Steve Aoki for Neon Future

Steve Aoki's Future Keeps Expanding

The EDM superstar tells Playboy about his dystopian comics world and new album 'Neon Future III'

Courtesy: Steve Aoki

Steve Aoki is stoked. He has just arrived from a well-received New York Comic Con panel, where he joined other musicians creating comic books. Now, he is conducting a signing for fans at a booth on the convention floor. During the hour-long meet and greet, he takes quick breaks for a TV interview and then a photo op, but he clearly wants to meet his fans and stay as long as he can. The Grammy-nominated DJ and producer may shine bright in the world of electronic dance music (EDM), but this comic book venture is new territory for him, and he appreciates the interest.

The series in question, Neon Future, shares the same name as three of his albums, including his latest collection of tunes, Neon Future III, dropping Friday, Nov. 9. (Check out the video trailer here!) The first issue of the comic was recently released by Impact Theory, and the entire run will extend to 18 issues, with the first six encapsulating the inaugural narrative arc of this dystopian saga. In the future it shows us, an authoritarian American government has banned the advanced technology that has displaced so many workers and led to massive unemployment. The government uses its Counter Terrorism Guard to crack down against the “terrorist movement” of Neon Future, which wants us to live harmoniously with technology. It's a world where the Authentic (normal humans) oppress the Augmented (technologically enhanced people).

Right before we start our walk-and-talk—the interview literally happens as he commutes on foot, with a security escort, from the singing booth to a Marvel video interview—an attractive blonde fan pops up dressed as Dee, a badass rebel warrior seen in the first issue. “We got Dee!” he proclaims when he spots her. “We got Dee in the flesh!” He and co-writer Tom Bilyeu (co-founder of the book's publisher, Impact Theory) enthusiastically pose for photos with her. It seems that she is their first cosplayer, and she has Aoki sign her outfit.
“How long did it take you to make that?” Aoki inquires.

“Thirty days,” she replies. “Hours and hours and hours. All I did was listen to your music.”

“That's so cool,” beams Aoki.

Then we walk. “We just listed the comic book this weekend, so she had to see it from our social media,” he says. “I never thought that would happen. That was pretty awesome.”

One of the main characters of Neon Future is Kita Sovee, the leader of the Neon Future underground rebellion who looks strikingly like Aoki, down to the long hair and lithe figure. The name is an anagram of Steve Aoki, and indeed, it is him, in a sense. The proper pronunciation of Sovee is so-vee (not vay), but Aoki says you can say it however you want. People have the same problem with his surname. “People say Steve Ay-oki, Steve Ah-oki, Steve Eye-oki,” he notes. (For the record, it's the first one.)
The character of Kita Sovee is “an augmented Steve Aoki that I want to become,” he explains. “He's like the ultimate, and the strange thing is he's an augmented human that is the most human out of everyone. So that's what's exciting. It's like using science and tech to find your human side, not falling into this digital dementia of softening your brain and becoming just like a puppet.”
For Aoki, Kita Sovee is an anchor in the story, but the main thrust of the narrative centers around Clay Campbell, who narrates much of the tale. A TV star who criticizes and hunts down Neon Future members for ratings, Campbell is saved by one of their key soldiers right after he dies unexpectedly in a car crash. They sneak his body to their high-tech compound and implant him with tech that will help save his life. Once conscious, he seeks to escape them, but he is informed that he might not be welcomed home by his forces that despise the Augmented, of which he is now one.

This concept parallels that of the paraplegic Marine Jake Sully in the Oscar-winning movie Avatar. The Marine, through AI means, is tasked with infiltrating the alien race of the Na'vi, whose natural resources humans seek to plunder. But once Jake becomes immersed in their culture, he switches his allegiances. Whether Campbell will flip to the side of Neon Future remains to be seen, but that seed is planted early on.

The story of Neon Future takes place three decades from now. “It's basically mixing science-fiction elements and science-fact elements, and not too far skewed from what we know,” believes Aoki. “There's a lot of familiarity within this comic when you see the backdrop sets. It's almost like it's only 10 or 20 years away.” Given the advances in robotics these days, a lot of the tech in the story seems achievable.
I train my body like an athlete as if I'm going into a tournament. I always want to look at my career very seriously in that way. I don't go out there and party, so to speak.
“This is a story that is not told conventionally in sci-fi narratives,” Aoki says. “Sci-fi narratives always use this technology, like the evil machine that takes over the world. This way, we're using a dystopian backdrop, but with science and tech being the way to uplift humanity. It's very different in that scope, flipping the narrative around. Honestly, this story's more character-driven. There's this backdrop of a futuristic dystopia, but really, the whole story is [centered] around these amazing personalities and characters, and you really sink into the people. That's what I love about it.”

He adds that he could not tell this story without having a good team. Aoki specifically mentions key co-writer and New York Times best-selling author Jim Krueger, “who, in the comic world, is one of the legends as far as storytelling. To have him help write that with our writing room of people—Tom Bilyeu and Impact Theory—has just been a really amazing process. There's no way I could have done it without them.”

In case you're wondering, Aoki was a comic book geek growing up. Wolverine was his first comic, and he collected every issue. After that, he became smitten with the X-Men and followed that series and Marvel titles like Spider-Man consistently. Then, he discovered DC Comics as well, notably iconic characters like Batman and Superman. “I read all those comics,” he says. “I have all those comics.”

Given the synthetic nature of the music, EDM and electronic music often get associated with sci-fi, just by their sonic nature. Aoki's music does have some ambient atmospheres that could fit into the soundtrack of a sci-fi film or series. It will be interesting to see if the future world of his Neon Future comic series will resonate with his EDM fans.
“I think [with] electronic music, especially the visual side of electronic music—when you go to festivals, you see all the lights, you see all the LED, you see a lot of technology as part of the experience,” he says. “That's just going to get more and more advanced as far as [how] we experience music. Electronic music is always at the forefront of really using that technology to enhance everything. As we get far more and more advanced, and we start using tech in a way for our experiential platforms to get more expansive and more creative, who knows where we'll go? We're always doing that. In a way, there is that synergy with electronic music at large and sci-fi in the tech space. I'm a sci-fi guy, I'm a tech guy. I'm a tech optimist. On a personal level, I'm already very much emotionally and passionately involved.”

EDM has blown up over the last decade. An extension of the techno movement of the 1990s, it has produced many high-profile DJs, like Aoki, Afrojack, Deadmau5 and David Guetta, who have all done Vegas residencies. It seems like the commercial apex of the genre has arrived, and one wonders how it will evolve from here.

“It's hard to see where the future is with any music platform,” muses Aoki. “For one thing, it's just changing even more radically and faster, and the trends are popping in and popping out faster than ever before, that's for sure. But you could tell that, in some cases, music is culture—whether it's like a dance as part of a song, whether it's how you dress as part of a certain artist's outfits, how we talk, how we communicate with each other, how we socialize, how we make friends, how we bond. Music has always been such a big cultural influence. I'm a big believer that music will heal the world. Our political world right now is in disarray. Maybe music can be a big component of bringing people together instead of dividing people.”

Known for his high-energy performances that have included dancing and jumping across the stage, stage-diving, crowd-surfing and short- and long-distance cake-throwing at fans, Aoki stays in prime physical shape. While he acts like a rock star, he does not live like one. His health is key. “I meditate on a daily basis,” he says. “I exercise, not on a daily basis, but as much as I possibly can, and I eat healthy. At the end of the day, I train my body like an athlete as if I'm going into a tournament. I always want to look at my career very seriously in that way. I don't go out there and party, so to speak. I'm there to conduct the party—I'm there to navigate people. I'm there to bring their emotional sensibilities to a high with the music, the whole direction and exploring through my set. I have to have clarity, and that's important.” That sounds a lot like Kita Sovee.

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