Steve Aoki opens up on his Netflix documentary and new JEWEL residency [Interview]
Over the years, Steve Aoki has built his own empire in the EDM world. From his humble beginnings in Orange County, Aoki manifested one of LA’s top tastemaker imprints, DIM MAK, before transforming himself into an international entertainment icon thanks to the ruthless energy of his one-of-a-kind live show. Much of this process is explored in the new Netflix documentary, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, which tells the personal narrative of Aoki’s career and his troubled relationship with his father.
Aoki’s life has changed considerably in the last decade. He’s moved to Las Vegas, given up drinking, and become one of the most in-demand DJs on the planet. More recently, Aoki has become the centerpiece of Las Vegas’ newest superclub, JEWEL, serving as the club’s first (and most consistent) resident.
JEWEL Nightclub is a new property from Hakkasan Group, and by all accounts, it’s off to a tremendous start. The dazzling venue, located in the ARIA Resort & Casino, is currently gearing up for a celebrity-packed Halloween weekend, which they’ve fittingly dubbed Onyx. JEWEL’s first-ever Halloween showcase will offer star-studded artist curation and an enchantingly mysterious aesthetic.
Onyx begins on Friday, October 28, with long-standing JEWEL resident Steve Aoki, who will be followed by legendary rapper and record producer Puff Daddy on Saturday night. What’s more, Aoki will return on Halloween itself for a special edition of JEWEL’s Flawless Mondays in honor of the holiday.
Ahead of the upcoming Halloween celebration, we spoke with Steve Aoki on his new Netflix documentary and ongoing JEWEL residency.
Photo Credit: Al Powers
DA: Hi Steve. You’re one of the hardest working figures in the music industry. How do you maintain your work ethic year round?
I think it’s really about finding the source of why you do what you do. If you’re going to give it a 100%, you have to find out what makes you happy. Where is your passion coming from?
For me, In one form or another, it’s music. Whether it’s playing music or creating music, and in different forms, without a band or DJing. It’s always been the core of why I spend so much time doing what I’m doing.
And then it’s also about the connection you have with people through your music. You make this music to connect with a culture of people that care about that music. It’s about making that culture healthy and creating a healthy ecosystem.
DA: Your Netflix documentary I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead weights heavily on the relationship between you and your father. Is he still one of your biggest motivations today?
I think subconsciously he’ll always be there. When we were shooting the documentary, they wanted to know about the initial process for me when things started happening. Honestly, I never really went through the conversation. It was a very eye opening experience for myself. I didn’t really understand what that process was. It opened me up to understanding some of the things that I don’t talk about. Because I never really talk about family.
DA: What was the filming process like? The documentary is quite personal.
I didn’t really get too involved in the making or the direction of the doc. I just let these guys do what they do best, and I’m really glad that they kind of took it and ran with it because there’s certain doors I never would have opened, especially with my family. I had never talked about my family to anyone. It’s hard for me to even watch it. It’s very personal.
DA: How has the feedback been?
I didn’t know what the feedback would be like. I keep my expectations pretty low. The feedback I’ve gotten from social media is really opening. People generally don’t know much about me. There’s a lot of things that people don’t know much about me beyond the obvious. They know I throw cakes at people in the crowd at my shows, and they might know the tabloid highlights of what my name might represent them. So I’m very happy that if they decide to take a deeper look, there’s a film like this that exists.
DA: A big takeaway from the film was how often you’re working. What do you do in your off time? Do you ever get off time?
I don’t have off time. I don’t really like off time. I’m not much of an ‘off time’ kind of guy. I just moved my mom to Vegas. I’m really happy about that. We found her a house right next to my house so now I can see her a bunch more.
DA: How is it living in Vegas and why did you move there?
I bought my house in November of 2013, and I moved in last year, so I’ve been here for a minute. The thing is, I decided I didn’t need to be in LA because, since my Wonderland album, I stopped going out to clubs — especially after I stopped drinking in 2009. After 2009, my priorities started shifting around things that were actually important in my life like making music, not getting drunk all the time, and understanding my role in the club. I’m there to have fun but I’m there to conduct a party. I need to be clear-headed.
Once that started, once I started making music more of a priority than a side thing, then I was always in the studio. And when you’re always in the studio, you never partake in the nightlife culture of a city. And then a few years later, I realized why do I even need to be a part of LA? You know what, I just signed this residency deal in Vegas. I’m flying out to Vegas constantly. I’m playing 40 shows a year there. I work a lot. I’m only playing 1 show in LA a year. I have my studio based in LA, as a lot of artists are based in LA, but now I have an incredible studio that I spent a year building and a compound in the house. My heart will always be in LA, but I don’t have to live there anymore.
DA: You’ve played everywhere in Vegas at this point. What makes JEWEL unique?
It’s the setting for sure. It’s a smaller club, but it’s still opulent. It has that opulence that Hakkasan maintains. You get that high end, luxury club, but you’re mixing closer to the people. You can see almost everyone. It’s a different kind of room. With Hakkasan and OMNIA there’s a large GA dancefloor, but with JEWEL there’s a huge table section. You need to be playing to the table as well as to GA.
DA: How do your sets at JEWEL differ from your festival sets?
At JEWEL, you have to be more agile. More flex0ible with your sets, which allows me to have more fun. When I do the festival shows and the Steve Aoki experience shows, I’m playing for the large part a lot of my own music. At JEWEL, I’m not so much focused on that as much as I am focused on making sure everyone is having a good time. I’m going back to my roots of mashing music up and having fun and being a DJ more than a party so to speak. You’re not confined to just playing your own records.
Steve Aoki performs at JEWEL on October 28 and October 31. Purchase tickets to all three of JEWEL’s ONYX nights below: