Steve Aoki’s Biography

Steve Aoki is a very successful DJ, he’s been in bands, and was a tour manager. He’s lived a pretty interesting and fun life with full of adventures and fame. Here are some of the passages I found most interesting from reading his introspective biography. From the outside, he looks like a party animal, but he is actually a pretty intelligent dude. He always surprises me with these deep spiritual knowledge bombs.

“When I came around, he was opening new restaurants all over the world. Out of that, alongside of that, he lived in the half-light of celebrity. He made a bunch of money, spent a bunch of money. His comings and goings made headlines. He posed for pictures with his famous customers: Muhammad Ali, Mick Jagger, the Beatles. Eventually, some of that fame rubbed off on him. And it didn’t just rub off, I don’t think. He started living this big, wild life—like the life he’d set out to live could no longer contain him.”

“My mother, Chizuru Kobayashi, was more of a homebody. If my father’s personality was larger than life, hers was small enough to hold in your hand. She is the sweetest person I know—devoted, selfless, cheerful. My father was cut another way. He was the most determined person I ever knew—driven, purposeful, gregarious.”

“guess it’s true when they say opposites attract. Until they don’t.”

“He was all about the thrill, my old man. Always. That was his thing. And in some ways, this particular thrill was a kind of placeholder for the thrills yet to come, because he was counting the days until he could return to the United States. He purchased his first car while in Rome—an Alfa Romeo, which he had shipped to New York. It was one of those impulse moves he liked to make. Looking back, it’s like his whole life was a string of impulse moves, one after another. He’d get an idea in his head and push it forward, without really thinking it through or talking it over with the other people in his life—like, say, his parents, or his childhood sweetheart, or anyone else who might have been waiting on him back in Japan. He followed the car to New York immediately after the games, telling my mother that he would send for her once he was established.”

“He wound up sharing a crappy apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with a young conductor named Seiji Ozawa, a family friend from back home—yeah, that Seiji Ozawa, who would go on to become one of the most famous conductors in the world, a true artist and visionary.”

“I’m guessing Seiji Ozawa, to someone like my father, was soft. Listen to the music he made, most famously as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and underneath it you can hear the thrill in it, the wild ride, but my father could only hear what was at the surface. He could only hear what he could see.”

“My father was the deep blue of winter, steeled against the cold, the fighting hue of a wrestler. His roommate was more like the pastel blue of springtime, open to the world and the spirit of renewal.”

“My father made his nut driving an ice cream truck in Harlem. Imagine that—a Japanese ice cream man, roaming the streets of Harlem. I’m sure it made an odd picture, but this was my father’s way. He was most at home when he was out of place—a quality I eventually learned to embrace myself, but only after carrying the weight of feeling like I, too, didn’t belong.”

“It was September 14, 1979. I was two years old. My father had taken up speedboat racing four or five years earlier, and in that time he’d become one of the top drivers in the sport. If you go back and look at old newspaper accounts, you’ll see he was a real daredevil in those days—that’s at least one trait he passed on to me, I guess. He was fearless. There was always some new thrill to be found around every corner … sit still and he just might miss it, so he kept moving. The same intensity that drove him to a spot on the Japanese Olympic team and to the top of the restaurant business had quickly pushed him to world-class levels in powerboating. His restaurants sponsored two of the biggest races on the circuit—the Benihana Grand Prix, which had been held at Point Pleasant Beach in New Jersey the previous summer, and the Benihana Grand Prix of Oakland, which was to be held in the chilly waters of San Francisco Bay.”

“He turned the mess he’d made into a story—an anecdote he’d spin when he was holding court, telling tales. My father was a great teller of tales. That was his way. He ended up telling the story so many times, it made its way into a newspaper cartoon that came out around that time, showing the great restaurant showman Rocky Aoki in his hospital bed, flanked by a white woman holding a baby on one side and a Japanese woman holding a baby on the other side, with a thought bubble coming from his head: “I’d rather be dead.”

“My mother had come out to California to be at his side and nurse him back to health, but she ended up divorcing him as soon as he made a full recovery—and out of that our little subset family ended up moving from Miami to Newport Beach, California. After that—in our house, at least—my father was in a kind of cameo role: he became like the featured guest star in the movie of my life. He swooped in like some kind of superhero, bringing tales of his larger-than-life adventures, lighting our world for a short while with the brilliant blue of the horizon at sunrise before disappearing back into a world of his own making.”

“And there I was in Newport Beach, left to find my own identity in a community where no one looked like me, no one thought like me, and no one seemed to want to have anything to do with me. I made a promise to myself, soon as I got a sense of who I was and where I was, that wherever I was meant to be I would get there eventually. Whoever I was meant to be, I would become that person eventually. Whatever it took. The path that found me in the wake of my father’s crash was colored in the blue of doubt and difficulty, but it would take me where I was meant to go.”

“am my father’s son. He was a showman, after all. A restless spirit. A fearless thrill-seeker. A hard-charger. An entrepreneur. I am my mother’s son as well. A compassionate soul. A gentle spirit. An open mind. I am the sum of my relationships, my convictions, my hopes for a better planet. I am a reflection of the lives of my parents. Another chapter in our family’s history. An extension of the lives they imagined for themselves.”

“There’s something to this DNA business, yes? We take the genetic material in our makeup, and then we mash it up with the influences that find us along the way, and somewhere in that nature vs. nurture broth we drink deep and discover who it is we are meant to be.”

“It might be that you don’t even notice the space between what you think happened and what actually happened. You live so long with a distorted version of events that the distorted version is what you remember.”

“It might be that you don’t even notice the space between what you think happened and what actually happened. You live so long with a distorted version of events that the distorted version is what you remember.”

“Don’t know how they came to the movie, must’ve been plugging in search words like dysfunctional family or demanding father, but I guess there was something universal in my story. We’ve all got our own shit to deal with, you know. Demons, skeletons, unresolved issues … whatever. It’s how we deal with them that sets us up for what comes next. It’s what we do with what we learn.”

“I’d stand on the fringes and take in what I could. Guess you could say I was desperate to see what I could see, hear what I could hear, even if I never had the chance to press Play and listen to my own shit. Never even occurred to me. It was Kevin’s shit that mattered just then. When we were kids, it’s like he walked on water. I thought he was so cool, so smooth. I thought his friends were so cool. That was the model for me, to be just like them. To have a group of my own friends who all dressed the same and rode mopeds together and dated all those same-seeming girls. I remember going through Kevin’s record collection and trying to feel the points of connection he and his friends all felt, the energy, but it was never fully there for me. I got close to it, but I wasn’t all the way there.”

“Let’s be clear, I didn’t know what I was seeing, hearing, tasting at the time. And it wasn’t necessarily my style, my sound, but there it was. It’s only now, looking back, that I can appreciate the size of Michael’s talents. At the time, I knew Michael through his songs on the radio, his videos on television, his billboards on the freeway. I never stopped to think how rare it was for an artist to have such a dominant presence on the music scene, but Michael Jackson was just about everywhere. His music was just about everywhere. His beats, they were like a backdrop to my entire childhood.”

“Michael Jackson’s music had made me think of the visual that attached to it—the video, the concert, whatever … His art was visual, visceral, a full-on assault on the senses. That was one of his great gifts as an artist, the way he tapped into all of that. When I was still coming up as a DJ, still developing my own sound, my own style, Michael’s music was a part of that. Almost every night, I’d play at least one Jackson Five tune, one Michael tune. “I Want You Back,” “Billie Jean”—those were like my go-to tracks. And when he was gone … well, it’s like I had to find my way all over again.”

“Letting it fill me, wash over me. Took me a while to get to work on it, though. Part of that was me feeling intimidated, being included among all these pioneering artists, working with this legendary material … all in service of Michael’s memory. That’s a heavy deal to throw on the shoulders of a young producer. Got to be honest, I was still pretty green in the studio. Yeah, I was breaking through in the clubs, making some noise, but I was still finding my way, developing my own sound, and it felt to me like there’d be all these eyes on me. All these ears on me. People checking me out.”

“Well, when those suckers finally arrived in my in-box, it was like a birthday present wrapped inside a Christmas gift, all of it tied together with a bow made out of winning lottery tickets. Holy fucking shit! It was such a treasure trove of material, all these little snippets of music history, and I got to mess around with it and put my own signature to it. Really, it was such a blessing to be able to listen to each and every track, and to know that I had been invited to this great party where I would get to create something from this rich, rich material.”

“The details, they stopped me cold. Michael, breathing. Him and his brothers, just being loose. The back-and-forth chatter. The click of the drumsticks, right before the drums come in. Taken together, it’s the song you’ve heard a thousand times on the radio, but when you carve out each moment it’s like you’re in the room when it’s all going down. It’s like Michael has come breathing back to life, and his spirit was right there in my studio. Hate to get all cliché, but there were shivers running down my spine. Hairs standing up on my arms. All of that. Chilling. Timeless. Special. And the thing of it is, you can’t change what was. The track is the track. It’s not like you can take a broken coffee cup and put all the pieces back together and turn it into a coffee table. But within that certain frame there’s a whole lot of play. If it’s groovy, you can play with that. If it’s funky, you can play with that. You can slow it down, speed it up, turn it on its head. Whatever it was, you can make it more so, or less so, and I sat there listening to all those stems and the time just flew.”

“From there, you start to build an entirely new track that honors the essence of what the original artist set down, sweetens it, maybe pumps it up a little bit. Everyone at Motown was stoked with what I did with it. When the album dropped—The Remix Suite—it got a ton of play, but my cut didn’t get a lot of shine, because it was overshadowed by all these top artists and producers, like Akon and Stargate and Wayne Wilkins. I understood that, with where I was in my career, up against where everyone else was in their careers. But the folks at Motown really seemed to dig it, and I got some feedback from the Jackson camp, and end of the day I could slip on my headphones and crank the volume on my “Dancing Machine” remix and feel like I was a part of something. A part of something Michael Jackson lit in me that night when I went to my first-ever concert. And with me, what’s been lit stays lit.”

“It was a big moment for me, to have this man over to my house, to sit with my sister, my mom, my nieces, and to pay homage in this way to this man’s son, the King of Pop. I was nervous AF. A bunch of us squeezed into my studio, we had to bring in extra chairs, and a hush swept over the room as we waited for the track to kick in. And waited. And waited. I couldn’t play the fucking song! There was some technical issue, and in that tense pocket of downtime I was frantic. I thought, Fuck! Why can’t things go easy? But, of course, easy was what got me into trouble with my first “Thriller” remix. Easy was what people like Joe Jackson and Rocky Aoki never had time for. To guys like that, easy was lazy, and I think I knew that, in the middle of this tense moment. I knew that whatever approval I was seeking from this archetypal father figure, it would not come easy.”

“One afternoon, this other kid came in and started talking to us. Let’s call him Mike—don’t want to mess him up by calling him out. Mike was like the school fuckup. One grade ahead of me, two years older than me. I looked up to him, thought he was just about the coolest guy on the planet. He was always missing class, always in and out of trouble. Lived outside the lines, you know. That was very appealing to me—still is, in a lot of ways. Not because I was looking to cut corners and cause trouble, but because I was out to shake things up. Because I wasn’t content to sit back and do what everyone else was doing, what was expected.”

“Because there were no rules—and one thing I’d learned from my father was that life was one giant ride.”

“And then, just like that, Alex said he had to go home. It was maybe two o’clock in the morning, and I wasn’t done laughing. But just hearing from Alex that he was leaving put me on edge. I was spooked, a little bit, at the thought of being alone. It hit me in this all-of-a-sudden way. Alex had been like my spirit guide through all this, had kept me anchored in this place of lightheartedness.”

“I was sure this was how things would be for the rest of my life. There’d be no end to it. I’d be swallowed up by these puffs of plaster, or attacked by battle-axes and fireballs, or tossed into some burning lake of fire. Everything I was feeling, everything I was seeing, everything I was imagining … it was all rooted in fear. And there was no escaping any of it. Only way out was to just give myself over to it. Or kill myself. I wasn’t suicidal or anything, but in the twisted logic that comes with a hit of acid I caught myself thinking death was the only way to quiet the raging noise and nonsense inside my head.”

“To me, faith is not about belief or disbelief. It’s about being open or closed. And me, I’m open wide.”

“I am the blue of the open sky, eager to take in whatever the world has to teach me. Whatever you have to teach me.”

“I don’t live my life in fear of the unknown—got all the insurance I need here on this earth. But what I learned from this one wild acid trip that set me off in search of some deeper meaning and feeling of connectedness is that you just never know how things are gonna go.”

“A friend recommends a novel called The Leavers, by a Chinese-American writer named Lisa Ko. It was nominated for a National Book Award. I see on the description that it’s about the child of a Chinese immigrant being raised in a white neighborhood by his adoptive white parents. I get why my friend says I should read it—but then I get this shit all the time. The people who know my story, where I come from, know the ways I feel connected to other fish out of water. They know how it colored me to grow up as one of the only Asian kids in a lily-white, same-seeming neighborhood like Newport Beach, California. They know I move about the planet like I’m on the outside looking in, always trying to make a place for myself. No, this character’s story is not my story. This character’s experience is not my experience. But I get a copy of the book and start to read. In disconnect there is connection, I guess.”

“but what keeps you listening is that you’re not the only one listening. I started to understand this even as a kid. The music was also about the community. It was about signing on and becoming a part of something. Belonging—that’s what I was after, after all. Soon, though, I started to realize that this wasn’t really my music.”

“But we didn’t give a shit. We just wanted to make some noise of our own, and that’s all it was at first … noise. We taught ourselves to play by mimicking the bands we’d go to see. Whatever instrument we could get our hands on, that was what we played, so I was on drums for a while. I played some guitar. I sang. We taught ourselves, taught each other, swapped these little tricks we discovered. None of us knew what the fuck we were doing, but we found our way … eventually. I played in a bunch of different bands—really, it was mostly the same people, moving in and out of what we were doing, depending on who was around. Sometimes we’d slap a new name on what we were doing, just because there was someone new on guitar or vocals. Sometimes a name didn’t feel right for a show we were about to play—like at a Battle of the Bands night at school—so we switched it up, went with whatever we thought was cool at the time. One of our earliest lineups, and one of the most enduring, played under the name Goodhue, and I mention it here because it fits with the theme of this book.”

“Later, I’d learn that what I was seeking was a very Japanese ideal. It came from a place deep in the culture, so it must have been hardwired into my DNA, only I didn’t really understand it until I was in college, studying the history of World War II. I wanted to learn what it was like for the Japanese prisoners in the internment camps, and what I found interesting was that they were endlessly obedient. There was no uprising, no rebellion. There were no walkouts. There was hardly a voice raised in protest … because that’s just not the Japanese way. In Japanese culture, nobody wants to stand out. My mother was that way, moving around our plain-vanilla community in Newport Beach, careful not to call attention to our little family. My father … not so much. He was a different sort of Asian, wasn’t cut from traditional Japanese cloth. He was a tough old bird—hard, in the ways of the traditional Japanese father. But he also craved attention. His restaurants, his speedboat racing, his thrill-seeking adventures, they were all about standing out, not fitting in.”

“Of course, that’s not what happened. It’s nowhere near what should have happened. But somehow the takeaway for me from Dan’s grudging what the hell–type approval was that I could do anything. That we could do anything. And for no good reason beyond youthful enthusiasm and self-delusion, I went to bed that night dreaming of a career in the music business. It was all so clearly within reach.”

“I ended up majoring in Women’s Studies, which exposed me to all kinds of critical and creative thinkers and activists, and turned me on to philosophy and literature—a tremendous grounding for a student of the world, but not exactly a foundation for a future titan of the restaurant business.”

“Anyway, it would bring me this tremendous sense of fulfillment to complete each little collection, from each independent label I was following. A sense of accomplishment. And I’ve got to confess, I’m still this way about the things that matter to me. I can get crazy-obsessive when I’m into something—sneakers, video games … even Japanese teas! These days, it’s mostly about art. I find an artist I like, someone who speaks to me, and it’s like I have to corner the market. The way I’m wired, it’s like there’s something in me that won’t let me feel whole until I complete the set. The work doesn’t speak to me in a small, sweet voice—I need to hear the whole fucking chorus, big as the wild blue yonder.”

“There was only one person in the office other than Kent—a young woman named Lisa Oglesby, who in a lot of ways was the glue of the operation, the Chief Everything Officer. It was hard to reconcile this grand image I’d had in my head of what this place would be like with this shabby, shitty reality. But that’s how the world works, right? You peek behind the curtain, you see how the sausage is made, and you lose whatever illusions you’ve been carrying around in your head.”

“my asshole roommate didn’t seem to understand the concept of headphones. I didn’t have it in me to say anything, though—a part of me still felt like the fish out of water I’d always been, so I let my roommate step on me in this way, to where I’d get out of bed every morning feeling anxious and sleep-deprived and pissed at myself for not standing up to him. People who know me today might not recognize me in this story, but I was a shy kid. Awkward. Confrontation wasn’t my thing, and even when I did find the courage to make myself heard, the slightest pushback would suck the courage right back out of me. As a Japanese kid who never really felt like he fit in, I’d spent so long standing down I didn’t have it in me to stand up.”

“the UK, but I was their guy in the States—and, if you remember, for a hot while they were probably the most talked-about underground indie band on the scene. Their sound had this immersive Chrissie Hynde vibe, but it was also edgy and bluesy. It had a feel to it that was familiar and at the same time brand fucking new, and I was just a passionate, passionate fan—so completely honored that they trusted me to champion what they were doing. I went on the road with them, became their tour manager, hustled my tail off, did whatever you do when you’re jump-starting a career—theirs, mine, whatever. Plus, these guys were my friends. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince. They treated me like a member of the band. A lot of times, it was just the three of us, tooling around in a little van. I would drive, or Jamie would drive, or Alison would drive. We would listen to Captain Beefheart on the road. We must’ve listened to those Trout Mask Replica and Safe as Milk albums forty or fifty times, all the way through. Everything they listened to, I digested. What they were into, I was into. I sold their merch, struggled to wake them up for lobby calls, talked them through whatever shit they were dealing with. I would have taken a bullet for these guys, I loved them so much.”

“And we could have, if my head had been a little smaller, and here it would be good to report that I learned my lesson after this one misstep and immediately set things right, but that’s not exactly how it went down. There’s a learning curve, you know. You figure it out as you go along. You get taken down a couple pegs and you start to realize you’re not all that … you’re only a little bit of that.”

“When the music came on, I looked out across the bar and saw this sea of confused, annoyed faces. Don’t know what kind of music those folks were into, but it sure as hell wasn’t … this. But Cali was digging it, and I guess he was the guy I was playing to. He didn’t give a fuck—and, just then, neither did I. All I cared about was playing my records, letting my music breathe. It felt to me like a kind of calling, like it was on me to spin this music and put it out in the world. (It would be a while before I figured out that the job of DJs is to help people have a good time, not to amuse themselves by cranking the volume on their cherished records. To play what people wanted to hear.) Cali’s deal was to disrupt, shake things up, push people’s buttons—and bringing me in to share my hardcore collection was just one way to do that. He’d go on to design clothes for Kanye West, and to become a true visionary in the LA street-culture scene, but here he was just mixing drinks and kicking up a little dust.”

“after that it was only a matter of time before some of AM’s huge star power started to rub off on little old me. I look back on that time and I still get chills. We had all these amazing artists coming through. will.i.am. The Black Eyed Peas. LMFAO. Skrillex. Kanye West. Our parties became a thing, and DJs from around the world came to soak up the culture, to taste what we were putting out there. It was a magical, meaningful time—a tsunami of music and art and a moment that hasn’t really been duplicated since. I was so fucking thrilled to be in its middle—God, it was insane. Los Angeles was like this great magnet for all these tremendous artists—still is!—so eventually we had all these groundbreaking talents turn up to play: Lady Gaga, Kid Cudi, M.I.A.… Really, it makes my head spin, just to think of the artists we were able to feature. If you were an artist coming up, if you were a producer, a head of a label, you had to come out to our parties. From Jimmy Iovine to the Killers to Drake … it felt to us like we were the music scene.”

“WOULDN’T BE ME WITHOUT U In a lot of ways—in fact, in almost every way—I was never as close to my father as I was when he was dying. There is something intimate about death when you see it coming. Something healing. It can rip you to pieces as it makes you whole. The curious thing about my father’s death was the way it brought us all together. The many branches of the family tree I wrote about earlier had scattered. We were all over the place, making our own music. For years, my father had been a kind of magnet, pulling us into his world, and now here he was, in the summer of 2008, drawing us in once more.”

“For me, for now, I want my father to see how my music brings people together, same way his restaurants brought people together. I want him to know that the choices I made, the choices he didn’t always agree with, amounted to something.”

“I want him to know we’re all okay. I want him to see the ways I am just like him. I work hard, play hard. I live in the moment. I believe anything is possible.”

“But, hey, superheroes don’t beat lung cancer, diabetes, hep C, cirrhosis of the liver, pneumonia. It took a couple months for all of that shit to finally slow my father down, and it sucked that just as he was slowing down I was ramping up, but we don’t get to schedule these life-and-death battles. They hit you when they hit you, and when they hit my father we all dropped whatever we were doing and flew to be at his side. Me, I was in Ibiza, mostly. I’d started playing there the year before—a giant step for me. They didn’t always roll out the welcome mat for American DJs in Ibiza, the global pulse of the dance music scene, but I was blessed to land a residency at a nightclub called Space.”

“In the very last conversation I had with my father, he told me he wasn’t going to die. He didn’t say he wasn’t prepared to die, didn’t say he was scared to die … nothing like that. No, he just put it out that he flatly refused to die. It’s like the concept of death simply didn’t apply to him. He wasn’t having any of it. He said, “I will get through this. We will get through this.” As if in giving it voice he would make it so.”

“I could only answer in kind. I said, “You’re a survivor, man. Whatever life throws at you, you find a way to survive.” But underneath, I knew. Underneath, I had this sick, sad feeling that this was the last conversation we would ever have. When we were done talking, we embraced. Wasn’t a typical thing for us. My father wasn’t the most demonstrative man. But he was weak and I wanted to be strong for both of us, so I leaned over and collected him in a hug. Next thing I knew, I was bawling like a baby. So much for wanting to be strong. I was flat-out sobbing. His pillow was soaked through with my tears.”

“I’d never cried with my father before. It was cathartic as hell, terrifying as hell. And as I wept, I realized I had never really been alone with him, vulnerable with him, myself with him. It was just the two of us in his room, and it felt alien to me for it to be just the two of us like that. In all our times together, going back as far as I could remember, there was always another sibling around, or someone who worked for him, or one of his friends. There was always something else going on. His life was so damn big he had to fill it with people, and even now, he died as he lived. And yet there we were, father and son, lost in the desperate sadness of his one epic embrace, holding on to whatever it was we’d had, whatever it was I’d wished we had.”

“And yet when I got to the hospital I was struck by all the tubes running into my father’s mouth, his arms. It’s like they had to plug him in to keep him ticking. He was mostly out of it, and I remember thinking how much he’d hated to be drugged, how important it was for him to feel like he was inside the moment, in some sort of control.”

“Today, I see my father in my siblings. His memory is most alive when we are together … all of us, some of us. In my brothers and sisters, I see his many moods, his many colors, all these different pieces of his personality. In my sister Grace I see my father’s selflessness. She’s always thinking about others, trying to set things right for the people in her life. A lot of folks, they hear me attach a word like selfless to my father, they wonder what the hell I’m talking about, but he was in the hospitality business, right? Whatever valves he might have shut off in his personal life, whatever ways he might have struggled with issues of intimacy or fidelity, he opened those spigots wide when it came to his work. He was an incredible host. He was generous, wanted to make people feel comfortable in his presence, and I see these qualities in Grace as well.”

“In my sister Echo, I see my father’s heart. Yeah, he could be hard on us kids, and he didn’t always treat the women in his life—our mothers!—with the respect they deserved, but underneath his tough exterior he was a generous soul. He was good to the people who worked for him, good to people in need. Echo’s cut the same way. In my brother Kyle, I see my father’s sense of humor. Kyle’s the comedian of the family, only he goes at it in a take-no-prisoners sort of way. My father loved to make people laugh, but even more than that he loved to push their buttons, to make a situation so awkward or uncomfortable that you had to really pay attention. Kyle’s like that, in his own way … in my father’s way. In my sister Devon, I see my father’s mind. She’s the brains of the outfit, smart as hell, always thinking ten steps ahead of everyone else. That was my father. It’s like he was playing chess and everyone else was playing checkers, and with Devon you get the feeling she knows what’s about to happen way before it up and happens. She can read the hell out of a room.”

“In my sister Jennifer, I see the close-knit family my father seemed to always want for himself but could never quite pull off. He was too distracted, too busy, to stay in any one place for any stretch of time, and so his family relationships suffered. But Jenny’s built this wonderful family dynamic, and she’s super-tight with her husband and kids, and I get the feeling that if my father had ever been able to get his shit together in this department, this would have been his model. Me, I like to think I’m the DJ of all that Rocky Aoki DNA. I’ve got a little bit of all these character traits running through me. I’ve got all his little bits and pieces running through me, and I try to sample them all. I live each day trying to honor the man he was, the man I hope to become.”

“By the time I moved to Los Angeles a couple months later, I’d learned to hold my liquor. I began to understand why people would go to a bar to drink and socialize. There was something about the way the alcohol would lubricate the situation, get the conversation flowing, make the rest of the world melt away. Things were just so much easier with a drink or two, so much sweeter. It was like a whole new world opened up to me, and whatever awkwardness or shyness I still carried from those outside-looking-in days back in high school seemed to disappear as well.”

“Only that’s not exactly how things shook out. AM had a history of drug addiction. He used to speak openly about it. He’d tried to kill himself at one point early on in his career, and he spoke about that, too. He’d been sober the entire time I knew him, when we were close. He was in AA, and he took it seriously, but you could see he had this obsessive personality. If you were at his house, for example, and he liked a certain cereal, you could open one of the kitchen cabinets and find, like, ten boxes of the stuff. If he liked a certain shoe … ten pairs. Everything with AM was extreme, in excess.”

“I remember AM was torn up about having to take pain medication. He’d been clean for so goddamn long, he didn’t want to lose that feeling of strength that came with all those years of sobriety, but at the same time the pain was just unbearable. He needed those meds, of course, but they set him off on another downward spiral. He started using again. Weed, crack … whatever. He stiff-armed his friends, his AA sponsor, kept saying he had it together, just needed this one day, this one week, to burn this desire out of his system, and then he’d start the clock again on being clean. Saying he could get his shit back together at any time. Saying it was all good.”

“Long as I’m on it, I want to spend some time here on two other deaths that left me reeling—two deaths that stand as reminders of the knife-edge we sometimes walk when we spend our lives on the road, chasing approval, acceptance, validation … whatever it is that drives us in the music business. Doesn’t matter if you’re a DJ or a musician or a roadie … there are pressures that attach to the fast-paced touring lifestyle, there are demons, and those pressures and demons only get bigger when you mix in drugs and alcohol.”

“It gets to you, the constant need to give the fans a good time, to lift them from the routine of their daily lives and give them a shot of energy and excitement, even if you’re feeling shitty. Even if you’re kept from your own routines.”

“Tim Bergling was a different kind of animal. He wasn’t built for a life on the road, a life on a public stage. He was an incredible musician, a gifted songwriter, a beautiful singer. He understood music theory and composition … one of those rare talents who could do it all. But unlike, say, Prince, Tim was working in the EDM space, where his talents as a producer were just as impressive as his musicianship.

“He was in the studio constantly. He was a complete master of his craft—one of the most influential figures in EDM, period. Hell, he’s the reason EDM even exists, and it just worked out that as dance music seeped into our festival culture, it dragged Tim along with it. As the trend-stamping DJ Avicii, he was at the heart of an evolution in EDM, where the DJ started to command attention, and he wasn’t cut out for that shit. Tim would have been the first to tell you how nervous he’d get every time he had to do a set. And it was more than just nerves, he sometimes said. It was an uneasiness, a disquiet. He felt out of his element. But he was just so fucking good at what he did that he couldn’t escape the pull of the stage.”

“Tim was making music as Avicii almost from the time I started working in that space, but he was just a kid. I can remember him turning up at one of our Dim Mak Sundays parties at Drai’s Hollywood when he was just nineteen or twenty years old. In those days, he was putting out records on this underground Australian label called Vicious—and even then you could tell he was special. There was something introspective, poetic, kinetic about his music—you knew right away when you were in the grip of an Avicii song.”

“They were fully invested in what I was putting out there—the music, the energy, the emotion—but a part of me was holding back. You can’t give of yourself entirely when you’re shit-faced half the time. When you’re phoning it in instead of being dialed-in, the way I am now. 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.”

“it worked with me, when I was drunk, all my emotions were exaggerated. If I was really happy, I’d kick it up to super fucking happy. If I was depressed, I’d take it down to super fucking depressed. The alcohol would just spank me around and drag me to this place of extremes, and what that meant when I was performing was that I’d get stuck inside this bubble of my own making, surrounded by a swirl of emotions that had nothing to do with the audience and everything to do with whatever was going on in my own head. I couldn’t see beyond that, so it made sense that my fans couldn’t see me.”

“I was traveling like a demon, and things had kicked up a couple notches in Tiernan’s career, so she was off doing her thing as well. We moved in our own separate orbits. When we were together, life was good. When we were apart, there was tension. Tiernan was always on me to step off the runaway train we were riding, and it worked out that we were gifted the chance for a total reset when I had to power down for a major surgery to repair my vocal cords. Backstory: I’d been struggling with my voice for some time. It would disappear on me, from all the screaming I’d do on stage. Then it would come back raspy and hoarse. I tried every conceivable remedy, until I finally went to a surgeon, who discovered a large nodule that needed to be removed. As part of my recovery, I’d have to keep still and quiet for about six weeks after the surgery, to allow my throat to heal. I resisted the idea at first—just couldn’t get my head around it. But Tiernan was all for it—said it would be good for us to dial things down and chill for a while. So that’s what we did. I canceled a bunch of shows in Spain, the Netherlands, the UK—just wiped the slate clean. We used the time to do a full-body heal. I started meditating, eating right, taking piano lessons. It was an opportunity for us to work on our relationship, and for me to discover all these new outlets for my creativity. She just loved that I was stopping the train in this way, thought it would be good for me. Good for us. And it was. For a while.”

“However, what I will say is that we were headed in different directions, wanted different things. A line like that, it reads like a cop-out, I know. Like I’ve got something to hide. But that was the core: Tiernan wanted to be in New York, to pursue her career. I’d just built my house in the hills outside Las Vegas, overlooking the strip, so I wanted to be in Nevada. Those idyllic days we’d spent in our apartment on the aptly named Hope Street in Los Angeles were forever out of reach. And so I am back where I started. Alone. Wondering how it is that life can somehow pass you by when you’re living large. I catch myself some nights, crying on the floor of a far-off hotel room, wondering what my life will be like at fifty, sixty, seventy. This is not me being melodramatic. This is me despairing. This is me being real. This is me filling the hole in my life where my movie-family is meant to be.”

“No, I didn’t write the lyrics to that one, but the music is uplifting, compelling, healing … all that good shit. And it comes from this dark, bleak place, where I sometimes get to feeling blue and lonely and like I am destined to travel through this life alone. Hey, as long as you’re suffering, you might as well turn it into art, right?”

“Like I said, it wasn’t designed to be any kind of hit. Shit, it wasn’t designed at all … it just was. If anything, it was meant to push the conversation. At its core, “Warp” was a way to experiment, to put something out there that was like a collision of these two worlds, these two very different types of music.”

“Around this time, Dim Mak was promoting a Toronto-based duo called Autoerotique. We’d just made a video for their single “Turn Up the Volume,” which for some reason featured a bunch of cakes exploding in people’s faces as they blew out the candles. In slow motion. The video just kind of blew up, right along with those cakes—people really responded to it. There was something about the powerful incongruity of exploding a cake, something we normally associate with feelings of happiness, that was weirdly appealing, and I carried the images of those cake-battered faces for a long time after we made that video. The tug-and-pull between disaster and celebration. I’d always been into the combustion of two things that don’t really go together—the yin and yang of life, you know. And here it got me thinking how I might attach that tug-and-pull to my show, maybe find some way to get the crowd going and then try to shake or shock them.”

“Things have changed now. I’m cool with most of my fellow DJs. I’m cool with most of the promoters and festival organizers. As I write this, we’re rebuilding some of the relationships that were a little bit broken over these cakes, but the great lesson here for me was to never make a decision based on someone else. It’s a lesson that applies across the board—no matter what you do, or the size of the stage you happen to be doing it on. You have to trust your gut and trust yourself, even if the outcome isn’t the most favorable at first. You have to do what feels right. And what feels right, right now, is for me to keep doing what I’m doing. Nothing lasts forever, right? But for now, the cakes are an integral part of my shows. They’ve become the signature element I was looking for, back when I was starting out.”

“That’s just how it goes when you’re working with a mercurial genius. Kanye’s mind seemed to run a million miles a minute. I hadn’t heard from him for a stretch, but then one night I was on tour in England, and my phone started buzzing. I was in the car with my manager. I noticed Kanye’s name on the readout and I was like, “Holy shit! It’s Kanye West.”

“The great ones find a way of holding on to these little half-formed snippets of art and truth and moment and finding a way to slot them in when the time is right, when the thought is finished. Some songs, they’re like a fine wine, or a bourbon that still needs to age. Sip from that glass too soon, and you won’t taste the full effect. Best to let it sit until the right moment—to let it breathe … until all these moving parts come together in just the right way.”

“But then in 2012 this movie came out called Project X, and the remix was featured in a prominent way, so the song had a new lease on life. And it wasn’t just a song they played over the credits, or in the background underneath some throwaway scene. No, it was highlighted in this climactic moment in the story, and echoed the whole point of the film, and when the movie took off the remix took off right along with it. People around the world started listening to my remix on the back of that movie, and a couple years after that the song got a third lease on life when DJs like Hardwell, David Guetta, Martin Garrix, and Tiësto started featuring it at peak times in their sets, all over the world. I offer this story here to show how these hits can sometimes sneak up on you. Or maybe they ultimately do happen in the ways you imagine, but it takes a while for them to get there. Some songs are like the one or two duds you find in that box of firecrackers you set off on the Fourth of July. At first they might just fizzle, and you’re waiting and waiting for them to pop and nothing much happens, but then you look away for a beat and they start exploding. This was like that … a little bit.”

“And this was also a reminder that when you collaborate with all these brilliant artists, when this abundance of talent comes together in a kind of harmonic convergence, you tend to forget that you’re also collaborating with the universe. Sometimes the timing isn’t right, or the stars are not aligned in the right way. Sometimes you need to fizzle for a while until it’s your time to pop.”

“people I loved. I went off on a kind of information walkabout. I read everything I could find about health and wellness—mainstream stuff, out there stuff, everything in between. Books, blog posts, journals … I even started watching a bunch of documentaries on mind and body issues—a total-immersion deal. Somewhere in there, a friend recommended a book called Anticancer, by David Servan-Schreiber, a cofounder of Doctors Without Borders and a fifteen-year brain cancer survivor. His story was incredible. He’d been given this grave diagnosis, but then he went off in search of all these ways the body itself can fight off cancer. He started eating the right foods, eliminating stress, living a more spiritual, purposeful life, embracing all these transcendental Eastern principles.”






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Purpose: I create an empowering context for curious and hungry people looking for fulfillment, experiences, and creativity. We do this by developing their growth mindset, introducing self-love, and powerful group experiences. It results in people with strong boundaries, resilient mental health, and practical life skills

People leave with the ability to land their dream job, have autonomy and flexibility with their lifestyle, travel the world, and create from their heart and soul.


Davidson was once broke, insecure, low-confidence, and frustrated by doing all the wrong activities. Addicted to drugs, validation, and wallowing in self-pity. No relationship to family, and at the mercy of other people’s suggestions and opinions.

It was hell.

After spending $100k hiring different coaches, traveling the world doing workshops around the world, reading>1000 books, and through curiosity, have created the most effective system to remove people from that situation. My life’s work is to bring joy and abundance to people who as on a similar path as I was and bring back the joy and abundance of their life.

Through shared experiences and storytelling, I inspire and model behaviors that lead to a richer, more fulfilled life full of joy, experiences, passion, and ecstasy from the richness of relationships and being able to experience the depths of the human experience.

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