Steve Aoki knows revolutions. As a teenager, before he was old enough to drive a car, he belonged to a community of “punk and hardcore kids” who played loud music in their basements. “We’re like, this music’s not meant for everyone,” he says now. “But it’s meant for people who care.”
The kids kept playing their music. “We’re [bloody] serious, we’re dedicated,” Aoki says. “And every single person in that room is a contributor.” They were building something. And each of the kids, metaphorically speaking, “had to pick up the bricks, had to pick up the axes, had to pick up and contribute.”
So they built. They contributed. They ignored the doubters and they created. Now, decades later, Steve Aoki is at the forefront of the EDM revolution, easily one of the most recognizable and prolific DJs on the planet. And once again he’s feeling that revolutionary spirit. “Now I’m 44 and I’m like, holy [crap], I feel like I’m 14 again,” says the DJ.
His latest revolution is crypto. “I’m a crypto guy,” says Aoki. “I love crypto. I believe in it. It’s the future.” This is why you constantly see Aoki involved with Web3 projects, such as minting non-fungible tokens (NFT) or creating his own “A0K1VERSE” in the metaverse (including the just-launched “Steve Aoki’s Playhouse” in The Sandbox), and launching new leagues in Draft King’s Reignmaker crypto fantasy football. The man seems to be half music, half crypto.
In a wide-ranging interview, Aoki opens up about why Web3 will become “an inevitable way of communicating,” how he can collaborate on music with just about anyone (including maybe Elon Musk?), why he thinks the price of ether (ETH) could reach $15,000(!), and why the doubters of Web3 should “never underestimate a group of people that’s yelling for change.”
Interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
What was your first taste of crypto?
The end of 2017 is when I dove in. I put half a million into bitcoin and ether. I think bitcoin was at around $11,000, and then it shot up to $19,000 … and then it dropped to $3,000.
That’s a rough start.
When it was at $7,000 everyone’s jumping ship and they’re like, “This thing is going to zero.” I’m thinking, “If it’s going to zero, I’m the f**king captain of the Titanic, and I’m going down with this thing.”
And it went down to $4,000. I'm like, “Let’s hold on man. I’ll die with this boat.” I was going down with the f**king ship, man. I'm not a panic seller.
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What gave you that rock-solid confidence to Hodl?
I just look at the long-term future of crypto. Yes, other coins are gonna fall by the wayside. That’s how everything works. But crypto [at large] is not going to zero. The question I ask myself is, “Do I think the entire industry of crypto will go to zero, will not exist?” The answer, to me, is no. It's clearly going to exist. When will mainstream adoption happen? I don't know, but it's definitely not going to zero. The ship is not going down.
How’d you get into NFTs and other corners of crypto?
Well, there was the rise of all these altcoins and s**tcoins, and I got into them. I got into weird ones, like shiba [inu] and dogecoin, and I was early with GameStop. I was early with a lot of these things. I was following WallStreetBets [the Reddit forum]. I’m definitely a prospector, and I had the FOMO bug in general. With crypto, you put a little money into it and it’s fun because things are so volatile. It really is kind of like gambling.
Do you have a bit of a thrill-seeking, gambling streak in you?
You’d think I would because I’m an adrenaline junkie at heart. I like extreme sports like snowboarding and skydiving. I love this responsible chaos, where you’re in the middle of the whirlwind but you’re safe.
I love the phrase “responsible chaos.”
I had a taste of gambling in the casinos, and it ate me alive. I played blackjack and I love playing poker; I’ve been a poker player for 15, 20 years. But you can't beat the casino, so that's one thing I finally learned. And then I stopped. I do have fun doing prop bets [on sports] with friends; that’s just putting a little extra salt on the popcorn, if you will. It just adds to the game.
So what was your next crypto chapter? I’m guessing NFTs?
Yeah, and that chapter was a much deeper dive.
What is it about NFTs that you find so appealing?
NFTs are about identity, community and ownership. Those are things that really mean something to me.
And I'm a crypto guy. I love crypto. I believe in it. It’s the future, and it’s going to be an exchange people will always use. People believe in it, and I believe in it, so I’m gonna invest money into it.
But am I gonna put a bitcoin image on my [Twitter] profile? Am I gonna put an ether image on my profile? Never. Of course not.
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Why is that?
It's cold. Although I agree with it, my heartstrings are unattached to it. I'm a collector of art. I love art. I love sports cards. I love the nostalgia of certain things. There are certain groups of things that I am passionate about. Like, I have a tattoo of a Jean-Michel Basquiat art piece on my arm. I'm not gonna get [a bitcoin symbol] on my arm, although some people would.
And some people might put a bitcoin image on their profile. But for me, I’d rather put art or my ReplicantX up on my Twitter profile. There’s a story behind it, something deeper. I need something that's gonna dive me into a world, the way some people dive into "Dragon Ball" or "Rick and Morty" or "The Simpsons" or whatever it is that they grew up with.
What else makes you bullish on NFTs?
NFTs and the metaverse are based on a proof of concept that already exists: We live in a digital space and it actually has a significant impact on our real life.
The fact that we get likes on Instagram, that we get views on TikTok or YouTube, these things matter to us a great deal. It might matter more than a pat on the back by a stranger. You follow me?
How many “followers” we have in these spaces has a significant impact on how we view ourselves. It's a large imprint of our identity to the world. And the metaverse is an extension of this.
The landscape of the way we interact socially and digitally is going to change in a couple of years, once the clunkiness of onboarding into Web3 gets smoothened out.
Everything you said about digital lives makes sense to me. But what is it about Web3, specifically, that resonates with you?
Take social media. I don’t have to argue that billions of people use it, and that's how we socially interact. This is the foundation and we all agree with that. But we also all agree that when we enter into social media we don't own the content. We hit the Accept button. Before you create your login on your Facebook or your Twitter or your TikTok, we’ve accepted the fact that Mark Zuckerberg or whoever is gonna own this stuff. It’s their rules, it’s their playground and we’re playing in their house.
This is how it works. We all accept it because there's no other alternative. But now we have an alternative. The alternative is Web3. In a few years’ time, if you tell people that you can interact in a place where you own your data, you own your content, and you dictate the terms – do you prefer that or do you want Mark Zuckerberg to own it? They're gonna give you a very simple answer. It's gonna be 100%.
The reason why people aren’t going over there yet is because they don’t understand how Web3 works, and because it’s a clunky onboarding and it’s scary. You hear about these hacks and people don't understand it. It's still new, right? But the philosophy of what ownership means in this space is really the basis of how it will become an inevitable way of communicating, socializing and buying, and selling and trading in the digital space.
Where does the metaverse fit into this?
Take gaming. There’s a multibillion-dollar industry in Fortnite and Call of Duty and all of these games. People buy “skins” [a form of upgrading their characters] in these games, and we all agree that it's okay to buy a skin and spend $20. And, guess what, it's owned by Epic Games [and other gaming companies]. And we’re okay with that because there's no alternative.
There will be an alternative where you could play the same game, but when you buy and sell skins you own them yourself.
What do you think it will take for digital ownership to go mainstream?
I mean, this is definitely a “people's voice” kind of movement. It’s not going to be a trickle-down situation where you have big institutions coming in, then everything is gonna change. They're not gonna come in right now. They're not gonna take the risk and they don't need to.
I think of the analogy of music. The most dominant form of music had always been the English language. That was irrefutable for a very long time.
But now the biggest artist in the world is Bad Bunny and he sings entirely in Spanish. You have KPop groups from a small country compared with the rest of the world, South Korea, and they’re dominating in music. They're dominating over English-singing artists. Why? It's not because the radio stations wanted to play it. It’s because the fans made sure it’s up there.
These are music communities that are so engaged and so strongly linked that they’re able to take over what the institution is controlling. They're like, “Nope, this is what people are listening to.” Because guess what, the streams matter, the views matter. It's not what the big radio stations want that matters.
It’s a great analogy.
I'm part of EDM culture dance music. We’ll never beat the big pop American kind of records. But we have a large share because we have so many fans in our community that demand that it's out there, that demand that we’re on the charts, that demand that it’s getting played. So I'm already part of that kind of movement.
And Web3 is that same kind of underdog, where we have a passionate small group of people. Never underestimate a group of people that’s yelling for change. Never underestimate them. If you do it long enough and you do it consistently enough it has an exponential reach.
Before I was even 16 I was part of a very small community of punk and hardcore kids. And we would make noise in our basements and living rooms. We’re like, “This music's not meant for everyone, but it's meant for people who care.” But we’re [very] serious and we’re dedicated.
Now I’m 44 and I'm like, “Holy [crap], I feel like I'm 14 again.” We're picking up the picks and axes and we're developing, we're building, we're creating a whole new world. We're the ones panning for gold together and we're building our own homes. We're doing this together, we're architecting together.
Let’s talk building. What’s your goal with building the A0K1VERSE? What kind of experiences are you trying to create?
It's a structured community. We’ve had a Discord for a long time, once I dropped my first NFT. There’s a real conversation happening. So we thought, we’re going to create our own Soho House, in a way. We’ll have these different levels, and at different levels you’ll get different benefits.
Because I'm an artist and creator, there are interesting things I could do with members of the community that I’ve never done before.
Such as bringing a member from the community to make a song with you, and actually release it on all DSPs [digital streaming platforms]. That's a pretty steep offer. That's the highest level, and it’s what we put in the A0K1VERSE. Three people actually reached it.
Wait, so did you actually record a song with someone from the A0K1VERSE?
We haven't done it yet. I’ll be working with these members in the studio and we'll be making music that will eventually come out.
How does that work? I mean they’re randos, right? Are you like, “I hope they don’t totally suck?”
This is one thing I’m proud to say without sounding, you know, self-inflated, but I’m probably one of the most cross-genre producers out there in the world. I just work with every genre. I'm not even talking about music. I go into science because I did a whole series called “Neon Future” and it was really important for me to get bona fide scientists on my albums, because I really believe in this future of AI merging with humans. I really believe in that. So every album had a scientist on it. Bill Nye [of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” TV fame], he's not a musician as far as I know.
It’s not what he’s known for.
He's probably like, “Steve, don't say that.” I think he actually plays the saxophone or something. But I could be totally wrong.
I’ve also worked with J.J. Abrams, Kip Thorne and Ray Kurzweil. So there are a lot of different non-musicians I've worked with. I can work with anyone. Actually, the person I wanna be in the studio with the most – and I’m not saying he’s not a musician because he very well could be, because he’s an absolute genius – is Elon Musk. I don’t care if you can play a lick of an instrument or you have zero pitch; I don't give a damn. Just get in the studio and we're gonna have fun.
Hopefully, Musk reads this article and we’ll make it happen. So I get that the A0K1VERSE is a membership club, but how does the metaverse piece work?
The A0K1VERSE starts out with this social membership community and we're growing from that. The first layer of what our metaverse looks like is what we just dropped, called Sky Pods. They exist in this cloud world. We spent eight months working on Sky Pods (partnering with OnCyber) for the different levels of A0K1VERSE.
What are they exactly?
People can show their NFTs on a website and you don’t have to go to a wallet to watch it or go to OpenSea to watch it. There's a studio that's built in and there are all these different kinds of rooms. But this is just the first layer.
The Sandbox is the first metaverse world that's really making a dent. Their team is absolutely amazing to work with. With Steve Aoki’s Playhouse, there’s a quest where you can dive into my brain to the foam pit. It just gets insane. And we’re about to drop our own version of a waterpark.
Wait, how the hell do you create a waterpark in the metaverse?!
That's the whole point. Like, you can do absolutely anything and you can have fun. For people who ask, “Why would you even go in there?” my response is, “Do you know how many people grew up playing Sims? Do you know how many people played Minecraft?”
Fair. It’s a big number.
Do you know how many people love building in these worlds and playing in these kinds of games? There are millions upon millions upon millions. Millions of people played these games, building their own cities. This is basically that, but you own your character. You could sell your character, you could make quests and you can actually buy and sell and trade.
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You’re also involved with DraftKings Reignmakers, crypto fantasy football. What got you into that?
It combines all these different elements that I love. I’m a big card junkie guy; I love sports cards. I have an insane sports card collection. If you follow me on Instagram Live, most likely you’re watching me break open a pack of football, basketball or soccer cards.
But instead of opening a [normal] pack, you’re opening up your own NFTs. They're cards that you own. And these cards are representative of your fantasy football team. So you own the NFTs, you can trade them on the open marketplace and then, of course, the end goal is killing it with your team and winning some prizes.
Any final predictions for the space?
For NFTs, the ride will be volatile in the next five years, for sure. People are gonna be wiser about creating communities, and it's not just about this quick money grab. The longer-play visions are the ones that survive. And I also agree with GaryVee, that 98% of NFTs are gonna fall off, just like what happens with every other industry.
For bitcoin, we're gonna go up to $100,000 in the next five years. And $15,000 ether in the next five years. I’m a big NFT guy. Everyone’s buying NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain, and I think it has real utility. And you can’t knock bitcoin; bitcoin is power. I’ve invested in some other coins, but bitcoin and ether are my go-tos.
Thanks Steve, this was fun. See you in the A0K1VERSE foam pit.