Steve Aoki Civ Neil Favila 2020
Features

Steve Aoki And Gorilla Biscuits’ Civ On The Power Of Hardcore, Veganism And Collaborating With Each Other

World-famous DJ Steve Aoki in conversation with Gorilla Biscuits’ Anthony Civarelli – they have much more in common than you think

Steve Aoki is best known as one of the most successful DJs in the world, but it’s also common knowledge that he started out in the hardcore scene – not just as a fan, but playing in a number bands such as This Machine Kills, Esperanza and The Fire Next Time. He also set up Dim Mak Records when he was 19, which he still runs to this day, guided by the ethics of the hardcore scene that he cut his teeth in. One such inspirational band was New York’s Gorilla Biscuits. Founded by Anthony Civ’ Civarelli in 1986 – who later went on to form CIV – Gorilla Biscuits are one of the most important and influential bands in the scene, as well as being one of Steve’s favourite. In fact, not only was his first-ever tattoo the Gorilla Biscuits logo on his back, but in 2016, Steve had them play a special event in Los Angeles for Dim Mak, also collaborating on a T‑shirt that riffed on that iconic logo.

So it’s little surprise that when they sit down to talk – over Zoom, naturally – about their shared love of hardcore, the conversation flows and flows. They show each other (and Kerrang!) their GB tattoos, spend almost 20 minutes at the beginning talking about rare hardcore records, and are clearly both full of the utmost respect and admiration for each other. To see two worlds collide like that – especially with the awful things happening elsewhere today – is wonderfully refreshing and inspiring, so settle down for a fascinating conversation between two men who started out at different times, took very different paths, but whose roots are exactly the same. 

Since you’ve met before, you presumably know, Civ, that Steve’s first tattoo was a Gorilla Biscuits one…
Civ: Yeah. He showed it to me at the Dim Mak party. My first tattoo was a Gorilla Biscuits tattoo, too (laughs).”
Steve: I remember when I got mine, the guy was a bit afraid because it was my first tattoo. He was like, What’s this?’ and I was like, This is my favourite band. I want to get it on my body, on my back.’ He’s like, Hey, what about the centre?’ and I said, Well, it’s not the centre of my life, so put it a little bit to the side, a little left of the centre.’” 

Steve Aoki Gbtattoo Neil Favila 2020

It really demonstrates how for both of you, and for so many people, this is more than just music. It’s truly a way of life.
Steve: Right. And on that note, people just don’t understand how crazy hardcore kids are about record collecting. They just don’t they don’t know the culture. When I meet kids outside – or kids of people outside – our scene, they just don’t understand how hand-in-hand it is to have the rarest green vinyl from this pressing, from this label, of this band.”
Civ: It’s treasure, you know. But I’m really bad when it’s my own stuff, where I won’t attach the same importance to things that I’ve done. I’m just like, This is stupid. We did it, and if people like it, cool.’ But sometimes our friends are like, There’s a kid in Japan crying right now that your daughter’s in the bathtub with 15 of those Gorilla Biscuit dolls and they’re filled with sand.’ She takes the heads off and fills them with dirt and sand, and like it’s like one of five made. But it’s a fucking toy, you know. But if it was something I wanted, like a tattoo machine or a painting from an artist that I like, then I’m like. Don’t even breathe on that!’ Because it’s something that I hold at a high value. I have a Social D shirt that I’ve had since like 89 or 90, and I decided to paint the house with it on and it’s fucking destroyed now. And people are like, Why would you wear that shirt?’ And I say, I don’t think about it, but you’re right.’ I shouldn’t have painted the house in that one, but it’s too late.”
Steve: Are you kidding?! Now that shirt’s even more extra rare – it’s like part of your craft. Your art is all over that shirt now!”

Steve Aoki Neil Favila 2020

Steve, your work ethic is very DIY punk rock – there’s that famous time you played 31 shows in 28 days – so that punk spirit has stayed with you over the years.
Steve: Yeah, those hardcore ethics never really left me. I’m not straight-edge, but I have a lot of the philosophy. I was vegetarian for a long time – and that’s another thing about the hardcore scene, it opened me up to the ethics of eating animals. I’m not vegetarian now, but I don’t eat cows and I don’t eat eggs. It’s probably hypocritical when I say I eat chickens – especially to Civ, who has the [Gorilla Biscuits] song Cats And Dogs, so I know this is a total line I’m crossing here, but…”
Civ: I’m just enjoying the build-up. You’re like, Fuck, I shouldn’t have went down this road.’”
Steve: I know! I’ve already screwed myself!”
Civ: I mean, dude, that’s the thing, too. You can’t embrace anybody, influence anybody or change anyone’s mind by being an asshole. That was that was something I used to kind of do – like, spit at people with fur coats on, or scream shit at people after my first vegan march in England. But the world is coming around, and any little bit that everybody does… I mean, listen – you saved thousands of cows’ lives by only killing chickens, you know. I would never guilt you for eating chicken or fish, because you’re doing as much as you can do and you feel comfortable with. And that’s great. And with your influence, you can say, I stopped eating red meat’ and millions of people will go, You know what? Maybe I can think about that.’ But I want to get back to the ethics of hardcore, because what people don’t realise about you is that you also put on shows, did labels… I don’t know if you ever did a fanzine or not?”
Steve: I did. When I was a kid, the cool points for me weren’t like the sneakers I walked in on – like, Oh my god, the new Air Jordans!’ – but more like, Yo! I made a zine! It’s about this band that just played down the street. I interviewed them and I went to Kinko’s and typed all this stuff out and glued it all in here and put my pictures in there. And here’s eight pages about it.’ And it’s dope, because that’s your contribution to the community. Because it really is like a religion. We’re doing what we can to let people know about our little world and every action that we do has this profound ripple effect because any contribution is important. And that’s how I learned to be so active, putting on the shows and learning how to play music. And thank God for those kinds of principles, because I wouldn’t be a producer and a DJ now, I wouldn’t have learned how to play guitar or record on my four-track Tascam, or any of those things I do now.”

So what drew you out of the scene, Steve?
Civ: It was the money (laughs).”

Apart from the money…
Steve: The reality is that there is very little money to be made. And yes, that is actually an unconscious change that happens as you get older. For me, I was in college and I had my shit jobs and I was okay with paying the rent, and I was always just okay with my living situation, but when I moved to LA after college, that’s when things started changing for me. I started thinking less about me like, Okay, I’m just gonna focus on Dim Mak now.’ We were signing more rock bands, and those rock bands kind of steered me out of staying within the insular world of hardcore and punk. The Kills and Bloc Party and those kinds of bands steered me into actually promoting since I was in LA in these little bars. I could put on a show for a hardcore band, but I couldn’t put on a show for M.I.A., so in order to do that, I needed to throw these afterparties, and that’s where I learned how to DJ – and the rest is history. I didn’t leave the scene, but transformed into this other world. But Dim Mak is the thread that that went from me being part of the hardcore scene to eventually becoming a DJ.”
Civ: Yeah, once you’re in it, you can never really leave, no matter how hard you try. You’re just doing something else. You’ll be a hardcore kid till the day you die, because that’s where you started.” 

Does that mean, Steve, that your cake smashing is kind of a hangover from your punk days, a way of keeping the mosh-pit alive?
Steve: Yeah, you could definitely say the cake smashing is a byproduct from the hardcore scene. A lot of my favourite bands did all kinds of weird stuff onstage, and there’s a lot that intrigues me about how you can interact with an audience. I’m always trying to think of how I can interact with my fans in a way that’s going to be known as Steve Aoki rather than, Oh, this is just what DJs do.’ So the cake was just a silly idea. I went to a bakery, got a cake, brought it out and showed the crowd. One kid wanted it smashed into his face, so we filmed it, put it up on YouTube and it became viral, so we were like, We gotta do this again!’ That was in 2011, so it’s been it’s been over eight years.”
Civ: That’s a lot of cakes.”
Steve: A lot of cakes! I was doing 10 cakes a show, and I did 250 shows on average a year…”
Civ: Oh my God.”
Steve: So, I mean, we’re doing 15,000 cake smashes.”
Civ: You’ve got to start your own bakery – you’re wasting money!”

Could you two ever envision working together musically? You’ve already made the T‑shirt, genre boundaries are getting looser and looser, and you’re obviously fans of the same music and each other. Could there ever be something in the works?
Civ: I never think of it in those terms. But if we ever wanted to, it would be like, Yeah, cool, let’s try something.’ I think when you’re coming from the same kind of background, I would be completely cool by going, You know what, Steve? This sucks.’ And you’d be like, Yeah.’ Or we’d think, This is good.’ But it’s one of those things where you never know – things happen when they happen. I never really look for new projects or avenues until the universe sort of presents it. A lot of life, I think, is worked out by saying yes to things and being open to things, but also knowing when you’re out of your wheelhouse a little bit. But also Steve’s on a different level with what he’s doing with the DJing…”
Steve: It’s not different levels.”
Civ: It’s the same thing, but a different scene. That’s the thing with you, or when I watch Travis [Barker, blink-182] do things. You guys just really turn to liquid and flow with the times and you pay attention to it. I think it’s a West Coast trait that’s really admirable. Whereas New York guys are just like stones chained to another stone chained to a building, where we just don’t change and we don’t flow well.”
Steve: But people want to see the OG GBs! They want to see you onstage doing what you do.”
Civ: We are who we are. And that’s what they want. I understand that and we have to be those pillars, we have to be those rocks for it and you have to keep it real. We’ve kind of committed to being these elder statesmen for the hardcore scene so it has some viable roots that are still there.”
Steve: Well, I definitely think doing a collab absolutely should be in the works. It’s just a matter of timing and time and us getting together.”

Well, there’s nothing but time right now…
Steve: And here’s the thing: I love a challenge, and this is a challenge. These are my roots. The challenge is how to mould hardcore stylings and electronic beats because I want to be able to do that right. I think we did a good job with blink-182 and Linkin Park and Fall Out Boy, but that’s a different styling. I’ve been thinking about how to remix a Gorilla Biscuits song. That’s the first step for me. For me personally, I have to do it.”
Civ: Start with a CIV song. It’ll be easier, and then you’ll make that transition. That’ll be an easier step down.”

Steve Aoki Gorilla Biscuits Neil Favila 2020

Is there anything else you guys would like to say?
Civ: My only two cents to whoever’s reading this is think about what we were talking about – where you were when you were fired up, when you were pissed, when you were going to change the world at 16. Keep that. Keep that guy, keep that girl, in your belly. You don’t have to suck as an adult. Look at Steve – he’s got a good existence. He’s got fucking playhouse, for God’s sakes. You could be that. You could be that lucky if you work hard. And vote in November. That’s all I’m gonna say.”
Steve:
And who knows – now a collaboration might happen because of Kerrang!.”

Read this next:

Posted on May 28th 2020, 10:30a.m.
Read More
Holding Absence in The K! Pit
Melodic post-hardcore crew Holding Absence hit The K! Pit in association with Nordic Spirit at Blondies, our favourite East London dive bar.
Svalbard in The K! Pit
Brit metallers Svalbard hit The K! Pit in association with Nordic Spirit at Blondies, our favourite East London dive bar.
Lamb Of God's Randy Blythe and more share super-heavy cover of Prince's I Would Die 4 U

Watch Randy Blythe (virtually) join members of Gorilla Biscuits, War On Women, Ithaca, Harm’s Way and more for the heaviest version of the Prince classic you’ve ever heard…

This is the setlist from Foo Fighters' first proper gig in over a year

Foo Fighters hit Los Angeles’ intimate Canyon Club venue last night for their first proper show since the beginning of the pandemic. Here’s how it went down…

Loading...
End of content
No more pages to load