Steve Aoki: “I Hate Complainers”
Steve Aoki needs no introduction. He has kept his name in Forbes‘ list of highest-paid DJs in the world for several years, his habit of catapulting cakes into the audience and showering the crowd with champagne have made him the figurehead of the exuberant EDM party scene.
The recently released Netflix documentary I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead draws a more nuanced picture of the California-based DJ and producer though. Through interviews with Aoki’s close family and fellow musicians (Diplo, Tiesto and Afrojack amongst others) the viewer gets an intimate insight into the life of a man that the electronic music world mainly knows for his cheerful stage behaviour. We see a teenager who is confronted with racism in school, we follow a young man who desperately fights for the approval of his father, Benihana restaurant tycoon Rocky Aoki, and we watch a music enthusiast who works harder than anyone else in the music business in order to make it to the top.
In celebration of the film, the 38-year-old sat down with The Red Bulletin to discuss his burning ambition, his very own boot camp and his addictive character.
THE RED BULLETIN: Even the documentary’s title reveals it: You’re one of the busiest men in the music business, playing up to 300 shows per year. Where does that burning ambition come from? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a weekend off once in a while?
STEVE AOKI: The minute you accept the comfort in your life is also the first point of descent. There’s nothing stable about being a famous DJ. Your idea of what famous means is all perspective and really boils down to just hot air. It’s just doesn’t mean anything. What means something to me is a real genuine connection and understanding. It’s like putting your priorities in front of you and making sure you’re doing all this for this reason.
What’s that reason for you?
I always say, my bottom line is happiness. It’s not money. Whatever makes me happy, that’s going to be the driving influence of what I’m doing. I’ve spent my whole life making music and being part of music. Of course that could change to something else, but I have to have that level of happiness there.
In the documentary you fly from Stockholm to Las Vegas to Los Angeles to Ibiza within only 48 hours. That’s an interesting idea of happiness. Most people would consider it incredibly stressful.
First of all, I’m lucky to even be able to do this. For me, it’s also discipline. It’s a level of boot camp. People join the military because they want to be trained to the f**king brink. That’s in me. I love challenges. I’m here to be pushed to the limit and I hate complainers.
I’ve never thought of a super star DJ’s life as a boot camp …
Before I sat in first class, I flew five years doing shows all by myself in the middle seat in the back of the plane and I was like, ‘get me on the next f**king flight!’ Before I was even on those flights, I was in a shitty van touring for two months, maybe showering once a week, playing in front of five people sometimes, sleeping in the van or on dirty basement floors and when I was done after that kind of hellish travel, I was like, ‘put me back in the god damn van!’ I love every f**king minute of it.
In the documentary your manager says that you jump from addiction to addiction. And at the moment health is main thing. Considering your crazy tour schedule, how do you make sure to stay healthy?
I’ve created this concept called The Aoki Boot Camp. It’s a personal challenge with my friends. I travel with a small crew of people and I get them excited about building a regime of discipline. If you don’t stay on that discipline you get fined financially. The money is not something I want to take away from them. It goes to a charity. But I want them to feel the burn of losing money because they didn’t keep up with the discipline they agreed upon.
Wow! What does the workout regime look like?
You have to mediate for 15 minutes and you have to do a workout every single day. And you have to film yourself doing the workout. Just to show you’re doing it. Healthy diet is another aspect. If you eat bread, you have to add 50 push-ups to your workout. A serving of bread counts for 50 push-ups. I ate a few slices of pizza yesterday because I was in Italy. By midnight I owed 575 push-ups.
Did you do it?
I did all of them! I was like, ‘I’m going to do 575 push-ups and I will make a bet with anyone that thinks I can’t do it.’ So three people bet me money, they’re all in the room, they’re all making sure I was doing full push-ups. 575, I did all of them! My chest is destroyed!
Why is it important that all the people around you are part of this regime?
Do you know what they say? You’re a product of the people you hang out with. If you hang with people that drink all the time, you might end up drinking all the time too. Not to say that I don’t drink at all, but we share a level of interest in health and fitness and that’s important to me. Generally I think you’re going to be swayed with people that you’re around. They’re going to help sway your decisions in life.