I just concluded my viewing of the Netflix documentary on Steve Aoki called “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”, and not only was it a fantastic piece of film but it also forced me to pause and re-evaluate not just my stance in EDM and music but how the scene has drastically changed recently. I took a few things from this documentary that I would like to share in hopes that maybe even just a few people can stop and think as I have done.
Probably my biggest takeaway from this documentary is that as fans sometimes we forget that not only are these DJ’s and producers normal human beings like us, but that the music they put out and the performances they give are gigantic pieces of who they are and in most cases is every single thing they have worked the majority of their lives for. For the majority of these artists these songs and sets are their life’s work, their souls blaring through speakers, their blood, sweat, and tears.
Yet what an artist like Aoki faces on surely a daily basis is not just backlash and criticism for putting out there what he loves, but outright demoralizing attacks on him as a human being. Not everything an artist puts out will be enjoyed by all, yet some people feel they have the right to not just detest the artwork but to blatantly condemn the artist as a person for even existing.
Why has this become a thing? Who gives people the right to decide what is “good” and what is “bad” in music? My good is someone else’s bad, and vice versa; it’s a fact of life. But outright criticizing an artist for sharing his love and passion with us just because we are not entirely fond of it is not humane or just.
Leading to another point on the idea of a “sellout”. What exactly defines a sellout anyway? Just because an artist collaborates with a household name does not make that person a sellout. Being on the radio does not justify it either. Aoki with Fall Out Boy, Skrillex and Diplo with Justin Bieber, Calvin Harris with Rihanna, all examples of amazing talents being torn to shreds because not only are they simply experimenting like all great artists do but are finding success with it.
Is jealousy and senses of entitlement to blame? Possibly, and who really knows. But calling another human being worthless, trash, horrible, or anything of the sort for finding success and doing something they love is downright shameful. It seems like once an artist we love does something to further their career or better themselves musically many look at it as a crime because they do not approve of it. It seems senseless to me to root against the success of someone you admire, but then again what do I know right?
As someone who has followed Aoki and his career for some years now, I am well aware that he has become quite the lightning rod for these sorts of attacks. Sure, his style has changed over the years but that is called evolving, not necessarily “selling out”. He is a household name, he does commercials, he’s on the radio, he is one of the top faces of EDM as a whole. That doesn’t sound like a sellout to me; that sounds like someone who busted his ass and became successful through his hard work, just like many of the other lightning rods for these criticisms.
Fans love to act like they know everything about an artist and use those “facts” to create their judgements, yet we truly do not know the entire story cover to cover. This documentary helped me remember that because we as fans only see about 10% of the story and that is a generous percentage. The daily grind, the yearly struggle, the lifelong pursuit of advantageous aspirations are the very behind-the-scenes ideals that we do not understand and therefore ignore in order to force our judgements onto the world. These guys and girls may be more famous, wealthier, or more successful than us, but at their core they are just like us; they are people too.
I would like to thank Steve Aoki for pulling back the curtain even just slightly for EDM fans and music fans in general to get a better glimpse of one of the most fascinating professions in the world: a musician. I would highly recommend this film to any fan of any genre of music because it shows just how real these people are even if we put them on these imaginary pedestals because of their accomplishments. Like the old saying goes, they put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us.
I hope those who read this go watch the documentary and maybe think twice before they decide to attack a fellow human being for something they may not fully understand, and perhaps gain just an extra grain of respect for these men and women who sacrifice themselves for our enjoyment.