Steve Aoki’s Neon Futures is probably the most detrimental thing to my street cred, of being a hardcore lover of all things alternative, since knowing all the lyrics to “Shake It Off” and “22” being in my top 25 most-played. What can I say? I happen to adore Taylor Swift – the adorable lyrics, the catchiness, the brilliant voice and the ability to annoy masses of people by simply singing the chorus to “I Knew You Were Trouble”. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and tackle a genre that is on the opposite spectrum of what I usually listen to.
Electronic music, or EDM as it is more commonly known, is not a genre in which it is easy to make it big. EDM is a lot like the pop scene, or even like the rock scene, where you have a lot of artists churning out very similar sounding material. It becomes increasingly difficult to cut out a niche for yourself, and when you do, you have to cling to that niche for your dear life and fend off anybody who could possibly threaten your claim to fame. This is not a problem that Grammy-nominated Steve Aoki has had. With the release of his debut album Wonderland, Aoki staked out his claim to being one of the best, and most loved, DJs in the world. Five years down the line, he is ready to prove once again just why he is so brilliant with Neon Future I (Part II being released sometime in 2015).
Perhaps one of things that makes Aoki so brilliant is the fact that, unlike some DJs, he has a unique sound on every single song. This is probably the result of engaging in different collaborations on each song. This allows for Aoki to explore various paths with his music and not stick to one particular formula for each song. It isn’t all about the build-up and the drop Martin Garrix. You could liken Aoki to Deadmau5. Where Deadmau5 uses intricate melodies to create the aural version of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”; Aoki delivers rapid bursts of energy that creates an aural landscape that can be compared to the dysfunctional and erratic nature of surrealism. Aoki is like a modern-day Salvador Dali of the musical world.
Neon Future opens with a song entitled “Transcendence”, which sees Ray Kurzwiel, the director of engineering at Google, discussing the concept of transcendence and the positive results of it in the near future. Anybody who watched the film Transcendence may be a bit skeptical of this, but I like the idea of having Robert Downey Jr. in the form of AI. The album then progresses into “Neon Future” featuring Empire of the Sun. Here the erratic mania of Aoki’s distinctive brand of EDM meets the eccentric nature of Empire of the Sun to create something that is one half obscure indie pop and one half batshit crazy EDM. Auto-tuned vocals hit you from each side, like some kind of robotic army, while synth and bass lines billow around this vocals raising aural skyscrapers before bringing them crashing to the ground when the bass drops.
“Back To Earth” sees a collaboration with Fall Out Boy. Pop punk riffs are tempered by pulsating bass lines while Patrick Stump’s high-pitched vocals seem to fit in awfully well with what is bound to be a massive club hit, or simply a song that gets the entire crowd at Ultra moving in ways they have not moved before.
Aoki seems to favour having rappers feature on his songs. Neon Future sees four separate songs with four separate rappers. “Born To Get Wild” sees Will.i.am contributing his vocals to the ultimate club hit – he likes doing that doesn’t he? Kid Ink features on the chart-topping “Boneless (Delirious)”, which sees Aoki sinking his teeth into a filthy deep house beat. Waka Flocka Flame contributes to “Rage The Night Away” – and proceeds to ruin the song. The only redeeming quality of the song is the massive sounding bass lines and the chorus of “Rage the night away”.
Out of all the rappers featured on the album, only one stands up above them all. Machine Gun Kelly, true to his name, rapidly spits out rhymes that turns a typical EDM song into the most punk thing you’re ever going to hear coming out of the commercial dance music. “Free The Madness” is hell-bent on freeing whatever madness may be trapped inside your body and will make the whitest of men break out their best dance moves. Its beat is infectious. The bass is massive, and Machine Gun Kelly delivers lyrics that make you question whether you’re living your life to the fullest.
Closing off the album are two of my favourite songs off of Neon Future. “Afroki” sees Bonnie McKee contributing some beautiful vocals before Aoki decides that it is time for pandemonium to break-out and he launches into the bridge, before finishing you off with massive bass drops. “Get Me Out Of Here” sees Aoki teaming up with another master of EDM music: Flux Pavilion. Together they create something that may possibly make Deadmau5 think twice about what he said about EDM being a sinking ship.
Allow me to murder whatever was left of my hardcore street cred by saying that Neon Future has claimed a sneaky position in my AOTY list. It’d sit in-between Polar’s Shadowed By Vultures and The Color Morale’s Hold On Pain Ends, and possibly with a very smug look on its face – or a face of total fear and isolation by being the only EDM album in the list. Either way, if this is the total madness of the first part of Neon Future then I look forward to Part Two.