Pointing out that Steve Aoki is a mug is a purely philosophical exercise. Anyone who hasn’t already acknowledged Aoki’s indisputable status as a shitsack – despite his long years of proven shitsackery - will almost certainly never ever acknowledge his status as a shitsack. Much like Brexit, mumble rap and the nuclear deterrent, everyone has already taken an immutable position on the cake throwing pillock, there’s no middle ground left and eventually he’ll kill us all [not 100% on the last bit tbh, but it seems a fair bet]. On the one hand you have the Guardian writing that “Aoki is less master craftsman, more musical seer,” (baffling), on the other you have Wunderground making up (frankly, slightly wack) comedy T-Shirts that offended Steve so much he got his lawyers out. As I say, polarising.
On the bright side, his tireless dedication to encapsulating the most awful elements of dance culture is a gift to writers. If ever you need to find an example of someone embracing whatever the latest cynical, dead eyed trend in 21st Century raving is, a quick Google of Steve’s most recent shenanigans will almost certainly show you that he’s been merrily leading the charge.
This brings us to his current work with Shell. A campaign called #MakeTheFuture was put together a year back but has resurfaced this week like an unflushable turd. Here’s the current tweet - including full horrific Aoki gif - that Shell Australia are punting around:
full horrific Aoki gif - that Shell Australia are punting around:
“It takes one idea to change the world” a haggard looking Aoki mouths in perpetual loop [you can insert your own its-lucky-it-only-takes-one-idea-have-you-even-heard-your-music-guv joke here].Presumably this flaccid management-sprechen bollocks is meant to convey Action! Optimism! Innovation! Millenials! Empowerment! Woke af! And whatever other ludicrously! exclamatory! words! a boardroom of Shell execs wanked onto seal skin papyrus before a lunch of lightly crisped dolphin. Get this kids, Aoki is telling us, Galileo was a moron! In truth you are the centre of the universe!
As I said, Aoki is a gift to writers. If ever we needed a truly compelling argument on how banal, egregious and unfathomable dance music / corporate partnerships have become then we knew we could count on him to lead from the front. Here, along with five other international bastards, he's the face of an ad campaign dedicated to pretending that Shell’s business interests lie in some feel good guff involving solar panels and lentil powered wind farms and, I dunno, imaginary African sludge huts receiving a lifetime’s supply of snapchat filters. This is obviously all some high grade greenwashing bs designed to distract attention from the fact that Shell’s principle business interest lies in sucking oil and gas from the ruptured globe like a fat cunt slurping on a crème egg. Everything about the campaign is horrible, from the repulsive song that Aoki has ‘written’, to the music video supporting the song, where each of these international singers is trapped in a small garishly coloured box room, lonely flesh units declaiming – with remarkably little supporting evidence- that today is ‘the best day of my life’. If reciting a Steve Aoki penned abomination from a ten foot square box is the best day of your life, God knows what kicks off on the worst days – although there’s a sequence around 30 seconds in where coffee beans are ground into turd like forms which are then used to fuel a fire that’s scalding an anonymous set of human hands- perhaps this might provide some clues. Funnily enough (ha!ha!ha!) Shell have previously forked out $15.5million in out of court settlements to smooth over the the persistent accusations of their involvement in torture and execution in Nigerian Delta. Whether the torture they've been alleged (but not proven!) to be involved with used eco-manufactured coffee turds is not for me to guess. When not paying activists to stop moaning on about their dead relatives or paying the Nigerian military to repress any form of popular dissent, Shell likes to lobby the EU to ensure that eco-friendly carbon emission targets are so diluted they’re completely meaningless. Stick that in a hook Aoki you weasel.
What’s the point of this rant? The point is that Steve Aoki, guiding light that he is, has shown us the logical conclusion of dance music's current infatuation with brand team ups. When you’re taking the supposedly edgy energy of dance music culture – which is clearly what Shell thinks Aoki represents in this arseways musical pile up – and using it to push a completely dishonest narrative about one of the world’s most rapacious corporations, you’re attempting to harness years of subversive rave invention into the service of masking the ammorality of corporations. Naturally this sort of carry on is nothing new – slick suits have been attempting to exploit counter-culture since Edward Bernays first convinced women that smoking fags was an act of emancipation. The difference is that where multinational brands were previously viewed by ‘the underground’ (whatever that is) with some sort of suspicion, now an argument appears to have been lost; there’s an acceptance, possibly fuelled by the symbiotic relationship we have with twitter, facebook, instagram and google that brand partnerships are part and parcel of life – the infiltration of smart phones into our physicality has meant that in many ways we are becoming branded creatures- as much defined by our tweets as our hair colour. And from that perspective it seems natural that a new song should be tied to Nike or Ballantines or Shell Oil or whatever. We're already corporate created cyborgs - these bigger brands are just plug ins. I was only writing last week about how Tech bro’s think producers need to realise that “they’re not much different from Nike and their songs are like commercials.”
But if we continue this unexamined rush towards a system where the only logical route for artists to be heard is to enter gruesome alliances with dubious brands, we’re depriving ourselves of any avenue to complain when things go to shit. As Shell proved in Nigeria, they’re not shy of paying for the military to break some heads if the people get uppity – and if we allow our voice to only be heard when amplified by platforms we have no control over, our voice has to keep singing from the correct hymn sheet if it wants to be heard at all.
So thanks to Steve for reminding us how bad things can get - really he's just a negative weathervane, a pointer to wherever we need to get away from to find out what's good. Let's eat (throw?) a cake in his honour...