[follow id = “Brenna_Swanston”]
The doors would open any minute, and anticipation was tense. Associated Students, Inc. and event staff ran around the Recreation Center’s main gym like chickens with their heads cut off, blowing up balloons, adjusting decorations and deciding how to avoid a stampede when it was time to remove the barricades for the horde of impatient Steve Aoki fans outside.
Graphic communication senior Sarah Flores pulled on her yeti costume and struck a pose on the empty stage, ready to play her role as one of the dancing abominable snowmen of the Winter White Tour.
“They needed someone who was weird enough to do this sober,” Flores said. “So obviously, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’”
The clock struck 6 p.m. and an Aoki-pumped crowd filed into the gym, yelling, dancing excitedly and Snapchatting photos of the waiting stage. They sported an assortment of all-white outfits, light-up pacifiers, cat costumes, “kandi” bracelets, “cake me” shirts and signs, light show gloves and glowing neon sunglasses. A girl danced in the bleachers, her calves encased in what looked like huge, white furry legwarmers, accented with black dangling puff balls.
An event staff member passed out Red Bull drinks to the security guards manning the stage.
Mechanical engineering sophomore Andy Zavala took the front row and grabbed the rail, covered in face paint and wearing a cape.
“It’s just my outfit,” he said. “I’m trying to look good.”
Andy said he has been listening to Aoki for years and was excited to see him live for the first time.
“The theme of Winter White is crazy,” Zavala said. “I admire the costumes. It’s gonna be great. It’s just, in general, a good atmosphere.”
Communication studies senior Dillon Katz and wine and viticulture senior Quin Donahue opened the show as duo Animal Kontrol, warming up the crowd for a night of dancing and insanity.
The live music began: The bass shook the gym and drove the crowd crazy. The music’s intensity could have easily passed for an earthquake.
“It was awesome,” Katz said. “We’ve never played on a stage that big before.”
Donahue said he and Katz began making music together while DJing friends’ house parties. They submitted a 45-minute set to an electronic music contest and won the opportunity to open for Aoki.
“It wasn’t something we planned on,” Donahue said. “It just fell into our laps.”
Max Styler performed next, followed by AutoErotique. Dancers took to the stage dressed in studded bras, white feathery tutus, thigh-high fishnets and white elevator shoes. Fake snow in the form of soap-sud globs fell from the ceiling. Hours passed, but the audience appeared endlessly energetic.
Crowd surfers passed from hand to hand, and people climbed on their friends’ shoulders to get a better look at the stage. The audience was packed from the front rails to the back doors and pushed up the bleachers on either side of the gym. They danced ceaselessly under green lasers shooting from the stage, chopped up by strobe lights. Event staff poured bottled water into the mouths of thirsty spectators. Gym-goers gathered at the second-floor window to observe the insanity.
AutoErotique closed his set with a rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The entire gym sang along. Next up was Dzeko & Torres, who continued to pump up the crowd.
Meanwhile, on the sidelines, two yetis frantically blew up beach balls and inflatable rafts in preparation for Aoki, who emerged from the VIP lounge and listened to Dzeko & Torres’s performance backstage. He wore a tank top, skinny jeans and sneakers with wings coming off the heels. Aoki smiled, dancing along to his opening act, unfazed by nearby fans on the bleachers who yelled at him and snapped photos.
Three yetis took over the stage and instigated a gym-wide beach ball fight. White light-up beach balls flung back and forth between the audience and the stage. Event staff, photographers and security joined in, flinging their inflatable ammunition at the waiting crowd while Aoki and his posse huddled backstage in preparation for his set.
Finally, around 10 p.m., Aoki ran onstage. The gym exploded with pent-up excitement.
The crowd waved flashing foam batons and danced with almost as much exhilaration as Aoki himself, who flailed his arms and jumped in rhythm to the thumping music. He and his audience sang along to the remixed vocals. His performance was like a conversation with his listeners — he was just as excited about the music as they were.
Laying in wait behind Aoki and his soundboard was a table covered with 10 large cakes surrounded by bottles of sparkling cranberry juice and stacks of towels. The show had only just begun.
Aoki chugged water and flung the empty bottles into the crowd. A choreographed light show danced around him. The gym’s bleachers rocked under the audience’s stomping feet.
The music dropped to a murmur and began to increase slowly in volume, building tension. Aoki held up his first cake, and spectators went wild.
He ran to the front of the stage, carefully assessing his audience, deciding who was most worthy to be the first caked of the night. He finally chose a girl propped up on a friend’s shoulders, wearing a “cake me” shirt.
Aoki lifted the dessert with both hands, leaned back and — just as the music dropped — launched it directly onto his chosen audience member’s torso.
As his set progressed, Aoki covered his fans with sparkling cranberry juice, white confetti and nine additional cakes launched at audience members he either called onto the stage, chose within the herd or randomly targeted by turning his back to the crowd while throwing. The audience ate it up, soaking in each moment of the show, singing along and refusing to cease their dancing and screaming.
Halfway through his set, Aoki and his crew dragged two large inflatable rafts onto the stage. They picked members of the crowd to come up, set them in the rafts and sent them surfing atop the audience. When the rafts returned to the stage, they simply picked a new set of surfers and sent them on their way, continuing for several rotations.
When the set ended, the crowd begged for an encore and Aoki honored their request. When he had finished for good, he lingered onstage, taking selfies with fans’ cell phones and meeting the front-row audience members while the rest of the gym emptied.
Aoki’s Cal Poly show was one to remember, he said.
“I loved the show,” Aoki said. “It was amazing. At the end of the day, the more energy people give me, the more I remember the show. And memorable shows, well, I obviously never forget them.”
The last time Aoki toured the west coast, he played in San Francisco and Los Angeles but missed everything in between, he said. This time around, he wanted to hit the in-between towns and college campuses.
“The college campuses are always the craziest because of the music,” Aoki said. “They’re kids. They’re educated about this stuff off of YouTube instead of the radio.”
San Luis Obispo was a particularly fun stop, he said.
“It was a pretty energetic, really happy crowd,” Aoki said. “I love happy people.”