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Deal puts a new spin on the Dim Mak label

A new agreement with Downtown Music will give Steve Aoki's venture more clout.

January 28, 2008|Kevin Bronson | Times Staff Writer

As a jet-setting DJ, club promoter, fashionista and poster boy for the indie dance scene, Steve Aoki has enjoyed a meteoric rise in profile over the last few years. But his original love, Dim Mak, the independent record label he founded almost a decade ago, has treaded water, lacking the clout to promote the acts Aoki unearthed.

That figures to change under the terms of a joint venture, to be announced today, that will align Dim Mak with heavy-hitting independent label Downtown Music, home to such acts as Gnarls Barkley, Justice, Cold War Kids, Spank Rock and Eagles of Death Metal.

Under the agreement, Dim Mak will act as a kind of scouting and artist development resource for Downtown, which in turn will give the joint releases wider distribution (through the Warner Music Group) and increased marketing muscle.

"There was a lot of talk around the industry the past couple of years that Dim Mak was looking for more money, but what I needed was infrastructure," Aoki said Friday from Chicago, where he was touring behind the release of his mix CD, "Pillowface and Airplane Chronicles."

"If we took the traditional route and just spent more money, there are no guarantees. This gives us support on the radio and retail side that we didn't have before."

Aoki was in on the ground floor with artists such as Bloc Party, Klaxons and the Kills, only to see those bands go on to enjoy varying degrees of success on larger labels.

The 29-year-old's connections to the youthful club-going demographic and the dance music they favor have made him a barometer of what's hip and hot.

But that's not always enough -- which is why Aoki, the son of the founder of the Benihana restaurant chain who sometimes DJs under the name "Kid Millionaire," cited the "incredible vision" of Downtown Chairman Josh Deutsch, the former Virgin Records executive who founded the indie label only two years ago.

"Look at what they did with Gnarls Barkley -- that was basically an underground record. Who knew it was going to be the kind of success it was?" Aoki said. "But that was not lucky, what happened. It was planned and developed and worked.

"I believe our artists have the potential to write big songs and not ones limited to a certain indie scene. Now they will get the support they need."

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kevin.bronson@latimes.com

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