J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: Steve Aoki Keeps It Loud

Fans might consider the constantly gigging Steve Aoki the Elvis Presley or Sammy Davis, Jr. of Electronic Dance Music. Given his shtick throwing wedding cakes into the crowd, he could also be called the Gallagher of EDM. Regardless, he is certainly not lazy or shy. Clearly, that is the partial influence of his entrepreneur-daredevil father, Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki, the founder of Benihana’s. Aoki takes stock of his life and career in Justin Krook’s documentary, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Loud Life of Steve Aoki (trailer here), which premieres as a Netflix original this Friday.

You can tell how big Aoki is, by the frequent sellout charges leveled at him. However, he seems to just keep doing his thing. Clearly Krook suggests Aoki’s problematic history with his late father still drives him today. Since his parents divorced when he was young, Aoki saw very little of his larger than life father, a prominent wrestler in Japan, who built the Benihana restaurant chain from scratch. Despite his speed boat racing and hot air balloon flying, the elder Aoki was considerably more conservative than Steve. Needless to say, he did not immediately get the DJing thing.

Obviously Aoki would catch on, becoming one of the few EDM recording artists non-fans might have heard of. He really spearheaded the DIY scene before it was a recognized phenomenon and was one of the few to use it as an effective springboard. We certainly hear a good deal of his music in Sleep, but it is the father-son dynamic that really interests Krook.

Yet, rather strangely, the film never even briefly mentions the whirlwinds of litigation surrounding Rocky Aoki’s estate (which could be the basis of a fascinating, epic documentary, if there were an end in sight). There seems to be some massive ill will between some of the Aoki children and his surviving widow (wife #3). Perhaps tellingly, only one brother and half-sister Devon Aoki (the actress-model) appear in Sleep, leaving four siblings unheard from. Granted, Steve and Devon Aoki might not want to talk about the controversy and they have their own sources of income, but it is a widely-reported drama that is conspicuous in its absence.

Instead, we see Aoki schmoozing with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, which really isn’t so edgy or outsider-ish and watch as he plans a grand CD launch concert. We certainly come to understand what makes him tick. We also gain an appreciation for his father Rocky, who was quite the character, warts and all. However, it is clear Aoki either had strict veto power or Krook simply lacked the stomach for potentially contentious subject matter. As a result, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is mostly just recommended for the loyal fans it was intended for, when it starts streaming on Netflix this Friday (8/19).

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