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Kid Koala

by Archives November 22, 2006

In this world there is a certain number of people with seemingly unlimited creativity pouring out from their soul. Although roller-skating rinks, the Food Network, and a movie about clarinet playing clay mosquitoes might seem unrelated to most, to Eric San, better known as Kid Koala, these are all perfectly good venues for some turn-tabling.

His trademark humoristic combination of vintage dialogue snippets mixed with layered scratching and haunting melodies has brought him an ever-growing fan base since he first signed to Ninja Tunes records 10 years ago. With his third full-length album, Your Mom’s Favorite DJ released this September, his reputation is bound to skyrocket.

Having toured with the likes of Radiohead and Bjork, as well as having taken part in ex-Blur Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, the international community has taken notice of San a long time ago.

Kid Koala is definitely not your average DJ, as his records take on a life of their own by his gentle touch. On Friday, he’ll give his home crowd in Montreal no less than two different performances, proving that just because he’s coming home literally doesn’t mean he’ll miss a beat. Staying home for less than 24 hours, he’ll fly out to New Zealand and beyond on Saturday to continue his 90-city world tour. Only next August does San expect to come home and stay for a while, but that doesn’t mean he’s planning a vacation. Among other things, he said the clay mosquito is waiting to bat its wings onto reels of film.

“We always have long-term projects,” said San about his relentless effort to expand his music’s venues. Since the release of the 10-minute mix-tape Scratchcratcratchatch, Kid Koala has released not only three albums but also the graphic novel Nufonia Must Fall. Accompanied by a 17-minute soundtrack, the graphic novel tells the tale of a headphones wearing robot who falls in love with a human and proceeds to write love songs about his new love, admittedly a hard task for a machine of any stature.

Whereas he used four years to finish his first full-length album Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (which was incidentally accompanied by a 17-page comic book San drew on tour as his nervousness mounted over creating the album), Your Mom’s Favorite DJ was done in about six weeks.

“The recording process was much shorter, which was very good for me because I stayed with the momentum,” San said. “In many ways it’s similar to the way I put together a DJ set.” Although, admittedly, San said much of the work happens long before he goes into studio, such as cataloguing the 10,000 records he owns so that when it comes down to a studio idea – “Hey… It’d be nice to have an organ here!” – all he has to do is reach out to that box and find the appropriate sound bite.

San went back to his DJ roots for this release – to the mix tape. The record features two tracks to mirror a tape’s A and B side, a format San said he chose in part because he found it challenging, with only 15 minutes and approximately 150 records to a track.

“I didn’t get into DJ’ing after listening to the radio and buying an album,” San said with laugh, who said “the concept of having one continuous listening experience” was central to him.

Right now, San’s future plans include a roller-skating rink tour – because roller-skating and DJ’ing “were made for each other,” as well as a segment on the Food Network’s Iron Chef where San said he’ll be mixing records while making scones – because “cooking and DJ’ing is exactly the same in my mind.” And then there is a tour with two grand pianos and four turn tables, and of course the puppeteer show he’s planning to take on the theatre trail sometime in 2008 (at the earliest), featuring a full orchestra pit and a robot working in a cookie factory.

“I kind of blame [Monthy Python and the Muppet Show] for what I think is acceptable in a career,” San said while laughing, recounting how the shows’ incredible diversity and range had fascinated him as a kid. “I wouldn’t play the same set 30 times, so why would I do the same tour 30 times over?” he asked. “No one ever asks you to do something [special],” he continued, but said that everyone involved has been eager to jump on new ideas once they come to him. For his fans waiting to see what’s the next surprise up his sleeve, San promised; “we’ll get stranger from here. We always do.”

San’s relationship with DJ’ing developed from an “immediate fascination ” when his sister accidentally exposed him to the phenomenon as a 12-year-old. San recounted how he’d been hanging around a record store when the record playing on the store’s loudspeakers all of a sudden caught his attention. He said it was unlike anything else he had ever heard before. He could tell it was a human voice because it kept repeating, although not in its natural form. “I could tell from the feel of it that it was a performance,” San said, who describes mixing and turntabling as “frankensteining” “audio orphans,” other people’s voices and messages, twisting them so they eventually fit the DJ’s own personality.

For San that entails a healthy portion of humour, and attending one of his shows or listening to one of his records rarely passes without a surprise laugh in the middle of it, such as when he intruduces the Koala as a “cute and cuddly” animal from what sounds like a war era educational tape (without that necessarily being the case).

Although that kind of mixing and turntabling is evident at Kid Koala’s live gigs as much as they are on his records, his gigs take on a bit of a different format. While his CDs are choc-a-block of unlicensed music snippets, his live performances feature recognizable songs by artists such as Radiohead and Bjork. He also mixes more recent acts such as Wolf Mother and Arcade Fire, all while retaining his trademark style of voice tracks and sound manipulating turntabling.

With a touring schedule as intensive as San’s, he said he has to try out new material on the road, “fleshing” the songs out in a progression of performances. “Sometimes I just go for it live,” he said, adding that he doesn’t always have a clear idea what he’s trying to do before he’s actually tried it. “Sometimes you don’t know how it sounds before you try it in front of a roomful of people.”

As far as his Montreal performances go, San said he had not planned that far ahead, although he laughingly promised to give his home crowd their money’s worth. “Montreal always gets the really, really half baked ideas,” he chuckled.

Kid Koala plays Le National Nov. 25.
1220 St. Catherine Street East
Tickets are $10.

Kid Koala also takes part in Resfest, and plays Excentris theatre at 4 p.m.
Tickets are limited.

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