On Stage: Let Them Eat Cake


SunFest lights up with Steve Aoki’s brand of entertainment: dancing, crowd surfing and flying confections

Steve Aoki can’t actually be human; the 38-year-old DJ, electro house musician, record producer and music executive must be running on some endless supply of adrenaline as he moves through this world in a blur of constant motion. And forget about his onstage energy – that’s another story. 

Over the course of just 48 hours, Aoki has dropped a new single – a collaboration with fellow DJ Felix Jaehn and American Idol alum Adam Lambert called “Can’t Go Home” – wrapped up a tour in Asia and boarded a flight back home to Vegas, all while celebrating the 20th birthday of his own record label, Dim Mak Records.

Aoki will perform 24 shows between April 1 and August 27, crisscrossing the country from Amherst, Mass., down to Jacksonville and across to Las Vegas all before coming to play with us here at SunFest on April 29. As he eases into summer, he’ll hit Mexico, Switzerland, Germany and Spain. Aoki performs an average of 250 shows a year.

During Aoki’s whirlwind tour came the release of a documentary based on his life, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in mid-April.

With miles to go before he sleeps, Aoki touches ground in Vegas for a brief moment before trekking up north. In this small window of opportunity, he takes a few minutes to speak with PBG Lifestyle about his recent work.

“It’s really moving, it’s a great collaboration of three different worlds,” Aoki said of the new single. “Felix Jaehn is in a completely different world of electronic music. We worked months and months. Adam’s just about the best vocalist I’ve ever worked with.

“Fans have made this record a significant song for the country,” he added. “My fans surround a record and prop it up. It’s just incredible the amounts of fans that are supporting the record because of the collaboration. Now I get to see the full force of Adam Lambert fans, how they really can drive the ecosystem of music outside of radio.”

Ask why Aoki is the subject of the latest documentary by director Justin Krook and producers Matthew Weaver and David Gelb – the pair behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi in 2011 and Chefs Table in 2015 – and he can’t really give a definitive answer.

“The approach they took is [to] focus on this one guy and why they chose me, I can’t tell you,” Aoki said. “They followed me for three years. We went to Japan, they interviewed my family. We went through some personal stuff. The way they were telling the story, I was okay with it; they’re telling something that hasn’t been told.”

Delve into it further and Aoki explains the similarities of Jiro Dreams of Sushi and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. The former isn’t just about sushi, but rather about the 85-year-old sushi master’s relationship with his oldest son and heir apparent. The latter follows Aoki’s rise in the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) world but really, it’s about his relationship with family, especially his father, former wrestler and founder of the popular Benihana restaurant chain.

“For many people my life is very visible right now; my life is played out on YouTube,” Aoki said. “I have a series; people follow me 24/7 around the world. My life is on social media. The story they tell is less about that and something that I never really talk about, my father, my relationship with my dad, it’s in that direction. The EDM side of things is more of the background music. It’s my relationship with my dad which is good, and rocky – his name is Rocky. I love my father and I rebelled against him. It’s more that kind of story.”

As for the story of EDM, Aoki went into it full steam, recording his first demo at 16. He says he was obsessed. His collaborations read like a who’s who list in the music industry, including Iggy Azalea, Lil Jon, Afrojack, LMFAO, Laidback Luke and will.i.am.

His obsession has paid off, bringing in a slew of awards including Billboard’s Best Mix Album of the Year 2008 for Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles and a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronica Album for Wonderland. Last year Billboard Magazine named Aoki one of the 14 Most Powerful Artists in EDM.

“The 2012 Grammy nomination was a huge deal for me,” said Aoki. “I started to take music more seriously.”

Aoki’s 2014 release, Neon Future I and the 2015 Neon Future II is an epic series with a common thread: “It’s a story about my obsession with science and technology merging with humanity and singularity, where all kinds of different people are talking about the future.”

But it’s the music and high-octane energy wave that the fans want to ride at his live shows. Be prepared for plenty of fist pumping, jumping, dancing and champagne spraying. You’re also likely to see Aoki at the helm of a blow-up raft riding through the crowd, and leave room for dessert, because he’s known to pummel the crowd with giant cake – ice cream not included.

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