Steve Aoki Rocks Club NoTo in Philly

June 5, 2017 by Michael Cordeiro

We know their names and we play their music every week. Artists like Afrojack, Benny Benassi, The Jumpsmokers, Avicii, Tiesto and Calvin Harris. Super star DJs and remix artists routinely pack venues these days. Have you ever seen any of them perform live? Over Memorial Day weekend I had the opportunity to see the legendary Steve Aoki in concert at a hip club in Philadelphia called NoTo (

Philadelphia is a cool city. Downtown is full of history like Independence Hall, The Betsy Ross house and Ben Franklin’s home. I had a few hours before the show to explore the city center which is full of art and culture. I went to an indoor farmers market full of shops and amazing local foods, where, of course I had to have a Philly steak and cheese sub. It’s definitely worth planning a family trip there.

I arrived at the club at 7:30 pm to interview one of the owners, James. Club NoTo is owned and operated by four individuals. James is a young guy from Connecticut with a background in real estate and entertainment. He was casually dressed and came across as laid back and soft spoken. I could easily see though, that he is one of those guys that is always watching, thinking and scrutinizing every detail — great attributes for a club owner. After a quick tour of the venue, James and I sat down to talk.

MikeC: Why did you choose Philly over New York or Atlantic City to open NoTo?
James: New York and Atlantic City are already saturated with high-end clubs. In Philly we saw that there was a low barrier to entry and the city was becoming more cosmopolitan.
MikeC: So this type of club was missing from the city?
James: Yes, there are other venues but not on this scale.
MikeC: What is the main difference then between your club and other venues in the area?
James: We are more metropolitan and more of a destination club because of the acts we bring in. We also have bottle service and VIP tables which the smaller venues don’t offer.
MikeC: Do you use a booking agency for the entertainment or are you more hands on?
James: More hands on. I like to make sure the acts we bring in fit the area and the clientele we want to attract.
MIkeC: Do you still have to deal with ASCAP and BMI?
James: Yes.
(Right in the middle of the interview one of the confetti canons went off making us both jump. It’s an hour before show time and the dance floor is covered in confetti. James calmly picks up his phone, calls the staff and has them quickly clean up the floor and reset the canon for later.)
MikeC: Well that was interesting.
James: Sorry about that. It happens.
MikeC: No worries. I’m sure you deal with a lot before each show. There is a ton of activity going on. Looks like you have different teams.
James: Yes, we have several different crews working at the same time. The stage crew, doorman and security, bar staff, wait staff, technicians… it takes many people to make a show happen.
MikeC: This reminds me of setting up for a big wedding at a venue. How many house DJ’s do you have?
James: I have a roster of four or five guys I trust.
MikeC: What are some of qualities you look for in a house DJ?
James: No ego. They have to be able to read the crowd and play what people want to hear. They should be really engaging with the crowd.
MikeC: How would a local DJ make it to your stage?
James: They probably wouldn’t. The guys I use are very well established in the US market and have a following.
MikeC: Would that be your advice to aspiring DJ’s that want to play big venues like yours?
James: Yeah, be engaging, get established and promote yourself. Definitely don’t have an ego.
MikeC: Great advice. Thank you.

James had to attend to last minute pre-show details. Club NoTo is a big two floor venue with over a thousand person capacity. The architecture is a mix between eclectic art, 1930’s speak easy and modern technology. VIP booths line each side of the stage on both floors with large flat screen TV’s displaying eclectic art mounted above each couch.

All the latest lighting is suspended from the ceiling and the stage is backed by a massive video wall. The sound system is huge. Two aerial arrays hang off each side of the stage and massive subwoofers are mounted below the stage in a straight line from left to right. It’s a big wall of sound and thump. A giant eighty-inch disco ball hangs in the center of the ceiling like a crown jewel. The booth is all Pioneer. Four CDJ’s and a big mixer with monitors on each side. A separate lighting and effects control booth is on the second floor.

The warm up DJs started around 930pm and played a mix of old school hip hop, techno, house and EDM. Finally Steve Aoki took the stage. I’ve watched many of Steve’s videos and like his style of mixing. He was one of the original supeRstar DJs, along with DJ AM. Aoki is best known for his remix of “Pursuit of Happiness“. A little known fact about Steve Aoki is that his father was the founder of the Benihana Japanese restaurant chain.

I was really hoping to watch Steve spin live, but that was not the case. His show was mostly pre-mixed to go along with the video monitors and LED wall. I’m not saying it was bad, the show was high-energy and crazy, but from a technical DJ geek standpoint — I wanted to see some skills!

Aoki was a madman on stage. Constantly hyping the room up and crowd surfing at some points. His two hour show was a mix of heavy house, trap, dub step and EDM. He ended the show by throwing about a dozen large cakes out into the audience. People were totally covered in frosting.There was definitely some lessons to be learned about showmanship and rocking the house. I’ve seen tons of bands in concert, but this was my first EDM show.

Seeing Steve Aoki live was a great experience. I really believe it is important for us to go outside our  comfort zones and experience what different age groups are into. This can only keep us relevant as entertainers. It’s one thing to play certain styles of music, but something totally different to experience it from the other side.
Check out this video from the show:

Michael Cordeiro Michael Cordeiro (57 Posts)

Mike Cordeiro is the owner of M.C. Entertainment. A small RI multi-op. Mike got his start in the entertainment field while stationed in Frankfurt Germany in 1990. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Entertainment & Event Management from Johnson & Wales University and has appeared on TLC’s Four Weddings, hosted an episode of Toddler’s & Tiaras, and does background acting for movies.

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