In 2014, Steve Aoki embarked on a musical journey that took him not only around the world, but into the future of music. His album Neon Future featured collaborations with artists across genres and tempered Aoki’s tone around a central theme of technology and hope.
“The concept is really about embracing technology,” Aoki says, “the future of science and ideas, music and humanity. It’s just the general overview of a techno future optimist.”
Four years later, Aoki continues to explore these themes of collaboration and experimentation. Neon Future III might just be the most global in the series so far, with voices and grooves that represent Korea, France, Norway, Brazil, Kosovo, rock, pop, hip-hop and even country music. He worked with some of his greatest idols on this one. Even Bill Nye the Science Guy makes an appearance.
“Neon Future III (Intro)”
The intro I made with this incredible pianist from France named Julian Marshall. Definitely check him out. My sister Devon would always listen to his music before she’d go to be, and play her kids his music. She’ll just rave about him. It’s the most beautiful piano you’ve ever heard. I reached out to him about collaborating. (The intro) is ominous, a bit dark, almost like you’re about to watch a movie that goes into space. I have these really amazing piano melodies that he wrote, and I also wanted to come off with a bang. With Neon Future III, you’ve got the spacey, dark element from Julian Marshall, and you have a banger of a drop. It’s just a way to say ‘Hello, we’re here. What’s up? This is Neon Future III.”
“Just Hold On” feat. Louis Tomlinson
“Just Hold On” was massive record. I never knew what fan clubs were like until I did that song. I had fans that support my music around the world, and they are amazing. They helped me out, but when I did the song with Louis Tomlinson, I got swept up in the force the Directioners. I didn’t realize the power that they have to really get the ball moving, as far as really getting the music out there to the world. They’re very smart, very sharp. There’s hundreds of thousands of them working together like an army to get your music out there. Louis is just an absolute legend, ra eally down to Earth, humble dude that has a brilliant voice and a heart of gold. I just love working with Louis, such a great guy. We became really good friends over this song, and I just love seeing how far the song’ll go.
“Waste It on Me” feat. BTS
Talking about the fans – wow. These fans are absolutely incredible. The BTS Army is literally an army that works day and night to get the music out there. Just absolutely the best team you could have on your side. This was the third song that BTS and I did in the last year … These guys are family. I sent them the bones of “Wasted On Me.” They loved it, and I was crossing my fingers, because it’s all in English. It’s just such a treat to the global audience that BTS has. I love the nuances of how they sing the song. You don’t need to follow a certain box like you did back in the day. When I work with singers and different vocalists, we go take after take after take to get the best. I’m not sure how many times they worked on it in their studio, but whatever take they sent me, I didn’t want to change. I love how raw and pure and genuine it is. This is an extremely meaningful song, my most meaningful song on the album. There’s a lot of history in that song, and the global footprint that this song has already in the first week, it’s already absolutely incredible.
“Be Somebody” with Nicky Romero feat. Kiiara
This song was a good testament to treating your ideas in the studio like fine wine. Me and Romero worked on the music of this song for over a year. We would check back in on this idea every few months … to see If this melody is going sound fresh no matter when you listen to it. Months later, if it really works right away, you know you have something that has a chance to be a timeless song. The goal is to make every song you make as timeless as possible. Of all the songs I’ve had, there are certain ones that really have had this quality, and you want to just continue to try to perfect that skill set. This song really felt that way to us, and Kiara jumped on it and put that extra juice on it, that x-factor that it needed to really rise above. Lyrically, I think it’s like such a great song for any time – now and the future, because it’s about independence and being strong through trying times. It’s a very powerful song, lyrically.
“Pretender” feat. Lil Yachty & AJR
“Pretender” was a very fun song. AJR, they’re just so witty, so sharp. They write incredible songs to begin with, great hooks, melodies and lyrics – oh god. The lyrics of this song are so perfect for right now. The way that we live our lives through Instagram, how we put ourselves out there is the indicator of why this song is so important now. We all do it. We’re like “oh, we go so hard at the gym, we’re eating so healthy, we’re living our best lives.” We don’t want to post up the images of us when we’re down. Lil Yachty absolutely killed it. I remember being in the studio with him in Atlanta. I flew out there, and he just went in the booth, played it, and just nailed his verses immediately. Yacthy is also young, so he’s just like “I’m going to trace back to when I was in high school and what it felt like to try to fit in.” He’s telling his own story, which, he’s a great storyteller. It’s catchy. It’s fun. It’s relevant.
“A Lover and a Memory” feat. Mike Posner
I was in the studio with him. During this period of time, he was making music that was a bit darker. This is pre-beard Mike Posner. That era of music he was making, I think he actually didn’t even release a lot of his other songs, because he kind of decided to go in a different direction. I’m glad I was able to take this song from him and turn it into “A Lover and A Memory,” because it’s got this dark feeling to it in the a way Mike sings it. It’s so vulnerable and so emotional. He is a singer-songwriter. He really sings from the heart, and this song really cuts right to that place. Lyrically, you can feel it. Vocally, you can feel it. I did my best with really trying to compliment that musically on the production side. I absolutely love this song. It’s one of the most heartfelt songs on the album. When I reached out to him, he was working a couple different songs, and that was one. I’m so drawn to this song, just the vulnerability in how he’s singing it. At the end of the day, it’s just a testament to what we try to do as producers and musicians; really cut through all the noise and get to the core of what we’re trying to say. The sad songs are the ones that make us feel and allow us to be vulnerable.
“Why Are We So Broken” feat. blink-182
Why are we so broken in a typical blink-182 song title. They’re just witty, and they always have a dark twist to their lyrics. As you sing along, you realize you’re singing along to is some weird lyrics – always. I love this song. There is so much vocal interplay between Mark Hoppus and Matt Skiba on the song. They sing back and forth constantly on this one, and they do such a good job vocally, but the lyrics are in the true blink-182 style. If you love blink-182, you’ll just automatically latch on to the lyrics and the melodies. The melodies are 100 percent trademark blank, and you hear Travis drums on there. He’s my favorite drummer of all time. This collaboration started in John Feldmann’s studio, working with blink. I brought to my studio, and my goal was to really make sure that both sides of the genres are represented as much as possible. I want everyone to hear the bass, the guitar, the harmonies, the vocals, the drums; all that stuff. The hard part is mixing both sides, the electronics side and the live side. It’s more difficult than you think, and it really took a long time ’till we finally got it. It’s in an incredible place of mixing both cultures. Also, I grew up listening to blink. I’ve always wanted collaboration with blink. I’ve worked with Travis since 2010 on various ideas … but we never got to the point of doing a blink song, so I’m just so happy we finally got to that point.
“Golden Days” feat. Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World
I was in the studio with John Feldmann, this time with Calum Hood from 5 Seconds of Summer, and Travis and Mark. We were working on the bones of “Golden Days,” like real writers room work. John had a big piece of the writing, Mark had a big piece of lyrics, Travis was on drums, and Calum was making the bass line. We weren’t sure what was going to happen with the song, but we got all that the arrangement down, the bare bones. I took it back to my studio, tweaked it out, built the drop. I actually played some bass and guitar on the song as well, had more fun with it. Then, I really want to get Jim Adkins from Jimmy Eat World on that the song. I have this very long history with Jimmy Eat World. The first time I was putting on shows, it was at this vegan co-op, and we had shows in our kitchen. Only like 15 or 20 people can actually fit in the room, and Jimmy Eat World came and played in ’97 or whatever, then they came back maybe like six months later. Here we are, 20 years later, and I’m working with this band. It’s just absolutely phenomenal. Jim was all about it, and he killed it. He just did a great job singing the song and made a great collaboration of the story.
“Our Love Glows” feat. Lady Antebellum
That was curve ball of the album for a lot of us. You don’t ever see EDM and country coming together, and that conversation pricks my ears up. I want to work with genres of music that haven’t really worked in the space. I love the challenge of making a great song, and I love expanding my musical tastes and becoming a better producer overall. Just like anything, if I want to work with a country artist, they have to want to work with me as well. I’ve actually put my feelers into the country space, and Lady Antebellum we’re also very interested in working with me. It was like a match made in heaven, like “holy shit, you would never expect it, but we wanna work with you,” and I’m like, “no, I wanna work with you.” It’s like a dream first date where it all goes well. They were very forthcoming, and they wrote an incredible idea for the song. This took time, too, like a good year plus to develop to what it is now. Just like fine wine. This isn’t about putting the song out right away. This is about making the best song we can from the song that I love that you sent me. I really want to represent both worlds and really get both of our fans to really pick the song up and have it be theirs.
“Anything More” feat. Era Istrefi
Once again, the idea that there’s no borders with music. I love that this album spans the globe. She is absolutely an incredible singer, and I’ve always wanted to work with her. She crushed it with the world cup song with Will Smith and Nicky Jam. I was really happy to see her name light up in that way. After that, I think she cut “Anything More.” I’d had “Anything More” as an idea for a long time, and I wanted to get the right vocalist for it, the right vocal sound. I love her voice. It was one of those things where I already really wanted to work with her, I knew she would kill it, and then she laid it down. It was such a natural fit, like a glove. I think the song is for all the college kids out there. You’re broke, and all you care about is being with your partner, boyfriend, girlfriend or whatever it may be. You don’t need anything more. When I was making this song with the songwriters I work with, I just saw all the college students I play to, it relating to their lives; a broke, starving student, and you just want to smoke some trees, chill with your guy or gil, and that’s all you care about. The blissful time of being young.
“All Night” with Lauren Jauregui
That song was a very meaningful song for me. I love Fifth Harmony. I was a really big fan of Lauren as a person, not just as this voice and talent that she is. She’s a very outspoken woman that just stands up for people that are underrepresented, people who need help with getting their voice out there. She cares a lot about human rights, and I love seeing her feed and just cheerleading her on. She’s got a vibe when she walks into a studio. The energy changes all together. She’s a magical fairy, coming in and just dropping fairy dust on everything, making everything just turn on. And she’s such a hard worker, too. She’ll work till the late-late hours. For a woman that’s in a girl band, you’d think there’d be this diva element, and there’s none of that. She comes in there and works her tail off and wants the best for the song. Absolutely inspirational – and her voice, oh my god. She goes in the booth, I mean, I could give her praise all over the place. The song is a lot of fun, we had a great time making the song. We spent countless days in my studio in LA, and shooting the music video. Actually shooting the music video on Cahuenga in this small bar that I used to play at when I was first coming up as a DJ. That was pretty cool, to go back down memory lane.
“Do Not Disturb” feat. Bella Thorne
I love Bella. I’d say one of the most professional artists I’ve worked with. Always showed up early, like, not on time. We did a few studio sessions, and she would show up before me, and it’s my studio. She’s an actress. She’s got that discipline to treat her work with the utmost care and responsibility. She’s also a diehard studio girl. She goes in there, works her tail off, and delivers what she’s really good at delivering. We became good friends, because she’s working with another artist on my label Dim Mak; Prince Fox. She made a song called “Just Call” which is an incredible song, and from that we just kept talking. I was like, “I got this incredible song for you; a super sexy song called ‘Do Not Disturb.'” We plan to do some fun stuff with the music video. She’s going to direct the video. She’s a very sharp, smart, intelligent woman. She’s got a lot going on, because she can. She really knows her vision. She is incredible at building her own brand. I give it up to her.
“Lie to Me” feat. Ina Wroldsen
That song I made with a Norwegian artist, Ina, who’s actually written and sang songs we all know. From working with Calvin Harris to Jax Jones and countless other amazing producers. She’s a phenomenon to be reckoned with, and she actually wrote “Lie To Me” when she was like 19 or 20 years old. She’s been sitting on that song, the melodies and lyrics, for a long, long time. I heard it, and I was like, “wow, this is such an emotional song,” and the way she sings it was so cool. People can feel the song from her, the way she sings the lyrics of the song, of what it feels like to be in a relationship where you’re kind of lost in it. She said, “this is something that I wrote when I was really young,” and I could sense that. When you’re young in a relationship, you tend to feel that way. I think a lot of people can relate to that. This is a great song for the summer, so we released that song in summer of 2018, this past summer.
“Azukita” with Daddy Yankee, Play-N-Skillz & Elvis Crespo
Azukita is my first Spanish-sung Latin record. It’s a long time coming, because a big part of my success as an artist, I have to give props to all my my Central American, South American and Spanish fans, and all the Spanish-speaking Latinos and Latinos in America. They’re such a large contingent of how I’ve grown as an artist. Really, with this one, I wanted to blend both worlds. I wanted to make an EDM drop, make it fun, make it dance-y, and then really have the reggaeton vibe for Daddy Yankee to do his thing, and Elvis Crespo do his thing. I worked on the production side with Play-N-Skillz, and just really blend all the worlds together. It’s done incredibly well in the dance world and streaming. The music video was phenomenal and amazing to work with. Also, just, Daddy Yankee is the godfather. He’s a legend. For my first Latin record to be with Daddy Yankee is a phenomenal feat. It’s one of my proudest song I’ve ever made.
“Hoovela” with TWIIG
“Hoovela” is a pure EDM banger. TWIIG are two amazing producers all the way from Croatia. We made the song sampling “Baile de Favela,” this incredible funk records from Brazil. When you hear that in Brazil, people go crazy. Millions of people love this song. I used to play “Baile de Favela” record in my sets, and Brazilians would just lose it. It’s one of those melodies and songs that really represent the funk sound in Brazil. I was able to to clear the sample and speed it up. That’s why it’s called “Hoovela.” It’s a hybrid of “Favela,” and the main sample which is my voice going “hoo.” Right before the drop, you hear a “hoo,” and that’s me, so we were just like “well, were gonna call it ‘Hoovela.'” It’s one of the most lit songs in my set when I play out live. If you come to a Steve Aoki show, you’re going to definitely hear “Hoovela,” and the crowd’s going to be jumping the entire way through the song. I’m going out to (Brazil) next year, so I’m gonna be playing “Hoovela” probably two or three times in my set.
“What We Started” with Don Diablo & Lush & Simon feat. BullySongs
“What We Started” is another mega collaboration with Don Diablo, Lush & Simon and BullySongs. Don Diablo is doing an incredible job raising awareness in the culture, in our EDM space, making incredible songs. Lush & Simon are amazing Italian producers that added a lot to the song, and BullySongs is the singer. This song is an ode to EDM. This is what we are. This is who we are. It’s a proud moment. It’s like a victory lap, us raising this EDM flag and being proud of where we come from. In the music video, we really showcase that. We’re these kids, we’re together working on this music, and then we hold up our hands, and we’re together at Tomorrowland. It’s a song I always close off with my set, and everyone’s got their hands up in the air. Whats incredible is this song was never a radio record, but in my crowd, everyone’s singing the song. Everybody knows the song, which is a testament that shows how impactful and how powerful the EDM space. If they really love your song, they don’t need the support from these larger institutions to break the record.
“Noble Gas” feat. Bill Nye
The first time I hung out with Bill, we did a panel together for Fast Company. We were sitting in the green room, and I was talking to him about the Neon Future album, probably boring his mind about what I thought the future was going to be. He’s just like, “I’m the science guy, you don’t need to tell me anything.” He was entertaining me, and I appreciated his time. I was like “listen, I know this is gonna sound weird, but I want to work with you on music, and if there is a way we can collaborate together let’s do it.” He was like “get your tape recorder out, and I’ll tell you what my version of the neon future is.” He kind of went on his own way like, “you know, neon is a noble gas. I wanna talk about that.” And I’m like, “you know what? You’re Bill Nye the science guy, you can talk about whatever you want, and we’ll make it a collaboration.” I just recorded him right then there, and it was the bones of the song. I went back in the studio, and since that meeting I’ve worked on the song countless times. I don’t know how many versions I made of that song – a ton. It was one of the last songs for Neon Future III that I made. It’s a heavy song. I wanted to start heavy and end heavy.
Neon Future III is out now on Ultra Records. Step into its global sound and never look back, below.