Steve Aoki is much more than an electro house musician, record producer, music executive and social media star. Add to that long list of accomplishments hyperactive entrepreneur.
In the five days since TheWrap called Steve Aoki in Croatia, has played for thousands of fans at gigs in Wisconsin, South Beach and Ibiza, Spain. By the time his properly titled documentary “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” chronicling his workaholic life, arrives on Netflix today (Aug. 19), he will have played the “Crazy Sense Festival” in Hannover, Germany.
“The fast-paced life, I’m meant for this,” Aoki told TheWrap before taking the stage in Croatia. “I’m definitely reared for a hard pace, touring wise.”
The documentary’s surprise is that it isn’t a thumping “EDM movie” like “Under the Electric Sky” or even pal Zedd’s recent making-of doc “True Colors.”
Three years in the making, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” strays from the stage swallowing cryogenic blasts, pyrotechnic waterfalls and his own signature move — tossing sheet cakes in the faces of begging fans — that his 3.9 million Instagram followers feast on via multiple Aoki posts a day.
“It’s got paint brushes of EDM in it,” Aoki told TheWrap, “but it’s less about that and more of a personal story.”
First-time director Justin Krook hammers that personal story.
In the underground scene of early 2000’s Hollywood, Aoki and pal DJ AM hosted Lady Gaga, Afrojack and Justice’s first L.A. performances at their Banana Split Sunday parties. Aoki’s personal mission at the time was to earn the professional respect of his father, the late Rocky Aoki.
Along with setting world records for hot air balloon stunts and racing boats, dad Rocky Aoki founded the successful restaurant chain Benihana. But he found little confidence in his son’s music entrepreneurship and even told him to “get a job.”
Krook’s thematic bassline is Rocky’s Benihana tableside kitchen ninja experience (featuring onion-volcanoes, fire and shrimp-flipping), which is to “date night dinner” what son Steve’s hyper balcony-jumping, crowd-boating performances are to “music.”
It’s the same adrenaline-driven mutation of showmanship.
Like father, like son, both performances derive from a relentless work ethic but with different work-life priorities.
File footage of the elder Aoki stings, as he preaches that, “Business comes number one, health comes number two and family comes number three.” Steve’s sweet moments with family in Japan and the quiet moments huddling with family in the shadows of his milestone career performances upend his late father’s rankings.
The non-stop pace of the producer on display in the 82-minute documentary undercuts the casually ignorant accusations lobbed at Aoki and his EDM peers over social media — that they are overpaid button pushers.
Aoki embraces these oft-repeated critiques in the film, including social media potshots like: “My favorite part is when he hits play on his iPhone.”
“To this day, when I’m sitting on the jet, I still can’t believe I’m sitting on a jet,” Aoki says, adding that it is chartered and is a necessity rather than a luxury.
“I never thought that I would be flying a private jet from show to show. I’m just like ‘holy s—,'” Aoki laughs. “This is like an actual part of life now, that in order for me to get from Point A to Point B to Point Z in a short period of time, I don’t even have a choice. I have to fly in order to get to these places or else I can’t play all these different shows.”
That said, Aoki remembers where he came from and how it all began.
“I remember being in a sh–y run-down van, with four smelly dudes, and we hadn’t showered for a long time. We would sleep in that van. We would eat in that van. We didn’t sh– in that van, but we practically do everything else. We would tour and make $25 a show, and we were f—king happy.”