• The Rest Is History: Dim Mak

    The Rest Is History analyzes the most relevant and noteworthy record labels in the electronic music realm today. Via in-depth interviews and a deep exploration into the imprint’s discographies and storied past, the series chronicles these labels from inception as they cross into eternal electronic music history.

    Editor’s Note: The author of this feature was a full-time Dim Mak employee from 2013–14.

    You wouldn’t recognize the old-school Dim Mak sound today if you fired up the very first vinyl the label printed almost 20 years ago. The thrashing guitars, the battering double bass pedals, and the distorted growls of the label’s past acts are a foreign language when compared to the bombastic beats, the heavy bass, and the house and electro supremacy of Dim Mak’s current roster. The metamorphosis from a punk and hardcore label to mainstage dominators and leaders of the modern-day EDM boom is an untold mystery that could be explained only through a deep dive within the Dim Mak vaults, all the way into today’s digital libraries.

    A lot has changed in music in the past two decades. Technology has disrupted everything. Trends and fads have launched and died. Bands have crashed and burned. Labels have come and gone. The times, they are a-changin’, but Dim Mak has survived it all via a continuous roster of cutting-edge artists and sounds. Powered by the label’s DIY mantra—“By Any Means Necessary,” instilled by their fearless leader Steve Aoki—Dim Mak has persevered on a long, arduous journey to become one of the exemplary pillars of modern independent music.

    As the label approaches the 20-year benchmark, The Rest Is History explores Dim Mak’s trajectory as Aoki and crew took the fledgling label from operating out of his tiny Hollywood apartment to becoming a bona fide cultural institution within electronic music and beyond.

    Aoki’s College Years and the Launch of Dim Mak (1996)

    Through and through, the sound of Dim Mak yesteryear up to today is defined by Aoki’s eclectic tastes. Prior to becoming the internationally touring, Grammy-nominated artist he is now, Aoki was once a punk rock and hardcore kid growing up on the streets of Newport Beach, in California’s Orange County.

    “I was a sophomore in high school, and I got a mixtape from a friend of mine. I literally just felt passionately involved with the scene,” a rebellious Aoki reminisces about his earliest musical memories as a young punk. “This was the first time where I understood music as a lifestyle. You listen to songs, you listen to groups, but you don’t necessarily need to change your clothes to look like them. This is when I did that. Everything I did was what other straight-edge hardcore kids did back then. I became vegetarian. I shaved my head. I started reading into lyrics more deeply. I started playing guitar. I started singing in a band. All that stuff is what hardcore kids did.”

    There was no looking back for Aoki once he hit the hardcore scene, and he later elevated his commitment to the movement during his college years at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as a double major in women’s studies and sociology. His involvement in the scene ran the gamut, from playing in multiple bands to writing his own column in a local punk magazine.

    From his UCSB dorm, Aoki also operated the Pickle Patch, which functioned as a makeshift punk rock venue that hosted everyone from Jimmy Eat World and At the Drive-In to !!! and the Locust. Such legendary performances from then-unknown artists marked the first glimpses of Aoki as a budding tastemaker, which would become his launching pad into cultural relevancy years down the line.

    The many hats Aoki wore served one purpose: to contribute to the punk and hardcore communities. Never one to fully quench his thirst for creative expression—a trait that would carry on throughout his career as a businessman and artist—Aoki founded Dim Mak in 1996, at the age of 19, as his ultimate artistic outlet and contribution to the scene.

    “Once I get involved with something, I want to be a really productive member in the group. I’m not like a guy that hides in the background,” says Aoki.