How This Grammy Nominated DJ and Entrepreneur Draws Inspiration from Every Day Life

As a teenager, Steve Aoki, the electronic dance music producer and award-winning DJ, joined a sub-genre of hardcore punk called straight edge
How This Grammy Nominated DJ and Entrepreneur Draws Inspiration from Every Day Life
Image credit: Caesar Sebastian
Former Correspondent, Entrepreneur Asia-Pacific
6 min read

“As a kid you grow up with your friends, and what they listen to, but the subculture was what really got me into music. This little culture is something you want to help expand because it’s so small, and no one else is going to do it for you beside yourself because it’s that small,” says Aoki. “It was a great building block to learn instruments, play music in a group setting, absorb how to work with others, be in bands, and just know that the barrier of entry is not so difficult at such a young age. It allowed me to have foresight, be a creator and do all kinds of things,” adds the American artiste, who is of Japanese descent. He has created blockbusters like “You Are Lonely”, “Just Hold On”, “No Beef” and “Play It Cool”. Most of Aoki’s albums are inspired from his immediate surroundings. “Inspiration comes from everywhere, it doesn’t have to necessarily evolve from a song but from living life.”

Later in his twenties, Aoki got into dance music. He considers himself a late bloomer because people get into dance music during their teenage years. “I graduated from college, moved to Los Angeles, and then started DJing there. When I first started out I mostly played rock music, hip hop, and R&B, but my love for dance music began around 2003 when I started throwing my own label parties. I was DJing at these small bars and clubs and it was a “pre-block house era” but it was all indie music and dance music merging together so I’d say that coverage of culture was my stepping stone into dance music,” he share.

Jack of All Trades

The 41-year-old has had an interesting journey getting to where he is today—an accomplished artist and entrepreneur. Aside from DJing and producing, he has many business ventures, including a workout app called Aoki Bootcamp, and a pizza company, Pizzaoki. The inspiration for this was his love for pizza and father, a former wrestler who founded the Japanese Hibachi restaurant chain Benihana in the US.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to venture into this business until later on in my life, but then I had the opportunity to open up Pizzaoki and I couldn’t pass it up. LA (Los Angeles) has always held a special place in my heart because I spent the first 10 years of my life there and it just felt right to start there. So far we’ve opened six locations across LA and have finally been able to venture to San Diego, Oakland, and Chicago. Also, we will be opening a spot in Las Vegas, where I live. Pizza is one of my favorite foods and no matter what I will always crave it,” says Aoki.

This is just one aspect of his multi-dimensional career. Having been in the electronic music scene for more than 13 years, the Las Vegas-based artiste will soon release his memoir, BLUE: The Color of Noise. Wait, it doesn’t stop there—his dream project, a podcast “Aoki ‘N Air” with Japanese airline, All Nippon Airways (ANA), has been recently launched on Spotify. “When I was finishing up the documentary for Netflix, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”, I was like I really need to do my own story. At that point, my memoir became a serious project for me that I eventually turned into a reality. The memoir took a very, very long time to bring into fruition and I can’t wait for everyone to read it.”

Rise to Fame

Aoki scored a career highlight with The Neon Future series. The first part of Aoki’s two-part album, Neon Future I, was released on September 30, 2014, and reached No.1 on Dance/Electronic Albums in the US. The second album, Neon Future II, featured artists such as Snoop Lion and Rivers Cuomo. “Being able to tell the story behind the inspiration of my Neon Future album series and all the amazing artistes that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with has been a big blessing. It’s great to combine science and tech into the electronic space, which fits well with electronic music and is an ongoing project for me.”

A Day In The Life of a DJ

Aoki is widely known for his acrobatic crowd surfing stunts, throwing cake at fans, spraying champagne bottles, and riding rafts on the dance floor. A day in the life of Aoki isn’t exciting as most people would think. “Generally, in the morning I wake up and get some breakfast, head over to the airport, get on a flight, land in the next city and we do some exploring, maybe some sightseeing. Luckily we travel with an amazing crew of photographers and videographers so lots of content is captured. I’m an adventurer, so depends on where we are I’ll jump off a cliff and into the sea or snowboard down some slops, or maybe just walk around the city and get some dinner and then head over to my show. After a show, I usually go to sleep but I always try to get a workout if I can, that’s very crucial for me,” he says, adding that he always wants to be as healthy as possible, especially when he is on the road.

“I have been able to connect with people through food, fitness, tech or raising money for brain research, whatever it might be, these are all touch points where we can connect with others, and I am very lucky to have a platform where I can do all of that,” he says.

(This article appears in the June 2019 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here. )

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