Singularity Samurai

This story originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror’s Jan 25th Edition. 

Steve Aoki interviewed by a fan. Recorded and replayed by me.

Over a spate of filter charred cigarettes, badly made coffee and manic foraging through a few neon gigabytes worth of digital information, Sumeet Dubey had chalked out the questions he would be asking of Steve Aoki. Sumeet, a copywriter at a prolific ad agency, through sheer persistence had landed an opportunity to meet his idol Steve Aoki for a few minutes, before he unleashed his brand of EDM to scorch the VH1 Supersonic arcade. At the brink of the meeting, on the twenty first floor of Taj Land’s End, Sumeet was calmness personified, taking snaps of the lovely view the room afforded. While the PR and event entourage made small talk with the journalists, he watched a discourse on Technological Singularity on his smartphone, taking absent minded sips of coffee, from someone else’s cup. Steve Aoki walked in with the hesitance of someone unsure if he had entered the correct room. Sumeet’s beaming face put his doubts to rest; it bore the reverential gleam of a man who had met his God. His first question, though was a curveball that even God would not have anticipated.

“What is your take on the hypothesis of singularity?”

Juxtaposed against the confounded expressions sported by the other attendees, Sumeet’s confident demeanour seemed all the more unsettling. Singularity, a concept that proposes that technology will soon supersede human intelligence and control to an extent that it could radically alter human civilization, isn’t a run-of-the-mill icebreaker question. But Aoki seemed strangely invigorated.

“I got the idea for Neon Future (Aoki’s new album) from Ray Kurzweil, back in 2009 when I read his book ‘The Singularity is Near’ and then he later wrote a book in 2012 called ‘How to Create a Mind’. I got really obsessed with science fiction concepts that can be real. Scifi is fun to read, but its more fun when real scientist say that a lot of these ideas can become real. The basis of Neon Future are these crazy, fantastical ideas coming real in our lifetime. So meeting these scientists, talking to them and reading their books was a big influence. Aubrey De Grey has written a book called Ending Ageing where he talks about all the research that’s being done to understand how cells, die off, degenerate, overpopulate, regenerate, and how to reverse all that. Because if we can figure that out we can eradicate diseases and live forever. It’s pretty exciting stuff.” Five minutes in; artificial intelligence, existentialism and immortality were done and dusted. Icebreaking be damned, Sumeet was a firestarter.

Veering seamlessly into another realm of the unknown, Sumeet now probed Aoki on his upcoming album, the sequel to his smash hit ‘Neon Future I’, its similarities and dissimilarities with its predecessor. Aoki seemed to ponder over the right words to articulate his reply, his introspection, undoubtedly fuelled by Sumeet’s own diligence. “The reason why its two parts is because although I wrote most of the songs at around the same time, when I split it up I thought ‘Ok Neon Future I songs are more like party, more fun, like Delirious is a fun party record, Rage the night away is like a banging dance floor record,.’ But ‘Get me out of here’ and Neon Future (the song) are more like soundscapes and they are like the bridges between the two albums. Neon Future II is a completely new sound, its a more emotional record, there’s a lot more vocal songs and heartbreaking lyrics.”

In the moments that ensued a euphoric affection ensconced both fan and idol, as they talked Linkin Park and Fall Out Boy, seminal bands of the new millennium, who have collaborated with Aoki on Neon Future 2.  Everyone else in the room, including the constantly in flux photographer and his clicking contraption, were relegated to shadowy wisps of anonymity -Trespassers on fanboys audaciously geeking out. But the disrupter of this bubble of candidness was Aoki’s reveal of the villain that prevented musical superheroes eager and willing to team up.

“As I get deeper and deeper into this production business, and dealing with major artist’s record labels, I learnt that both artists could be willing to work together and we get pretty far into a song, but then all of a sudden, like at the last minute it could get blocked from management or from the record label. The bureaucracy of the record industry is really horrible and the creative space gets more and more diminished as you work with bigger artists and that really sucks. ”

A synergy of souls often leads to soulful admissions and Aoki’s heart which had been an infallible locker, had permitted the intrusion of Sumit’s curiosity. Aoki now spoke of his music making process.

“The songs I write are sometimes written a few years before I eventually release them. But if you heard some of them then, and then hear what they become, they are like two completely different entities. That ways the clubs are like my laboratory where I am trying out new stuff and new soundscapes. The songs are continuously being polished and redone, which is why I need my music to be timeless, because otherwise a year later when the song releases the sound will already have become obsolete.”

At one point during the conversation, when Sumeet had asked Aoki what a particular tattoo on his hand represented, Aoki had almost sheepishly replied saying “Its a key to my heart.” One would be hard pressed to argue if Sumeet had inadvertently laid his hands onto it. Long after the dialogue had watered into its inevitable conclusion, and Aoki had officially left the building, Sumeet revealed, “The way Steve deals with his music inspite of all its futuristic concepts bears the meticulousness that I don’t know if even he realizes is very Japanese. In many ways he is like a samurai swordsmith, forging a timeless blade, working hard at it, never satisfied until it is near perfect.”  

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