By Hillel Aron
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By Jill Stewart
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From evening’s twilight to the wee hours of the morning, Steve Aoki, a.k.a. DJ Kid Millionaire, can be spotted engaging in fits of flailing assault on wax, seamlessly receiving embraces from every congratulatory scenester who wants a piece of his energy, and getting A-list celebrities to convulse in time to his retro mashups. He’ll even tumble into the gutter with you at the end of the night if you’re lucky, and share a pizza or poker game. Besides his DJ residencies at LAX on Sundays, Cinespace on Tuesdays and Hyde Lounge on Wednesdays, Aoki launches new bands as the CEO of Dim Mak Records, all the while pole-vaulting aesthetic nuances that will forever be the signature hipster swagger of the decade’s style.
With his bands regularly injected into indie rock radio rotation, the label and Aoki’s name have become forces to be reckoned with. More than 10 years ago, from his modest college apartment in Santa Barbara, Aoki was already showcasing bands playing the kind of music that would be considered the high-water mark for most major-label acts today. Jimmy Eat World and At the Drive-in (currently the Mars Volta) broke bread alongside Aoki — son of business mogul and Benihana founder Rocky Aoki — before anyone detected a musical movement as drastic as the gypsy new wave prevalent today. Later, he knew what he tasted in the Detroit onslaught of garage reality and acted as a springboard for the distant MC5-esque Americana of the Von Bondies. As if that wasn’t enough, the new breed in the seemingly endless neo-rock calamity was in the sights of the Dim Mak brood through Bloc Party and the Kills. Meanwhile, Aoki has the other half of his heart vested in hip-hop and electro.
“I’ve always walked the line between N.W.A and Slayer,” Aoki says, “but I know that guilty pleasures are just as important, so Big Country and Whitney Houston are definitely important to my sense of good songwriting.”
Eclectic acts, such as the roly-poly swooner Har Mar Superstar, the dire swells-loving SCANNeRS and the retro “slum funkers” Libretto round out the catalog. Not since the puky, punky days of the Masque and I.R.S. Records sing-alongs, or the fire-spit Ruthless Records days, has a scene been so freewheeling. With Aoki’s ear and the visual catapult of L.A. scene photographer Mark “The Cobrasnake” Hunter, a battlement of flash, fun and contemporary fantasy has again attacked the clubs and streets of Los Angeles.
In just two years, Aoki and Hunter have become a full-blown phenomenon, taking their all-night taurine-and-vodka–fueled train from the pages of Hunter’s Cobrasnake Web site and L.A. Weekly column worldwide, with sweaty T-shirts, frenzied youth and hundreds of gigabytes of photos from their nighttime appearances with a recurring cast that often includes his actress-model half sister Devon Aoki and Hunter’s high-schooler muse Cory Kennedy.
Capitalizing on his intrinsic sense of style and Day-Glo flash — the upper reaches of his office are lined with neatly arranged boxes of high-end sneakers — Aoki has also ventured into fashion with a clothing line for Dim Mak, showcasing designs from some of the most intriguing underground designers in the city. (Dim Mak sweatshirts have already graced the backs of comedian Andy Milonakis and Tom Anderson from MySpace.) He also sports a signature Supra tennie and signature WESC headphones, as well as a custom carry-all with Gravis. Yet for all of the hype the media has hung on him, Aoki couldn’t care less.
Neo-entrepreneurs with ADHD, take heed of Aoki’s advice. Rules: Forget them. Ears: Keep them to the ground. Pomposity: Check it at the door.
“I don’t want to change the world,” he says. “I just want to make things more fun and exciting.”