Grammy-nominated DJ and producer Steve Aoki teams up with Toei Animation to bring his musical and fashion vision to the beloved manga/anime franchise A play. In addition to performing at Anime Expo 2022, Aoki’s company Dim Mak is releasing a full line of apparel and gear inspired by the ever-popular Eiichiro Oda. A play. As a longtime fan of A playthis particular collaboration has a particularly strong connection for Aoki as he adds his voice to A playThe Lasting Legacy in Time for the Next Animated Movie One Piece Movie: Red.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Aoki shares the origins of his love for A play, details Dim Mak’s work with Toei and teases what fans can expect from him in the near future, including new musical projects and more. Aoki’s set will be on Saturday, July 2, exclusive to registered Anime Expo attendees. A preview of the Dim Mak is also included. A play collection itself, provided by Dim Mak and with Aoki himself wearing some of the clothes in the line.
Steve, do you remember your introduction to A play has been?
Steve Aoki: Yeah, it was in college. I was part of an anime club, and every week we would get together and take over our student residence and watch a variety of anime. That’s what was great about the club, I was already an anime geek, and I already had things that I watched. I liked the older stuff more, like Armitage and ghost in the shellbut A play was one of the new offerings. This is how I was introduced [to the series], with all the other geeky kids getting together, swapping soundtracks, and watching all the new anime every week. I am so grateful to this club. This club really introduced me to a lot of different anime.
Are there any highlights or highlights of A play and the ongoing adventures of Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates that really resonate with you?
There’s definitely more synergy and a reference to now than when I watched A play at the time. At the time, it was more of an introduction to the world. Luffy is awesome, he is so carefree, positive, optimistic and [he’s] the perfect role model for a leader, especially for growing children. I have an affinity for Luffy and his relationship with the Straw Hat Pirates, for sure, because it’s kind of like the relationship I have with my crew. We ride around the world, go on adventures and go for experiences. We’re not looking for the One Piece treasure, but I guess the treasure that we go through, with the musical adventures that I’m on, is connecting with people – that’s the treasure.
Between the score composed by Kohei Tanaka and Shiro Hamaguchi or one of the rotating opening and closing themes, are there any musical moments that stand out?
Definitely the scene where the Straw Hat Pirates raise their fists to say goodbye to Princess Vivi. It’s notable because it ends with the “We Are!” theme, and this is such a moment. It reminded me of the Project X and the “Pursuit of Happiness” moment. My remix of “Pursuit of Happiness” in Project X was like the climax of the movie, and it broke the culture in a way that “Pursuit of Happiness” blew up after that. I feel like the scene where [the Straw Hat Pirates] raise their fists and say goodbye to Princess Vivi, with the epic “We Are!” theme coming out – it’s super strong and iconic.
How did the opportunity to perform at Anime Expo and help promote the release of One Piece Film: Red come about?
My relationship with Toei has been going on for almost ten years, since 2015. I’ve been a Toei fan for so long, and I’m so happy that they contacted me to work on dragonball when they launched Xenoverse 2. I did two remixes, but we did something really unique with these remixes, they created an NPC of me as Goku, which is already crazy because they don’t play with their IP . You never see them playing with Goku. They put my head on Goku’s body, and you had to find him in the game as an NPC, and if you found me, you could download two remixes I made of “Cha-La Head-Cha-La ” for the game. This is the only time you have been able to download and listen to these remixes. You can’t hear them anywhere else.
I think it’s really cool that we’ve taken this approach, and I play these remixes sometimes, and it’s interesting to go back and play them. With the anime and the music, they’re not at the pace I’m used to. It’s always such a challenge to work on a remix in anime culture because I know it’s going to be a crazy pace that I have to work with. [laughs] Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 was the first time I started working with them, and we did an amazing dragonball collection with them, and we’ll do another with them later. I like dragonballso it was exciting to do all the Dim Mak dragonball collect together.
We do something with A playwe have a Dim Mak A play collection with skateboards, merchandise, hoodies, t-shirts and fans want Luffy hat and stuff. We have an incredibly important collaboration with Dim Mak, and we are launching it at Anime Expo this year. People will want to get their hands on all that fun stuff this year, so be sure to drop by [Booth #3326] however. The [performance] is the icing on the cake for me because now I’m part of the story of A play, and that’s important to me. Deejaying at Anime Expo for the A play film – experience is important, but I’m a music producer and I want to be part of the cultural history of A play.
When you do collaborations with Dim Mak like A play, dragonball Where street fighterwhat are you looking for in these partnerships?
This doesn’t always have to strike me personally, as Dim Mak covers all the different aspects of anime and animation culture. Anime is such a big part of my life. I may not be watching every episode from all the different anime IPs we work with, but if it affects me personally, I’m definitely going to get involved. With street fighter, I remixed Ryu’s theme, and we did a whole video game thing with that too. I remember playing [Street Fighter] in high school it was so important and I played every day after school. When it’s something personal to me, I’ll go out there and do a lot, like remix dragonballthe theme of Xenoverse. It means so much to me.
I feel very lucky now to be able to work with IPs and these characters, plots and music that I grew up listening to and had such an impact on me as a human. He still has such an impact, and that’s the great thing about anime and animation, he can live on forever, it’s all about the story of those characters. The story of Luffy, the Straw Hat Pirates, and this world is so inviting and exciting, and exciting to work with.
Since we invoked street fighterI have to ask: is Ryu your principal?
Yeah, always! [laughs]
Outside Anime Expo and Dim Mak A play collection, what are you up to next, Steve?
I have a lot to come, the big thing is my album HiROQUEST. I just dropped the CD, the CDs come back [laughs]. I did a limited time drop for four hours to get people to actually buy the HiROQUEST CD included with the very first collectible card game. I have mine HiROQUEST world and I created a TCG around HiROQUEST. Each CD comes with a single card, and it’s a set of 70 cards that we run throughout the album. It’s never been done before, for a TCG world to be so connected to a music album.
They introduce dozens of new characters and many different characters who live in our MetaZoo universe, a world I helped found last year. It’s about cryptids, critters, characters and folklore from human history, like Bigfoot or chupacabra. We have an amazing MetaZoo community and HiROQUEST is this new world that I created that lives in the MetaZoo universe. HiROQUEST is really important, and I tour a lot, I just posted a bunch of new dates on my Instagram, and it’s almost a show every day.
In the NFT space with MetaZoo, we are launching our first NFT PFP which is exciting for all MetaZoo fans. My rookie NFT Character X, we drop Replicant X, it will be out very soon. I do it with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, Seth Green’s company, and one of my favorite stop-motion animation companies in the world. We’ve created a whole world around character X called Dominion X, with all these different characters, and within Dominion X it’s what we call Replicant X, replicants of character X. There’s a lot of fun stuff with world building — just open the imagination and have fun with it.
Steve Aoki’s set at Anime Expo is Saturday, July 2, with tickets on sale exclusive to registered Anime Expo attendees.