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Steve Aoki Is Killing Dance Music, One Cake At A Time

By Robert Martin in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 11, 2015 7:45PM

2015_03_Steve_Aoki.jpg Steve Aoki, photo via his Facebook page

It’s been 38 years since disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer teamed up for “I Feel Love,” a revolutionary single made with synthesizers instead of traditional instruments. Despite nearing its midlife crisis, electronic music (or “EDM” if we must) still has some growing up to do. Music composed entirely on desktop software is an art form that will never cease to exist. Thanks to events like Steve Aoki’s Neon Future Experience, it also may never receive the credit that’s due.

The 26-date tour sponsored by Bud Light rolled into Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom last week to present a grim picture of what dance music has become in the hands of companies like Live Nation. A shimmery white satellite truck parked outside of the historic theatre assured that the show would be broadcast to an even larger audience— The uncomfortable number of brand names involved in the event aren’t out of the ordinary for Aoki. He’s always been a businessman.

In 1996, Aoki founded the Dim Mak record label with the mission of spreading electro far beyond the Los Angeles dance parties he frequented in college. The platform would go on to release music from artists like The Bloody Beetroots and MSTRKRFT. As his label rose to prominence, Aoki launched his own career as a musician, crafting gnarly remixes for everyone from the Jackson 5 to Bassnectar. By 2011, Aoki was a hit amongst the early adopters of the contemporary rave craze.

It was shortly after this that the 37-year-old turned to theatrics and never looked back. Whether pelting fans with cake, rafting through crowds or hosing the rail-riders with champagne, he made his priorities clear. In this aspect, The Neon Future Experience took things to another planet. Performers operating inside of massive mech suits served as a centerpiece to the show’s production. Halfway through the concert, these fixtures jolt to life, marching across the stage shooting massive clouds of steam into the audience. It’s a scene straight out of a Vegas production, the kind of warm up you’d expect before the Jabawockeez bust out some sick moves.

This sounds entertaining on paper, but is utterly lifeless when soundtracked by well over an hour of Aoki’s copy/paste beats. All the imagination of the stage show is lost when that formulaic drop hits for the fifth or sixth time. Aoki puts minimal effort into his mixing and it shows. The biggest surprise all night was the number of cakes he managed to hurl into the crowd, seven or eight by our count. Include the fine work of a Chicago bakery among the things that went to waste at the Aragon Ballroom. Opening acts Headhunterz and Caked Up offered some variety in the form of slamming 808s and pounding hardstyle-kicks, but their inclusion couldn’t save Aoki’s frosted mess of a performance.

Electronic music is better than this. If Steve Aoki has offered the world a true look at the “Neon Future,” then we must start dialing our time-machines back to an era when those who were in charge of the dance floor cared more about their craft.