‘I am the most inclusive listener of all time’: Steve Aoki’s honest playlist

The EDM DJ-producer loves all genres, has roots in the hardcore scene and hangs out with Nickelback, but what’s the ideal soundtrack to his ice baths?

The first single I ever bought
A 45 of A Nightmare on My Street by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. I remember that even before my first album, it was my first vinyl. The movie A Nightmare on Elm Street had come out, and I saw the video. My brother had a record player, and I always thought it was cool that he had all these records. My mum gave me the $2 so that I could go buy it in the store as a little kid.

My karaoke go-to
I don’t think I’ve ever really done karaoke like, in a little room with four of my friends. But I do karaoke live almost every day at my concerts. I do it on a microphone in front of 20,000 people, singing over the track. My go-to is KULT, my new single. That’s the song that I sing all the lyrics to, where I run into the crowd and start jumping. It’s a big moment. The audience learn it pretty quickly, too – it’s just so catchy, and easy to sing along to.

The song I inexplicably know every lyric to
Rapper’s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang. As a kid, I literally wrote all the lyrics out on a notepad and memorised it. It’s 14 minutes long! For whatever reason, I literally learned it like it was a final exam and it’s still there, in the memory bank.

The song I’ve streamed the most
Pyramid Song by Radiohead. That’s the song I play when I’m in an ice bath. It’s almost five minutes, and that’s the duration I like for my ice bath. It’s so calming and relaxed, it helps me meditate into that space where I can not fight the cold, accept the cold, embrace the cold! I have an ice bath every day when I’m at home. I used to fill up the tubs in my hotel rooms, but it’s such a pain in the ass hauling up 20 bags of ice to your room. I started six years ago and now I have three ice bank tanks in my house, and a massive ice-bath Jacuzzi for groups. I’m like, obsessed. When people come to my house, they have an ice bath. No, they don’t have to listen to Pyramid Song. That is my song, imprinted in my brain. It helps me with my mindset.

The song I want played at my funeral
This is a tough one, because I hate these sad songs at funerals where everyone’s crying and shit. I want everyone to be having fun, partying, remembering the good times. I want my funeral to be a rave where everyone’s just jumping and dancing. I made a song with Shaquille O’Neal called Welcome to the Playhouse and it just makes you want to turn over tables and throw food at your best friend and have a crazy-ass party. That’s what I want for my funeral.

The song I pretend to hate that I secretly like
I don’t hate anything, but if you want a guilty pleasure … There are bands that are highly criticised, but when you listen to their songs, they’re actually amazing. I remember hearing someone talking smack about Nickelback; I went and listened to Photograph and I was like: “Holy shit, this is one of my favourite songs!” Then I played it at my show. The bonus to all this is that I met [Nickelback singer] Chad Kroeger and we became best friends. Every time we see each other it’s massive hugs, good times. We have a blast.

The song I can’t help singing
Waiting Room by Fugazi. Fugazi was one of the bands I grew up listening to in high school, when I first got into the hardcore scene. They are still one of my favourite bands. [Sings] “I am a patient boy, I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait!” So good! I just love that era and that song takes me back.

The song I have to get up to turn off
I don’t have any songs that I stand up to turn off. Literally, I am the most inclusive listener of all time. I’m gonna pass on this one … This one is tough because I’ve worked with more genres than 99.9% of songwriters and producers: I’ve worked with K-pop, Latin, hip-hop, rock, EDM clearly, folk, Afrobeat, literally everything under the sun. If there’s a genre I don’t understand, 20 years ago I would have said that I don’t like it, but now I say that I don’t understand it and I want to learn it. It’s just like an acquired taste for food: people who don’t like sushi in the beginning eat it 10 more times and they are like: “I get it …

The song I tell people is my favourite
Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. It’s the most epic song of all time: it goes into every time signature, so many emotions. It’s a story: the narrative is really deep, really dark. The song structure just blows away all other song structures out there: it’s like how a classical song would be repositioned in a pop narrative.

My actual favourite song
New Direction by Gorilla Biscuits. They are a New York hardcore band, from that same culture and community as Fugazi, like thrashy music. I grew up with the band and played New Direction every morning before I went to school, about 14 or 15. It was one of those songs that made me want to pick up the guitar, which started me on the road to becoming a musician. I never saw them play, because they were before my time, but they were one of the big inspirations for me to become who I am today. The reason why I don’t tell the world that’s my favourite song is because no one knows it. You want to relate to people, you know what I mean? I have their logo tattooed on my back instead. It’s just the logo of the band, like “GB”. People say, “What’s that tattoo? Great Britain?

Steve Aoki’s new album HiROQUEST is out now.


As told to Elle Hunt

The GuardianTramp

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