A trendsetter in the electronic dance music genre lays down a portrait of self-discovery in shades of blue.
Growing up “the only Asian kid in a lily-white, same-seeming neighborhood [in] Newport Beach, California,” Aoki, one of the world’s most popular DJs, portrays himself as “the quintessential outsider.” He was an equal mix of his larger-than-life, Benihana restaurant–founding father and his more reserved mother—“a compassionate soul. A gentle spirit. An open mind.” He spent his youth stirring restlessly in the sanctuary of music, devoting himself first to Michael Jackson and later to hardcore and punk, all of which would inform his future sound as a leader in the EDM scene. “[I] wasn’t planning on becoming a DJ. Never even thought about it,” he writes. “And so the story of how I went from an aspiring musician to a promoter to a record label ‘executive’ to where I am now is a lesson in resilience, resourcefulness.” Detailing those lessons, Aoki moves through the years, from his earliest hardcore garage band memories and 1996 founding of Dim Mak Records to his first appearances at Coachella, when he was still searching for his voice. Eventually developing motifs such as “caking” audiences that came to embody his style, he matured as an artist and eventually achieved whirlwind notoriety that quickly spun into icon status among denizens of the EDM subculture. Throughout, the author shares candid self-assessments and revealing insights about major events in his life, including his divorce, his father’s death, and his struggles with drinking. As he writes, “I didn’t realize it at the time but my early shows had no essence to them…no heart…no personality. I couldn’t put myself into what I was doing because I was hiding in the fog of being drunk….Connectivity…that became my thing. Should have been my thing all along.”
Part celebration, part poignant reflection, Aoki’s life story is as rhythmic and textured as his music.