Future Asian & Pacific History Month: Steve Aoki, EDM Marathon Man
Fuse is celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History before our eyes. Today we've got Steve Aoki, one of the world's most renowned DJ/producers and a devoted philanthropist.
Aoki, the 39-year-old son of Japanese parents, grew up in Newport Beach, Calif. His father was the famous Benihana founder and wrestler Rocky Aoki. Steve has two bachelor's degrees, in women's studies and sociology, from USC Santa Barbara; during his time there he founded the genre-agnostic, DIY-centric label Dim Mak, which turned 20 in 2016—the same year Aoki was ranked as Forbes' No. 5 top-earning EDM star with $23.5 million. Across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram he boasts nearly 20 million followers.
Aoki didn't release his debut album until 2012's Wonderland, which featured names like Travis Barker, Kid Cudi, Lil Jon and Rivers Cuomo (twice). It earned him his first of two GRAMMY nominations, for Best Dance/Electronica Album. The two LPs to follow, Neon Future I and II, had cameos from the likes of Linkin Park, Fall Out Boy, will.i.am and Snoop Dogg. Kolony is due later this year, with singles like the 2 Chainz–featuring "Without U" and the Louis Tomlinson collab "Just Hold On" revving up the hype.
The guy has been known to play more than 300 shows in a year (he's currently booked through Sept. 2), with his outsized live performances involving cake-throwing, stage-diving, champagne-popping and crowd-rafting. The stunts "are like nutritional supplements," he wrote on The Daily Beast. "The real meal is the music." Netflix made an Aoki documentary, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, in 2016, earning him a Best Music Film GRAMMY nod.
Aoki has spoken out about facing racism as a child. “I’m happy that I grew up in this more conservative white upper class society that really bred this ignorance towards other ethnicities, where I was able to find my voice," he told NextShark. "I had to be able to survive and find my voice in an area where I was lost.” Asked if he finds it hard to connect with the EDM fandom's large population of bro-dudes—plenty of whom are probably just a few years past their bullying heydays—Aoki told Rolling Stone, "That type of guy might have been racist to me when I was a kid, but I don't even wanna exclude him. The more you can bring positive energy to all people? That's the goal."
Bruce Lee was one of Aoki's big models for mainstream success. The DJ said in his NextShark interview:
“Bruce Lee was a huge childhood hero running through my adolescence because he was loved by all communities. There are plenty of Asian people that are in pop culture that are just loved by the Asian community, but he was one of the only ones that was globally loved by everyone. I always looked up to that kind of idea that us Asians have the capacity to actually be part of popular culture and influence outside, not just our own culture.”
He's also brought attention to the imbalanced male dominance in the EDM-verse. “There’s still plenty of more patriarchal views in the dance world. You think the dance world is progressive, and it’s still not,” he told Time in 2016, citing deserving-of-the-spotlight talents like Nervo, Miss Kittin and Nina Kraviz. "It’s still a lot of Trump values in the dance world—you would be surprised."
Leading the artist's philanthropic mission is the Aoki Foundation, which focuses on "brain science and research areas with a specific focus on regenerative medicine and brain preservation" and also supports disaster relief and animal rights. (His mind was on progressive issues from an early stage, founding USC Santa Barbara's chapter of the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist League.) He's also done PETA ads (he ate vegetarian for 15 years and vegan for five), promoted music education with the Music Is Revolution Foundation and been a global ambassador for Best Buddies, aiding those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Tune in to Fuse and come back to Fuse.tv every day for profiles, videos, galleries and more on the individuals around the world who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History. Join the conversation with FutureHistory and find Fuse in your area with our Channel Finder.
For more Steve Aoki, see a 2016 Fuse interview where he celebrates his Dim Mak label's 20th anniversary: