By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jun 24, 2022 at 10:26 AM Photography: Dan Garcia

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Paris Hilton. Lindsay Lohan. Shaq. For better and much, much worse, there's an alarming amount of celebrities who've dabbled in becoming DJs – and sure, these amateur attempts can be fun but they can also inspire cynicism and side-eyes toward the world of EDM. But then you see Steve Aoki, the Miller Lite Oasis headliner for the 2022 Big Gig's opening night, and feel what it's like to witness a true professional at work (as much as one can use the word "professional" in reference to an act that involves chucking sheet cakes at people's faces), getting this nine-day summer party started with a big 100-minute bang rivaling the one in the sky right before the show.

Steve AokiX

After a cavalcade of DJs opened the night up and set the mood at the Oasis, the EDM mainstay and star took the stage and didn't let the young, raucous and jam-packed crowd – easily one of the largest grounds stage audiences on the Big Gig's opening night – quit until the date changed to Friday. Coming out to his monolithic stage set-up, glowing with graphics of weaving ice blue wires to start the night, Aoki immediately got the audience dancing, jumping, bobbing and never stopping. The DJ's beats and mixes constantly kept the audience on their toes, delivering satisfying drops, sing-along moments and unexpected musical twists and turns throughout the set – from glitchy, crunchy, bass-heavy EDM headbangers to more global music-inspired dance segments and even a quick hit of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" for a brief palate cleanser. 

In between some of the more standard dance beats and popular Top 40 radio remixes, Aoki tossed in a number of his star-studded collaborations into the setlist as well, from his "MIC Drop" remix with BTS to his recent rock collaboration with emo punk pop band (and future 2022 Summerfest headliner) Taking Back Sunday, "Just Us Two." Whether you're a hardcore Aoki fan or just someone wanting a rollicking party, the DJ's Thursday night set delivered. 

All the while, Aoki's stage show kept things as engaging and varied as the DJ's playlist. With two massive screens – one shaped like a giant Tetris T-block at the front of Aoki's deck, one huge traditional screen behind, with the DJ perched above the crowd in between – the visuals bounced around from colorful cartoons, to video game-like clips of a CG Aoki flying through portals and nature, to clips of his music videos, to the iconic "I'm flying, Jack" scene from "Titanic" with Aoki playing both the Leo and Kate parts. (The man must really like that movie.)

Steve AokiX

Somehow, though, even with all the ecstatic and eye-catching visuals, the most energetic presence on the stage was Aoki himself. An underappreciated element of an EDM show's success is how much the DJ in charge seems engaged and interested to be there – and Aoki very much seemed happy to be in Milwaukee, standing on his table, losing his shirt by at least the set's halfway mark and inviting fans onto the stage to join for a song or two. Aoki's made his love for Brew City well known before and hasn't been a stranger over the years, playing two appearances in 2019 alone. Judging by Thursday's show, I doubt his feelings toward the city have changed over the hiatus – and the crowd returned the favor. 

And that's all before we get to Aoki's sweet supporting cast member: the legendary sheet cakes. The DJ made the audience wait for the night's descent into "Double Dare"-like mayhem, but with just a few minutes left in the set, Aoki quickly disappeared before emerging with his soon-to-be-demolished desserts, chucking the cakes into happily screaming fans in the front sections. Some could call it a gimmicky bit at this point – but after the well-performed and well-assembled party Aoki hosted, it didn't feel as much like shtick as it could with a lesser DJ. Plus the crowd still eats up the messy exclamation point – literally, if you don't mind your dessert served fast, flying and embedded in one's entire face. 

Steve Aoki crowd
PHOTO: Matt Mueller

Last year may have technically marked Summerfest's return from the pandemic – but Thursday truly felt like the Big Gig fans love and remember from The Before Years. Between the gorgeous summer weather during the day and Steve Aoki's joyously rowdy set at night, performed in front of a giddy crowd bringing that electric commotion back on the grounds, opening day actually felt normal once again. Or at least as normal as a night with people getting pulverized by pastries can be. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.