Steve Aoki says 'dialogue has to happen more often' around mental health

WATCH: DJ Steve Aoki has partnered with eSmartr to launch a wearable device aimed at helping with mindfulness, reducing stress and improving memory.

Steve Aoki began his Neon Future IV: The Color of Noise tour in Toronto on March 5 before having to postpone the tour due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

“I am truly heartbroken to say my Color of Noise tour will have to be postponed. Not only did the local health authorities and governments recommend this but I also want to make sure you all stay safe from the COVID-19 virus,” Aoki announced on March 13.

Global News sat down with Aoki and Jay Dhaliwal, CEO of Canadian neurotech company eSmartr, ahead of Aoki’s show in Toronto at Rebel.


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The company eSmartr has collaborated with Aoki to launch an eSmartr Sleev, a wearable neurotech device that aims to support mindfulness, concentration and stress reduction. It is meant to reduce stress and anxiety, enhance clarity, increase focus and attention and improve memory.

Talk Shop Media/eSmartr

Talk Shop Media/eSmartr

Talk Shop Media/eSmartr

Aoki told Global News he was excited to start his tour in Toronto because the city “has been a really important city for me around the world to break into the culture.”

“It’s just so educated. My first time coming out here was in 2005. It’s like 15 years ago. I was playing, and it was much different back then. Toronto would be one of most important cities for me to come to,” Aoki shared. “Toronto is very important out of all the cities that are really, really important for electronic music.”

Aoki joked that his most forgiving crowd is also Toronto.

“Who is going to be the most forgiving crowd? My fans in Toronto,” he said.

Dhaliwal said he reached out to Aoki to become the eSmartr Sleev’s global ambassador because the DJ sees the importance of “mental health, mental wellness, physical wellness, mind, body, soul connection.”

He also explained that it was his daughter’s idea to create the sleeve, which translates skin sensation into neural activity for a drug-free, non-invasive approach to feeling more connected, less stressed and more mindful.

“She came home first week of university five years ago and told me that a lot of her friends and peers were taking Adderall and Ritalin,” Dhaliwal explained. “That ended up inspiring us to start this journey we began about four years ago. We ended up creating this compressive sleeve that has a vibrant, tactile pattern of stimulation.

“What we’re doing is activating a very precise combination of receptors that’s translating into a signal the brain recognizes to help put those different neural networks in optimal operating position,” Dhaliwal explained. “It’s a coping mechanism and a signal the brain recognizes to help us better focus, remain calm.”

He added that the purpose of the sleeve is to “bring wellness without drugs.”


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Aoki told Global News about the first time he tried the sleeve.

“I have a lot of brain activity, and it’s kind of like all over the place. When I put this sleeve on and I went back in my focus, my brain waves were changing,” he said.

“I, like, move on pretty quickly if something isn’t interesting to me. There’s that issue, and I think a lot of people have that, especially with social media,” Aoki explained. “But for me, that’s how I feel like part of my success story has developed because I’ve literally had so many different projects going, but I’m a completionist — I need to complete them.”

The Grammy-nominated producer said the sleeve “makes people’s lives easier and it helps mental health.”

Aoki added that mental health “is the No. 1 most important thing, especially as performers.”

He explained that it’s important because “what I do is so gruelling. It’s fun on stage, but life on the road can be hard because I do 250 shows a year around the world.”

“It’s a lot; it weighs heavy and it can break people down,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you make, how famous you are or how many people listen to your music,” Aoki said. “You’re a human being, and it’ll wear you down to the bone if you can’t understand how to be present in the things that you do and not get lost in the superficial s–t.”


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“People need to see what’s good for them and what’s toxic because it’s very difficult to see when life’s at your fingertips,” he explained in regards to celebrity status.

“I’m talking to you right now but I’m eating food that people are bringing to me. It’s like I have babysitters everywhere but I could also ask for something else, you know?” Aoki said. “But I learned that you have to have discipline, and there’s no school for that.

“I think that’s why a lot of artists that are travelling, they fall down a path where they get burned out or some of them even die,” he said.

“I think for artists, mental health is a really important area that needs to be discussed. Dialogue has to happen more often. Not a lot of people in the entertainment industry really sit there and think about mental health because life is so crazy.”

(This interview has been edited and condensed.)

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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