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A Bus Ride With Steve Aoki

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

A photo diary of the the ride to MSG on a NYC sightseeing bus with one of the world’s finest DJs.

A Bus Ride With Steve Aoki

When I was invited to a press conference for world-famous DJ/producer Steve Aoki to be held Tuesday, I didn't really think too much of it aside from the fact that I wanted to be there. The email indicated that this was a VIP invite, but I still didn't imagine this being anything out of the ordinary. It turned out that Aoki was announcing a headlining show at Madison Square Garden and details on his new album Neon Future, but getting to the press conference was another story in itself.

Everything seemed normal outside 17 Battery Place near the Staten Island ferry when I arrived at 9:30 in the morning. I showed up first, so there wasn't too much going on. Details were scarce, and no one really knew too much of what was on the agenda, but we all waited patiently.

As the minutes passed, I looked around and noticed that this was a spot where several NYC sightseeing tour buses were taking off from. One was parked right in front of us, and the thought crossed my mind momentarily that maybe Aoki was waiting hidden inside the bus before he would make his grand entrance. I thought it was too farfetched to actually happen.

Turns out I wasn't far off.

More press (and contest winners) began to congregate in our designated meeting area. Film crews interviewed the fans about Aoki and got pictures of them wearing Aoki swag. At a little after 10, yet another sightseeing bus pulled up. Several of the team members identified this as their target, and began plastering the windows with sheets of paper showing the black-and-white outline of Aoki's silhouette. 

We were ushered onto the bus and told that we'd be picking Steve up at his hotel in Tribeca before heading to our next destination. I was expecting a simple gathering and a run-of-the-mill press conferencing at the first location. I guessed the whole thing would take twenty minutes tops and I'd be able to make it to DUMBO for work by 11 at the latest. I was then informed that all of these proceedings would run from 10 until around 1. That's certainly not the everyday press conference.

The bus rumbled around the financial district with a horde of press and fans all packed on the top deck. We were all very curious about what was happening, but we were all taking in the sights around us. The regular bus tour guide was on hand, and he occasionally pointed some things out to people that weren't really paying much attention. But we passed the new Freedom Tower and a few other draws en route to Aoki's hotel.

We pulled up to a posh looking spot in the Tribeca neighborhood that I'm not familiar with at all. The press all left the bus and gathers near the hotel entrance to get a good spot for photos. We waited for about 15 minutes. Some of the fans tried to start a slow clap. Everyone mostly just passed the time by talking to each other and swapping Aoki memories. Passersby often approached asking who it was that we were waiting for. Some of them seemed to know who he was, but many of the older people walking around had no idea who Steve Aoki was. 

Aoki finally walked out to a raucous ovation from the fans aboard the bus. He stopped in front of the vehicle to accommodate us photographers before we all got back on board, since at this point we were running late.

Once on board, Aoki was pretty much flooded with attention up top. But Steve had one mission at first: learn everyone's name. He started in the middle of the bus and going through everyone methodically. He would knock off a pair of seats, move to the next one, then go back to make sure he had the previous one, and so one and so forth. He legitimately spent about 10 minutes on this and was in a zen-like mode of concentration. Once he worked his way to the front, he came down the entire aisle and went through every single person's name, giving them a high five or a hand shake in the process. He missed just one name, but out of more than 40 people, I'd say that's extremely commendable. 

From that point, Steve was as open as he could possibly be. He sat down across the aisle from me in the middle/back of the bus. When a fan would ask for a picture, he would oblige. When one of the media members asked a question, he answered it. When fans asked for him to record a video to a special person in their lives, he did it. He regaled us with stories of the first time he ever DJed and how he became who he is. One person even asked for advice on breaking into the EDM world, and he gave him some encouraging tips and engaged him in conversation for a solid five minutes. He was as accessible as he could possibly be, and it was unique to see someone outside of their on-stage persona.

We eventually pulled up to Madison Square Garden where Aoki would make his announcement, but the how we got there was a bit eye-opening. Aoki could have just shown up at the Garden (or at Battery Place), made the announcement and be done with it. Instead, he opened himself up to the fans and to the media and created a unique opportunity to interact with them in a personal way. Those kinds of things aren't soon forgotten. The looks on those fans faces when he shook their hands told me they would be die-hard supporters for life. It's not every day you get to hang out with an internationally-renowned DJ.

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