How Steve Aoki Is Building a Universe Beyond Music

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Steve-Aoki-HiroQuest - Credit: Jana Schuessler
Steve-Aoki-HiroQuest - Credit: Jana Schuessler

Steve Aoki has been a household name for the last two decades, but that hasn’t stopped him from perpetually experimenting — bounding from one sound to the next — and challenging how his music is consumed, understood, and memorialized.

“There’s no one doing what I’m doing,” he tells Rolling Stone when reflecting on HiROQUEST 2: Double Helix, an expansive 23-track album released Friday. The ambitious project simultaneously spans country, latin, and dance — building on Aoki’s early roots while embracing today’s appetite for genre-breaking music. Paris Hilton, Akon, Ángela Aguilar, Danna Paola, Greeicy, Galantis, JJ Lin, Hayley Kiyoko, Galantis, Timmy Trumpet, and John Martin are featured throughout the record, which dropped alongside a new music video for “Us,” a country-dance track featuring Ernest.

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“I’m still working with artists that are not in dance, because I love it,” the Grammy-nominated DJ-producer says of his collaborative work, adding, “You have to do things that move your heart move and move the needle for you, move culture within you.” He later explains, “I want to go deeper… I love that we’re in a different cultural state, where the underground sounds of house and techno are becoming the forefront.”

A large part of Aoki’s innovation has expanded to his storytelling beyond music. While the first installment of 2022’s punk-infused HiROQUEST: Genesis introduced the protagonist Hiro and followed his pursuit to capture magical rings and save the world, Double Helix, builds on this universe — introducing a new antagonist and with it an opportunity for Aoki to engage fans with his passion for card collecting.

“Albums are like your fossil of that time,” Aoki explains when discussing how each record acts as a “timestamp” of the culture’s current sound. “It’s super important to me to leave a legacy. I love storytelling, and that’s why with HiROQUEST, I have physical trading cards… I’m obsessed with the story of building IP, of brand building. I’m a brand builder.”

His obsession has manifested into a HiROQUEST Collectors Edition, which arrives Nov. 21, and offers fans an official CD, graphic novel, and four “Kolex” trading cards from a 12-card set. Like the new album, the novel — which Aoki wrote with former Creative Director for Marvel Comics and Eisner Award recipient Jim Kreuger — depicts the tale of Hiro’s journey through five mythological realms and showdown with his arch-nemesis, Hyro. Aoki adds that eventually, he plans to build the storyline into a television series.

“I’m really excited to tell the story. I want people to really follow me on the journey beyond the music,” say Aoki. “I want people to be part of that story early, because the story is just starting.”

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