Steve Aoki: Breaking Necks and Breaking Boundaries

Photo courtesy of Bangin Beats
Photo courtesy of Bangin Beats

Steve Aoki is widely known for exhibiting certain traditions at his concerts, most notably throwing cake at the faces of his fans and stage diving. Aoki took it a bit further and is now facing a lawsuit for breaking a girl’s neck while stage diving onto a raft during a concert at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego in 2012. Due to this incident, Brittany Hickman is now attempting to sue the famous DJ.

In the wake of Steve Aoki’s lawsuit, an important discussion arises. How far should celebrities and musicians take it when it comes to audience interaction and stunts alike that could possibly harm audience members? When do the fun and games turn into something more harmful? Instances like Aoki’s have long been a part of music history dating back several decades.


The 1950s: Jerry Lee Lewis and ‘instrument destruction’

Photo courtesy of Nodo50
Photo courtesy of Nodo50

Jerry Lee Lewis transformed the piano into a rock and roll instrument not only through his music, but also through his stage stunts that incorporated it. In one instance, he allegedly set the piano on fire during one of his performances.

Although it is rumored that Jerry Lee Lewis set his piano on fire on several occasions, oldies music expert Robert Fontenot confirmed in an article with About Entertainment that this only happened on one occasion. Lewis used a Coke bottle filled with gasoline to set fire to his piano during a performance of “Great Balls of Fire.” According to Fontenot, this was done in order to intimidate Chuck Berry who was to follow Lewis’ performance. This was one of the first times in music history where a musician incorporated instrument destruction into their performance.


The 1960s: Guitar Gods Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend

Following Jerry Lee Lewis, The Who guitarist Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix are also known for destroying their instruments on stage. Both guitarists became well known for smashing their guitars at live performances, and it was eventually expected from fans and audience members.

Considered one of the “50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll” by RollingStone, Townshend explained, “I’ve often gone on the stage with a guitar and said, ‘Tonight, I’m not going to smash a guitar, and I don’t give a shit.’ And I’ve gone on, and every time I’ve done it. Basically, it’s a gesture that happens on the spur of the moment. It’s a performance, it’s an act, it’s an instant, and it’s really meaningless.”


Jimi Hendrix’s most memorable guitar-smashing moment was at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival in California. Hendrix once commented saying:

The times I burnt my guitar it was like a sacrifice. You sacrifice the things you love. I love my guitar.



The 1980s: Ozzy Osbourne and the infamous biting of the bat

Photo courtesy of Complex
Photo courtesy of Complex

Arguably one of the most distinguished examples of musicians who are known for their hasty on-stage behavior is Ozzy Osbourne. This past January marked the 33-year anniversary of the infamous moment when Ozzy Osbourne bit off a bat’s head during a performance in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1982.

In Osbourne’s memoir I Am Ozzy, he recalls the incident:

Immediately, though, something felt wrong. Very wrong. For a start, my mouth was instantly full of this warm, gloopy liquid, with the worst aftertaste you could ever imagine. I could feel it staining my teeth and running down my chin. Then the head in my mouth twitched. ‘Oh fuck me, I thought. ‘I didn’t just go and eat a fucking bat, did I?




The 1990s: Marilyn Manson and the bloody bottle

Image from music video “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”
Image from music video “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”

Known by many as the “Antichrist Superstar,” Marilyn Manson is another artist like Osbourne who has been in the news several times for shocking audience members with stunts he pulls during live performances. In 1994, Manson purportedly used a broken beer bottle to gash his own chest. In his autobiography The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, Manson remembers “dragging it across [his] skin until it reached the other side.”



The 2000s: Grunge gashing with Modest Mouse

2013 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival - Day 1
Photo courtesy of Chelsea Lauren

A lesser-known yet similar incident happened during a Modest Mouse concert in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when lead singer Isaac Brock cut his chest on stage during a performance of “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes.”

In an interview with VH1, Brock explained:

I got hyper, got kind of punk rock on it, no crazier than Nick Cave or Iggy or anyone like that. It’s not a cry for help. If people want to make it a sad sack moment, fuck them. I see no reason to turn my fun into their drama. After the show I was in a great mood. It wasn’t something I even thought about until a few days later when I got a text from a friend that said ‘Someone said you cut yourself — are you ok?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh shit. Here we go. I know how this one plays out.’ So now I gotta answer this question for the next year.



The difference between Aoki’s lawsuit and the artists discussed above is that Aoki provoked harm onto others, whereas these artists kept their audience out of any danger. Despite this, Aoki’s incident was accidental. Though he didn’t mean to cause any harm, it’s best to keep your fans and the crowd safe. For future reference, we Aoki fans preferred it when you threw cake in our faces.



Alexandra Mahoney

Chicago native living in Madrid, Spain. Recent graduate from Indiana University with a degree in journalism and a double minor in music and Spanish. Lover of music, dance, hooping, piano and travel.

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