A bright cascade of lights pierced through a billowing plume of smoke that had engulfed a bare, desolately ornamented space, the air caked with the heat of a thousand or so moving bodies, each stimulated spasmodic movement, not unlike a throbbing nerve, wired on nicotine and myriad other substances one can only speculate on. The heat left a layer of sweat on every living soul, a glistening film that played against the alternating gestalt pattern of the giant panel of light that adjoined the stage. Standing atop the booth, Steve Aoki raised his arms in a triumphant “V,” an expression of crazed amusement adorning his visage as the crowd embraced the punishing beats he had queued on his deck prior to pouring down bottles of champagne on the spectators. On other occasions, he prompted spur of the moment crowd surfing, by hurling an inflatable raft into the torrential swarm of ravers that had huddled in every conceivable crevice of Downtown’s Grand Central.
Make no mistake that while Aoki is certainly a force to be reckoned with behind the decks, featuring with some of the most prominent talents in Electronic Dance Music, and attaining prominence in his own right, with some stellar solo productions; it is as a performer that Aoki shows the extent of his abilities. He spends roughly half the time behind the decks, and the remainder of that time inciting unfettered chaos with his debauched antics, mostly done from atop the podium from which he mixes. His talent as a performance artist, command of the stage and of the audience are equaled by no other performer in EDM.
He shatters the prevalent archetype of the DJ performance as equating to the crowd watching the stoic figure in thoughtful repose on an elevated platform, concentrated solely on their music. In his set, which ran just shy of two hours, Aoki rained down the massive drops of his signature songs, and even squeezed in plenty of new material from his full length debut release, 2011’s Wonderland, namely his collaborative track with Travis Barker and Kid Cudi, entitled “Cudi the Kid.” The pacing of Aoki’s set was relentless. The epicenter of the dance floor became a pulsating mass of sweating, throbbing bodies, anguished under the strain of the heat, but too enthralled by the madness unfurling to be preoccupied with it.
The audience was markedly on the younger end of the spectrum. It was blatantly apparent just how many of those in attendance had taken heed to the fact that the event had been widely marketed as being 18 and over. If anything, the youthful vigor of those in attendance had merely served to buttress the frenetic pacing of the music, and played perfectly to Aoki’s on stage antics. In addition to dropping his signature tracks, “No Beef,” (a collaborative effort with Afrojack and Miss Palmer), “Warp 1.9” (with The Bloody Beetroots), and Turbulence (with Laidback Luke and Lil’ Jon), Aoki also climbed to the rafters from which the rotating stage lights were suspended, birthday cake in hand. After hyping the audience to their breaking point, he then flung the cake on the spectators below, and sent the entire venue into a state of unbridled pandemonium.
From observing one of Aoki’s uproariously extravagant performances and taking note of the sheer extent to which his musical catalog is composed largely of collaborative tracks, the parallels between him and another performer with whom he has featured become glaringly obvious – Steve Aoki may well be the Lil’ Jon of EDM. Does that make him a revolutionary force of innovation in the genre? Perhaps not. Does it make him remarkably entertaining to watch? Most definitely.