Steve Aoki's in the house

Review: The iconic DJ’s Schine Underground show proved he’s bound to do for house music what Mozart did for classical.

Steve Aoki played a venue that was appropriately packed to a crowd that was appropriately rowdy. It was University Union’s second sold-out show of the semester, yet there didn’t seem to be any overarching buzz for the event on campus.

It begs the question, how many people know who Steve Aoki is?

It’s no fault of his. Aoki is a modern Mozart in the electro/house community. His Monday night performance in the Schine Underground reflected that. No one in attendance stopped moving throughout the nearly hour-long set, even during moments when Aoki reduced the tracks to some vocals and a few faint, sustained chords. He snuck in tracks off his upcoming album that were even more impressive than the familiar beats everyone came to see (just wait until “Emergency” featuring Lil’ Jon hits the net). 

The acts opening the evening in the campus DJ competition were also good and would make any on-campus event move. However, there was a noticeable quality difference when Aoki took the stage. It was like watching a good high school orchestra open up for the big-city version performing immediately after.

That’s the ultimate impression Aoki left: He is not just some DJ recycling and replaying beats for folks to bump to in a club. Aoki is evidence that techno just might be our version of the symphony.

It starts with the music itself. The biggest difference between Aoki’s set and the student groups wasn’t a lack of danceable beats or a smaller realm of influence. (It’s worth noting that competition winners Chemicals of Creation impressed by utilizing world music and pop influences intertwined with traditional house/techno.) Aoki’s music stood out because it has audible melodies and a complex, verging on orchestral structure to it.

The first ten minutes of his set comprised a single symphonic movement. He passed the same simple melody from a deep, electronic bass to a familiar synth, all while allowing other parts to compliment that single musical idea. He moved through key changes and crescendos in a way that isn’t common in a lot of the music we consume, but Aoki constantly utilized these traditional musical elements during his set.  It left devoted fans satisfied, and those who came wondering what was in store (myself included) were pleasantly surprised.

Last night’s show was symphonic in more ways than the music itself.  There’s an unwritten etiquette at a house show, as well. The Underground was filled with people in neon or cut-off clothes, carrying whatever they could find that glowed. Hands stayed raised throughout, pulsating in unison with the major beat emphasis of Aoki’s work. Lyrics in electro are often inaudible, but any time words could be heard, Aoki met a wall of fans shouting them right back at the stage.

In contrast, audience members outside of Aoki’s musical world were underdressed and unfamiliar with lyrics iconic to the rest of the crowd – they stood out, in other words, like amateurs at a classical concert, clapping between movements in a suite.

Yet the most obvious similarity between the two genres after last night is a simple one – they’re small niches. The lack of Aoki knowledge or buzz doesn’t take away anything from the high-quality experience attendees had. If Vivaldi or Wagner played on campus tomorrow, wouldn’t there be a similar sellout, with a similarly small percentage of the campus paying attention?

DJ Steve Aoki, founding father of Dim Mak Records, preformed at Syracuse University Tuesday night in Schine Underground in front of a sold out crowd. (Photo: Ben Addonizio)

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