When Steve Aoki started DJ'ing at Atlantic City's nightclubs a few years ago, it was all about the paycheck, not the playlist.
As the founder of an electronic dance music record label, his more experimental taste was dulled by crowds who only wanted to hear the same-old pop and hip-hop hits.
"I would go there to just get paid, because the music I was playing I didn't really care about," says the 34-year-old Californian. "I was just like, 'I gotta get through this set, I gotta play all the hits.'"
A lot has changed since then. Electronic dance music has become more accepted by mainstream culture, and the city has turned into a major attraction for the rapidly growing scene.
"The whole thing was just flipped upside down," he says. "Now, I love playing Atlantic City. I look forward to it. I enjoy it. The crowd is there, the fan base is there, the energy is there."
Aoki plans to take the energy to another level Saturday night as he brings his Deadmeat Tour to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa's Event Center for a performance that's sure to be sensational and sweaty.
"I want people to come to my show and be able to completely let go of everything they did before the show and just have the most insane time of their lives," he says. "If people can do that and lose their minds at my show, then I'm successful."
Aoki co-headlines the tour with Datsik, a Canadian dubstep producer he met last year on the IDentity Festival tour and eventually signed to his label, Dim Mak Records. Autoerotique, another Dim Mak artist, is opening the show. Singer Wynter Gordon, who is featured on Aoki's song "Ladi Dadi," will also make a special appearance.
The North American tour follows the January release of Aoki's debut studio album, "Wonderland," a 13-track LP that the musician has been developing for about four years.
While principally a producer of electro-house music, Aoki says his style is constantly evolving along with the electronic music genre itself, and that's evident in the diverse collection of songs on his album.
It opens and closes with different mixes of "Earthquakey People," which features Weezer's Rivers Cuomo. In between are songs with varying influences and collaborators, including Kid Cudi, Lil Jon, LMFAO, Travis Barker and will.i.am from The Black Eyed Peas, who appears under the pseudonym Zuper Blahq.
"I didn't want to write 13 club bangers," he says. "This is showcasing me as a songwriter as well as a producer."
That being said, Aoki's produced a number of successful club singles, most notably "Turbulence" with Laidback Luke and Lil Jon, a song that has been making a mess of dance floors in Atlantic City and around the world since its release last spring.
That's an important note for the DJ, because he watched the clubs in Atlantic City go from playing minimal electronic music to many of his own productions. For Saturday's show, he'll play all his own music, highlighted with a laser light show and his own wild antics on stage.
"I want people to be ripping their shirts off and jumping in the air, sweating their bodies out, dancing, enjoying life," he says. "That's my goal."
The Fresh Ideas Behind Deadmeat
The Deadmeat Tour gets its name from one of Aoki's first song productions, which he released years ago but remixed for his new album. Both versions have a hardly decipherable, distorted vocal that is actually Aoki's voice saying "deadmeat," something he said simply sounded cool.
"I just like that word," he says. "I constantly think of strange stuff that I see and I'm like, 'Oh, this is perfect for a drop.'"
Aoki says it also had the best ringing name for the tour that could somewhat relate to his style and Datsik's.
"I have some pretty light songs, but most of my stuff is pretty dark and aggressive," he says. "And Datsik has the sickest bass catches around."
A "drop" and a "bass catch" are DJ terminology for the points in songs when the music transitions between a rhythm or bass line, usually after a recognizable crescendo. The music builds, the new segment "drops," and the crowd goes wild.
On "Wonderland," Aoki's newly mixed version of "Deadmeat" includes vocals by singer Polina Goudieva and a new title to reflect those lyrics - "Come With Me (Deadmeat)."
He says he produced the original song about four or five years ago, and he has been working on his album for about that long as well. He released several singles and compilation mixes of other artists' music along the way, but he largely kept the tracks on "Wonderland" to himself.
"I wrote some of these songs so long ago," he says. "I just kept them and held them hostage. I wanted the songs to be fresh for everyone to hear."