Putting the ‘Bebop’ in ‘Cowboy Bebop’ with Steve Aoki and John Cho

It’s time to jam Bebop fans! Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop debuts today! And while it isn’t perfect, it’s still pretty fun in a pretty campy way. However, the one thing the show gets right is the music! And heavily inspired by the terrific music of the original anime, the music in the new adaptation pays homage, while managing to carve out its own identity for itself (much like the show as a whole). And someone who knows all about that is iconic DJ Steve Aoki!

Aoki, a fan of the original show, put his own spin (see what I did there) on the show’s classic theme, which you can view here:

To commemorate the release of the series, as well as the release of the new remix of the show’s theme song, “Tank,” Aoki sat down with Spike Spiegel himself, John Cho, to discuss what it was like to reimagine the iconic theme for a whole new audience. Here are some cool takeaways that we learned from their conversation:

CHO: What was your relationship with Cowboy Bebop and how did you feel knowing there was a live action series coming?

AOKI: When I heard you were part of it, it was like, this was the perfect pairing. I grew up with Cowboy Bebop. And I knew about the song “Tank.” It was such an iconic part of the IP…When I heard about the live-action, I thought “This needed to be in live-action. And can John do the hair though.” Because if you can do the hair, then we go it!

Did I do it?

Yes!

Alright!.. How did you find the series?

I’ve always been into anime culture. And it’s just been such an iconic, classic anime growing up. And when I heard about you getting involved, that was very cool… And then I got to remix the iconic track, “Tank,” attached to the IP.

It’s like the greatest opening for a show. I can’t think of a better opening for a TV Show. It’s a really great piece of music… It’s crazy thinking about it. I feel like when I was growing up, Asian pop culture wasn’t cool. And to be here in this moment — this larger moment — you know what I mean?

It’s interesting you say that. Because I used to go to anime club when I was in college in the ’90s. And it was a total nerd-fest. It was me with a bunch of other geeks. It wasn’t cool at all. But we were like so obsessed with anime. And now it’s just like everywhere. If you open up Netflix it’s one of the most watched categories.

The other thing I always thought was interesting about Asian films, was that in China, Japan, Korea, etc. adults read manga. And that’s almost like storyboarding for films. It’s sort of in the culture. It’s not considered for kids only, you can elevate the art form.

In Japan, everywhere you go you have a character that depicts something you’re supposed to do…It’s just part of normal life. Here in America, I’ve always wanted to see more of that. Now it’s happening. Now you see it. It’s in constant conversation. You hear about it all the time.

Can you discuss the inception of the Cowboy Bebop “Tank” remix and how you got involved?

Yeah. I’m not sure who talked to who on the Netflix side vs. our side, but this was a big deal for me, when it came to my table, that I could remix “Tank” because I was already an anime kid at heart. It was always tough when you have pressure on something so iconic.

I have no idea what you’re talking about [laughs]

COWBOY BEPOP (L to R) JOHN CHO as SPIKE SPIEGEL in COWBOY BEPOP Cr. GEOFFREY SHORT/NETFLIX © 2021

But I wanted to make it groovy. The original is very jazzy. And electronic music is not jazz. It’s hard to take those types and put it in terms of something that’s very structured. But I wanted to make it groovy. I wanted people to dance to it. This is something you can play in a show or club. But you definitely play just sitting in your home or whatever.

You’re right! I hadn’t thought about it. Because the original it’s kind of aggressive right? It’s propulsive. And yours has all these spaces actually. It’s cool. Have you met Yoko Kano by the way?

No. She’s in Japan I think… But I heard she’s coming tonight, so I was excited to be here. She’s a legend. And I think it’s really cool that she’s a female in this space… A female jazz composer is just incredible to hear about. Her especially.

When I heard about the show, and when I was offered the show, one of my first questions was if Yoko Kano was in. Because I was thinking I don’t think it’s wise to go forward without her. Because I felt like the treatment of the music completely changes the meaning of the scenes. Because she has such power over what the show means scene to scene. Because she makes choices no other music supervisors would never make. She’s going against the grain a lot of the time. You think the scene is about A but the music makes you think it’s about B. So I can’t believe she’s coming! What did Cowboy Bebop mean to you as a Japanese American?

I loved that! I love when Japanese culture is being heralded and showcased. And we can go back to classics like this. And revisit it and bring it back to this new life. And any time any sort of Japanese culture comes out, it’s really exciting.

I also think it’s really cool for an Asian composer to take Western genres and go “let me take that and do my thing.

Yes. It is different. But it’s its own way. It’s jazz and it’s rich, and it’s got so many dynamic elements. But you can’t make that unless you’re in a completely different environment and headspace.

And you can’t do it without mastery of it. She just owns all these genres and it’s really fascinating. What are you most excited to see in the live action series aside from [me]?

[laughs] I’m here for you John!… Spike is the favorite for me

I hope I don’t disappoint you!

Cowboy Bebop is now officially on Netflix!

See you space cowboy!

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