(L-R): Steve Aoki’s longtime manager Matt Colon from Deckstar; Lil’ Jon; Ultra Records Senior Director of Marketing & PR Samantha Mobarek; Steve Aoki; and Ultra Records head of A&R David Waxman. (Photo: Elisabeth Gibbons)
Forget lasers, pyro and trippy videos. For proof that the nature of DJ performance is changing, look no further than Steve Aoki‘s balls-to-the-wall, 90-minute set. The DJ/producer/Dim Mak label head and his Deadmeat tour rolled into New York’s Roseland on Friday, February 17, and while there were confetti cannons and screens bearing high-speed visual non sequiturs, the real show was Aoki himself.
The performer, who Eminem manager Paul Rosenberg once called “a genre-defying musical entity,” made full use of the venue’s large stage and then some, pogoing relentlessly, popping champagne and spewing it onto the front row, screaming his own rebel-yell vocals into a microphone or megaphone, and at one point launching off the venue’s second floor balcony, onto a blow-up raft hoisted by the crowd below – much to the chagrin of the swarming security guards who tried to stop him.
The view of Aoki’s vibrant stage. (Photo: Elisabeth Gibbons)
Backstage before his 12:30 set time, the affable Aoki chilled in the venue’s institutional green room with an equally good-natured crew: David Waxman, head of A&R at Ultra Records, and Samantha Mobarek, Senior Director of Marketing & PR of Ultra Records, the label he selected out of many suitors to release his first studio album, Wonderland; his longtime manager Matt Colon from Deckstar; Wynter Gordon, the striking singer of “La Di Da Di” (a potential hit off Wonderland), small in stature but with a big stage presence; and friend and collaborator Lil’ Jon, who belied his crunk king image with a cable-knit grey scarf and easy conversation style. “Who wants a Sheet?” he asked, offering the flavored energy strips to the room. “No man, they really work.”
Wearing a sliced-up T-shirt bearing an image of Vogue editor Anna Wintour with a Hitler mustache (“I feel like most people in this crowd wouldn’t get this,” he laughed), Aoki reflected on the idea that kids all over the venue were wearing shirts bearing his own likeness (the most popular of which, a faceless outline of just his hair and beard, sold out from the merch table before the show’s end). “Here, it’s not a big deal,” he said. “But if I see a person with my shirt on in, like, an airport or something, I feel like I should go over and say hi.” He switched shirts before taking the stage – to one emblazoned with Lil’ Jon’s mug (Jon returned the favor and donned one featuring Aoki).
Twins: Lil’ Jon and Aoki prepare to hit the stage, each wearing a t-shirt of the other’s face. (Photo: Elisabeth Gibbons)
Deadmeat co-headliner Datsik closed an aggressive set of dubstep and its derivatives with the Sub Focus mix of Rusko‘s “Hold On,” featuring Amber Coffman of the Dirty Projectors: The rave throwback played like an anthem to the 20-something crowd, who knew every word, and thrashed together to the bass drop.
After a lightning-fast changeover, Aoki took to a stage bearing a tall DJ booth in the center with video screens behind it, flanked by his name literally in lights: capital letter forms spelling AOKI. He sailed (sometimes literally) through a set dominated by the 12 tracks on Wonderland, and his spate of one-off singles, including “Turbulence” – an ode to mid-air roller coaster rides, set to an overload of honking synths, and narrated by Lil’ Jon, who joined Aoki onstage to do it live. When the first monotonal air-horn drop came, the sold-out crowd exalted, tossing glowsticks, napkins, water bottles, and bikini-topped girls onto shoulders, reveling in the colossal volume and the presence of its creator – who was, at this point, wearing a pilot’s hat.
Billboard’s Kerri Mason talks to Aoki backstage before his set at the Roseland. (Photo: Elisabeth Gibbons)