“You Know What This Track Needs…Some Frog Sounds”
At age 12, somewhere in his parents house in Vancouver, “the one Chinese kid” was searching through cereal boxes, magazines, and grocery store handouts for the flimsy, “soft records” often used for promotional goods, or as post card supplements. Was it for the variety of the sounds? Was he going for the exotic at an early age? No, he needed the soft records because anything harder would cause the plastic tone arm of his sisters Hi-Fidelity stereo system to skip when he tried to scratch with it.
With a dial for phono, am, fm, and tape on the machine (click-click-click-click), he dialed in a station with soft fuzz on fm and used that as his “off” track, scratching on the phono and cutting away to the gentle white noise of some Canadian station. But maybe “scratch” is too polished a word, because at this point Eric San was experimenting in what was, for him, a vacuum-seperated by age and location from the larger scratch-DJ world.
Only after this rebellion from classical piano lessons, after years locked in his own room and away from the social years of high school, did Kid Koala emerge.
Now one of the worlds most talented and innovative DJ’s, Kid Koala has played in rock’n’roll turntable bands, toured with Radiohead and the Beastie Boys, and –the most terrifying experience of all (he says)–played with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans.
Describing Kid Koala’s sound as “unique” would be an injustice, throwing him in with the thousands of others of musicians, bands, spoken-word artists, modernists, etc–rather, Kid Koala creates a genre, a style, a compositional technique, which the world had never before seen. Growing up on Monty Python, Opera, and New Orleans Jazz, Mr. Koala’s compositional structure is unlike any other DJ’s, emphasizing narrative and character development through the thousands of samples he has collected from record stores, friends, and Salvation Army’s.
“Good morning house plants…yes, it’s wake up time”
In his words, the best thing about sorting through Salvation Army, or other donated records, is that:
“These were the records that someone was embarassed to have…”How to Grow Taller”, “How to groom your nostrils”, “How to Talk to Your Plants”, “Tips on Dating”–who are these people? Someone bought this to listen to, but before that someone had to make it, someone had to do the vocals–probably some voice actor–but how did they feel after recording an hour of talking to plants? Did they have plants in front of them?”
For him, the world of records, their traditions, their crackles and pops, their feel, is something that can never be abandoned or outdated.
When it comes to song composition, sometimes he starts with a traditional hip-hop scratch pattern, or sometimes he starts with a melody on staff-paper: melodies he can scratch, note by note, accurately hitting up to an interval of a 6th. This ability to play notes, to play pitch (“I don’t have perfect pitch…but maybe…what do they call it, relative pitch?”), creates a whole new world of opportunities, and in his arguably most famous routines, “Moon River” and “Drunk Trumpet”, Kid Koala is at his finest, combining traditional scratch, hand-cut notes, melodies, and an incredible ear for innovation and the fusion of music, words, and stories as never heard before.
And on top of all of this music, of the ways he sings along with each sample, laughs out loud on stage as he attempts to imitate the closing lines of a blues scale with scratch–it would also be an injustice not to mention that Eric San is an incredibly kind, considerate, and thoughtful man–“Koala” or not.