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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 1:44 pm | A Few Clouds 57º


Paul Mann: Steve Aoki, Army of DJs Launch Music Attack on Santa Barbara EDM Fans

Master showman kicks the dance party up a notch

Steve Aoki returned to his roots to play two shows in Santa Barbara on Jan. 20. The first was a showcase concert at UCSB, his alma mater, and the second was held in one of the concrete block houses at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.

His career in music began in Isla Vista, where he staged countless underground concerts in his “Biko Room,” where he lived in his college days. The master producer then formed his own record label, Dim Mak, in 1996. His work as a producer and collaborator was already legendary by the time he released his own first recording in 1998, “Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles.”

Since then he has become one of the most played remix artists in nightclubs around the world. Although he is not as well known as electronic dance music (EDM) pop DJs such as Euro Superstar Tiesto or American Favorite Deadmau5, his production and remix tentacles have a much more far-reaching influence than most of his contemporaries. His brand of music is considered hard core, sort of like the Nine Inch Nails or Black Sabbath of EDM. His live shows have generated a large fanatical following of fans.

His second show, at Earl Warren, was a much more elaborate affair. The showgrounds have a long history of producing legendary live concerts in Santa Barbara, long before venues such as the Santa Barbara Bowl were utilized. In the 1960s, many of the most popular bands in the world played there, including Led Zeppelin, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix.

The cavernous hall utilized by Aoki and his army of opening DJs may not have had very good acoustics, but this was somewhat remedied by the massive bass speakers, necessary for the full effect of the thunderous and hypnotic dance beat. An ear-shattering decibel level overcame the building’s acoustic shortcomings, a level so loud that the show could have not taken place legally anywhere outdoors in Santa Barbara.

The music began early in the evening, with many in the 18-and-under admission line waiting patiently for more than an hour to get inside. The older crowd had an easier time of it with a fast-track line to the inside and a private bar for the even more elderly 21-and-up crowd. But this crowd was dominated by a festive rave fashioned crowd of eager young teenagers, tongue waging and rolling in ecstatic excitement.

Nearly 3½ hours after the event started and four sets into the evening, second-in-command DJ Datsik (aka Troy Beetles) was still performing his set to a packed crowd of dance trance music fans. Datsik is a Dubstep DJ from British Columbia and has several club hit releases in the past few years

By the time Aoki started his set at 10.45 p.m., most everyone in the crowd was engrossed in a sweaty surge toward the stage. As the evening progressed, each new DJ booth would grow larger, higher and more elaborate. By the time Aoki was revealed to the crowd, his massive DJ booth towered above the crowd, almost touching the ceiling. As soon as he began, the master mixer had the crowd engaged in a dancing frenzy.

Like a wizard waving his wand, Aoki began to mix and flail about like a conductor of a possessed orchestra. Part of the appeal of his live shows are his animated histrionics that lend themselves well to endearing the DJ directly to the crowd. As an array of LED panels animated behind him, large panels in front illuminated to spell out his name. Later, giant floating balloon letters settled into the crowd, also spelling his name.

Occasionally the master showman would leap from his pedestal into the crowd and surf through the steamy masses. By the time his set ended shortly after midnight, he had presided over Santa Barbara’s longest and most intense dance party in recent memory.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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