For years Steve Aoki has been at the top of his game. From being a DJ, musician, producer, and executive, he’s not only churned out hits as a solo artist but has worked with notable artists such as will.i.am, Afrojack, LMFAO, Iggy Azalea, Lil Jon, and Laidback Luke. And in 2012, Pollstar reported him to be the highest grossing dance artist in North America. And while Aoki has his own YouTube channel where he releases documentary-style videos of touring and being on the road, recently the people behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi have teamed up with the EDM superstar to film a documentary that delves into the more personal aspects of his life. Known not only for his music and uncompromising work ethic, but also for his father Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki, former Olympic wrestler and and founder of the chain restaurant “Benihana.” The entrepreneur and music mogul was one of Rocky’s seven children and wanted to prove he could pave his own path to success. He was however initially a bit cautious about the idea of the project, and Aoki admits he wouldn’t consider it unless it was done “with the right team.” Titled I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, the documentary is set to debut at the Tribeca Film Festival this year.
On initially being approached about the project
It wasn’t going to be [a film] on the fun tour life stuff. It is partially, but the [filmmakers] went deeper. They wanted to go more into my family—this personal story. I’ve never really told that story. It’s a very delicate story so I didn’t want to go there. I think with the right team I’d go there, which is why I opened the doorway to that world. I don’t feel really comfortable diving into that world with people that don’t know how to present it. Once I had a comfortable feeling with Justin [Krook] and the team—I just gave him the reins to have at it with an uncensored look at this life and build the story the way they did.
On his relationship with his father
I think in many ways, it’s a story that a lot of people can relate to — when you grow up with a father like mine, who was extremely successful and has always been. I grew up with my mom, kind of looking at it from afar, and when I came into that world I almost got a bit dizzy. And at first, I rebelled. And that’s a story that many people can also relate to — the rebellion against what your father represents and really, the basis of it was, I’m just trying to get attention from him. And as I grew up, my way of trying to get attention is trying to be successful on my own, and proving to him that I can really do it on my own without his help.
On making it on his own
After I graduated from college, I was off the leash. My parents paid for my education, which I’m grateful for, but outside of that, I was on my own. And I didn’t have a trust fund or anything like that that to pay bills. So, at the end of the day, I had to figure out on my own. And even though I was about to get into serious debt with the label, it’s not like I could call my dad and have him pay my credit card bills. I had to figure it out on my own. And, that’s also an amazing gift of his — that he had the thick skin to not bail me out, nor did I even tell him that I was in such bad financial shape. I just had to figure this out on my own. That’s another life lesson, you know? You have to figure out how to get yourself out of the deep end of the pool. Otherwise, you’re just never really gonna be able to survive.
On his work ethic
[My father] was blatant about putting work first, but he sacrificed a lot of different things like having a relationship with his family that you would imagine a father and child would have all the time. There’s a sacrifice there, so there was a triumph in that pursuit. It’s not all happy. It’s not an incredibly happy ending…The film is called I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, so the premise is that I literally don’t stop working and it’s difficult. There’s a lot of sacrifice that happens. At the end of the day, for me, I’m doing what I love to do. I’m so grateful that I can do that. A lot of people don’t have that space to say that. In this world, you’re never really ever on top. You can immediately fall and be unknown. That’s why you have to work hard constantly. You can’t just work on the same wheel—you have to change the wheel up because that’s how sound and music is now. You have to constantly be on top of it. You can’t sleep. There’s no time to chill. That’s my motto and way of life.
For screening times of I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead and more information about the Tribeca Film Festival, go the official website. And for more videos with Aoki and the lighter side of life on the road, check out his official YouTube channel.