Earlier this month, the Tribeca Film Festival debuted I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, a new documentary film on the life and times of Benihana founder, the late Hiroaki "Rocky" Aoki, and that of his son Steve Aoki — whom some may know as one the biggest EDM stars in the world.
The film couldn't bear a more apt name, embodying the hard-working spirit of these rambunctious father-son dynamos. Aoki, the younger, is currently a virtual machine who performs almost nightly, producing music for himself and others while running the successful Dim Mak record label.
This month, the 30-year-old electro-house DJ brings his unyielding energy and cache of genre-hopping dance singles to SunFest for a headlining Friday-night set on the Ford Stage. We spoke to him about his whirlwind life and the big plans he has in store for 2016.
New Times: You began caking fans in 2011 and restricted it to just your headlining shows last year. Do you think you'll ever retire it completely?
Steve Aoki: You never know when things are going to fade. I don't cake at some shows, and it's OK. But at these festivals, there are fans with 50 signs saying, "Cake me!" What should I do, say sorry?... I want them to have the best time of their lives. It's like, you know, we've done a birthday cake every single year that someone has a happy birthday. We're not gonna do a cake; we're gonna do pasta. [laughs] If someone says they want pasta instead of birthday cake, I'm like, 'All right!'
You've worked a huge variety of collaborations. Who's left?
The list is incredibly long. I don't look at just one specific genre; I look at all kinds of artists from different sounds, different time frames. I don't want to ever limit myself. I'm actually working with a country artist right now — I can't say who it is. I'm working with this young MC right now who's just killing it, Lil Uzi Vert. I did five songs for him, for his project. I was in the studio with 5 Seconds of Summer and Blink 182 and working on music for their projects as well, not just mine.
This year is definitely going to be more about production in general and not necessarily about Steve Aoki or Neon Future. I love working in all different spaces. I'm already working on Neon Future III, which is, once again, a varied list of vocalists and bands and hip-hop artists.
Will we see Neon Future III this year or in 2017?
That might come out in 2017, to be realistic. I need to get all the music done in the summer, and I'm going farther in my expectations as far as my deadline, because I'm getting a lot of music done now while I'm in this state. In the summertime, I'm going to work a little bit harder with these artists to get the music done... but that's just how things go in this business; things don't come out as fast as you want them to when working on a big project.
What can you tell us about the documentary I'll Sleep When I'm Dead?
I am nervous about it. It's very personal, because I'm opening a door I've never opened up to many people. I'm at my most vulnerable state in the doc, and that's always daunting. I don't know if I can watch it with other people.
What do you hope viewers will take away from it?
I talk a lot about my relationship with my father. He was an incredible man. He achieved a lot through a lot of hardship and struggle, and he was able to transcend American culture, which is quite difficult for a Japanese person in a very racially discriminating environment. I'm just happy that it really focuses on his life and it gets to talk about him a bit, and I think the thing I'm most excited about is that it'll put a little shine on my mom. She's a very quiet person and almost a thankless part of the movie. She doesn't even want the attention, but without her, I wouldn't be where I am today.
9:30 p.m. Friday, April 29, at SunFest, along the Intracoastal Waterway in downtown West Palm Beach. The festival grounds are on Flagler Drive, between Banyan Boulevard and Lakeview Drive. Single-day tickets start at $40; two- and five-day general-admission tickets cost $60 to $80. Visit sunfest.com.