai warrior?
“Jane! Stop This Crazy Thing!” (Cold Chillin')
This I bought for two reasons: Novelty, 'cause this is a classic MC; and the artwork is almost just as important as the song. It really depicts that time. It's like buying a book — that Jamel Shabazz book, Back in the Days. You buy that book because you want to see more images of that time.
Richard Pryor is one of my favorite comedians in the history of everything funny. He's so off-the-cuff. He's what every comedian tries to be but can't. I might be able to sample it for a set. There were, like, five Richard Pryor 12-inches at the store, but the reason I bought this one is 'cause of the cover.
Trapped in the Closet Chapter 13-22 (Jive)
I was spinning at the Chicago club Debonaire for the Lollapalooza afterparty and R. Kelly was there. Everyone was talking about it; it was like there was an elephant in the room. I played a set of hard, unforgiving electro, and at 1:45 a.m. he was still there, so I dropped “Ignition” and he jumped up on the table and started going nuts. There was another afterparty downstairs, and I was there drinking when some guy comes up to me, and goes, “Want to meet R. Kelly?” His friend — the guy that came up to me — was a fan of mine. He introduced us and we talked for eight seconds. I bought this DVD in honor of R. Kelly since we're in Chicago today.
There are two hardcore bands right now that are still around that have been around for years: This band and the band Envy from Japan. They've been the most influential bands in my opinion. This band is just the most crushing and amazing band I've ever seen live — next to Lightning Bolt, which is just different.
Reckless Records; 3161 N. Broadway, Chicago, Ill. 60657; (773) 404-5080;www.reckless.com