The mainstream-EDM collision was in full-swing earlier this week as Steve Aoki — and not-so-secret special guest, Duran Duran — took over Terminal 5. Aoki, who is better known for his theatrics than his DJ prowess, delivered a performance that rang true to this ideal. Everything about it was typical Aoki fare: Dim Mak cakes were thrown, fans crowd surfed in his obligatory raft, and champagne was sprayed everywhere.
For me, however, music will always trump stagecraft and in that regard Aoki isn’t the best. From our vantage point he didn’t seem to make much use of the CDJs — instead opting to twist the nobs on his mixer — nor were his transitions smooth, but Aoki’s stage presence is note worthy. His gimmick draws an interesting (and perhaps necessary) distinction between performers and musicians in the EDM world.
Musicians sometimes make sacrifices in the name of creating a spectacle, just look at artists like Britney Spears or Chris Brown who usually lip sync so they can dance. For Aoki, it’s impossible to deliver his crazy antics while actually posted up behind the turntables. That’s why he spends almost as much time on top of them or in front of them as he does behind.
Deadmau5 is one of the few artists who seems to have struck a balance between performer and musician; but his brand of entertainment is more tech-focused than cake-centric. If he was expected to spend more time outside of the booth than behind it, his musicianship might suffer similarly.
The Aoki situation is all about trade offs — but in his case I think it’s a fair one.
Aoki has never attempted to promote himself as anything but an entertainer or his performances as anything other than a party. Just check out the warning notice posted on the walls of the venue. How much more blatant and honest could he be? It’s safe to say that most audience members at a Steve Aoki show don’t care how well he mixes. They’re there for the Aoki experience.
(Photo Credit: Diane Bondareff)
My only qualm about Aoki’s shows is that they’re becoming too predictable. DJs have become too comfortable in delivering the same thing night after night, but Duran Duran and Aoki’s live performance proves that artists don’t need to be complacent. Aoki was slated to perform with Blue Man Group at EDC Vegas but the wind got in the way — let’s make it happen somewhere else!
This formulaic predictability is a trend sweeping the entire industry and it’s getting boring. For Aoki, it’s his cake+champagne+raft routine, for others it’s nearly identical sets, and for many it’s strings of releases that sound exactly the same.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I understand that these formulas are proven cash cows but there’s also money to be made in taking risks. Hip hop, although still relevant, lost some of its allure when artists became content with stagnancy. The same could happen for dance music if we allow it to. If EDM fans aren’t bored yet, they will be. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or even next year, but eventually.
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