With the Instagram handle “@lifeofdesiigner” burning over the spotlight-saturated audience, the curtain fell over the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium stage. The dim lights over the crowd revealed guys hiding vapes in the palms of their hands and clouds of smoke creating a haze over the girls’ glitter-covered faces. From behind the curtain, stage hands busily moved Aoki’s set pieces onto the stage. The LED screen behind the curtain glowed red, and from the corners of the stage, audience members’ eyes were glazed in the bright red “Steve Aoki” that slid across the screen in Japanese katakana.
The curtain fell to the ground, confetti cannons erupted into an already cheering crowd and Steve Aoki emerged, long black hair flowing behind him as he got behind the soundboard. Framing his setup was the glowing, x’d-out face that marked the front of his newest album, Steve Aoki Presents Kolony — Aoki’s trap-heavy, 10-track album that features stars like Gucci Mane and Migos.
While Aoki mixed beats to introduce his nearly two-hour set, the videographer projected a live, split-screen image onto the LED screen that showed Aoki cracking a grin as he felt his audience getting hyped in his periphery. When he began to play “Melody” — the electronic hit that he released with Dimitri Vegas, Like Mike and Ummet Ozcan back in 2016 — he let the recorded vocals take over as he emerged from the back of his set-up to interact with the crowd. A trippy set of visuals bounced behind Aoki as he sprayed water bottles into the fans reaching up for him.
Of course, to get the crowd hyped, Aoki played through all of his greatest hits — “Boneless,” “A Light that Never Comes” and “Just Hold On” — feeding on the energy of the audience as he mixed in real time. While Aoki’s beats reverberated through the crowd, audiences didn’t just see him mixing — they got to see themselves projected onto the screen by Aoki’s videographer.
Aoki’s music rarely stands alone — his infectious beats play behind some of the most talented mainstream artists. Nevertheless, his modern relevance didn’t stop Aoki from remixing throwbacks. To the surprise and joy of most of the crowd, Aoki did a cover of Owl City’s 2009 sensation “Fireflies.” He also went even further back and remixed Nirvana’s hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — the audience roaring its approval when it heard the iconic first bars echo through the auditorium.
In his set, Aoki was conscious to put his music first, rather than the theatrics of his performance. For almost the entire length of his performance, he played a continuous stream of beats — leading one track seamlessly into the next with his well-timed beat drops and catchy choruses. Still, Aoki leveraged his stage presence by including a slew of guest performers and antics. He had Bok Nero, Desiigner and Ricky Remedy onstage to perform their tracks with him. Spraying confetti cannons and champagne bottles into the sold-out crowd was a constant throughout the show, pairing well with sing-alongs to Aoki’s classic hits.
At one point in the show, Aoki put on his headphones and hunched over the soundboard to mix a beat while more than a dozen women from the crowd, decked in rhinestone bras and metallic booty shorts, danced around him and took snapchats. In the last 20 minutes, he even mixed Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” with an image of Jack holding Rose over the bow of the Titanic — both faces sloppily pasted over with Aoki’s grinning mug.
Of course, he couldn’t leave the stage without pulling one of his signature stunts — playing his song “Cakeface” while, shocker, launching cakes off the stage and into the faces of candy-adorned concert-goers. Despite the mainstream success Aoki has achieved, he still profusely showed his love for his fans. Even when the show ended and the lights in the house went up, he went to the edge of the stage to talk to fans, shake their hands and take pictures.
Throughout his career, Aoki’s house music has stayed fresh and relevant, but it’s his dedication to his fans and their experience of his music that makes his live performances such an immersive experience.
Annalise Kamegawa covers music. Contact her at [email protected].