Eric San is a renaissance man when it comes to artistic expression. Better known as his moniker Kid Koala, the native Canadian is an accomplished turntablist, DJ, musician, and graphic artist. His humble beginning was a mixtape that he passed out to his dorm mates as a McGill University undergrad in 1995. This 30-minute mishmash of samples was picked up by UK record label Ninja Tune who then signed him on to be their first North American artist that following year. Since then, Kid Koala has had a 16-year career characterized by 4 solo LPs and ambitious projects that constantly push the envelope of creativity both in technical ability and presentation. Touring stints with legends such as Radiohead and the Beastie Boys put him on the map in the DJ world and high profile collaborations such as Deltron 3030 (with Dan the Automator and Del the Funky Homosapien) and The Slew (with members of Wolfmother) have further solidified his fame, but it’s Kid Koala’s solo projects that truly set him apart from his contemporaries. Two endearing constants present in each of these solo projects are his commitment to analog technology and his insistence on having an interactive component to further engage the listener with his music. When Kid Koala puts on a show, it’s a party, and everyone is always invited.
In the past 2 years, Kid Koala has demonstrated his unique music and brand of audience engagement around the world in the form of 3 extremely different projects. In early 2011, he organized a series of soirées called “Music to Draw To” where attendees were invited to sit together, drank free hot chocolate, and create art while he played 4-5 hour sets of accompanying music. Later in the year, he released his comic book “Space Cadet” and its minimalist soundtrack. Space Cadet Headphone Concerts are an ongoing project where attendees are given wireless headphones and inflatable space pods to lounge on while they watch Kid Koala perform the soundtrack live on piano and turntables to animations of scenes in the book. In September 2012, his newest LP “12-bit Blues” was released, complete with a mini, cardboard, hand powered turntable and flexi disc. All of the songs were recorded in one take using nothing but blues records, SP-1200 samplers, and turntables. His supporting tour is called the 12-bit Blues Vinyl Vaudeville, and I was a lucky audience member at his Los Angeles show at the Echoplex. Promotional posters promised special musical guests, dancing girls, puppets, turntables, robots, drinks, and parlor games – intriguing! Since this was the kick-off tour date for North America, I anticipated a spectacle.
The first act of the show was a delightful improvised revue of Kid Koala’s special musical guests. A giant rabbit playing the gong on stage was unveiled to be artist David Choe, who deadpanned a hilarious spoken word about (but not limited to) buying crack and his struggles with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Hip hop producer legend Dan the Automator then took the stage and raised a fever pitch in the audience by announcing that the highly anticipated, much delayed Deltron 3030: Event II album was dropping by the end of the year. He gave us a little taste of the hip-hop opus and played a few tracks from the album while joyfully showering us with pretzel sticks and candy. Money Mark – talented former Beastie Boys keyboardist – then took over and impressed us with his ventriloquism and piano skills. Cut Chemist also came out to jam on the turntables. Who could possibly be next? Why, Rian Johnson (director of “Looper”) strumming on the banjo and Bryan Lee O’Malley (creator of “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) playing the keyboards! NYC-based comedian Adira Amram and her fierce back-up dancers then added some sass to the show. Ah, these were the aforementioned “dancing girls”! With colorful outfits that were constantly changing throughout the show and high-energy dance routines, the trio demanded attention to the stage. I must note here that this show took place on November 1st, when NYC was still in the throes of Hurricane Sandy. The three women drove to Montreal through storm-ravaged New York to catch a flight there to perform for us. I take my proverbial hat off to them – that’s dedication. Quite the opening act, this hodgepodge of multi talented celebrity artists, and it was just the warm-up to the real show.
Kid Koala came on stage for act II and joked about wanting to have a light show to accompany his tour, but “Ninja Tune spent all their money on Amon [Tobin]’s show.” He asked the audience, “Do y’all mind if I play some records?” And proceeded to blow everyone away with his masterful mixing and scratching. Old Kid Koala standards were played along with songs off his new album as well as hip-hop favorites. At one point, the entire room was singing “The Whole World” by Outkast. Every so often he would pause and tell us a story. “Skanky Panky was playing on an episode of one of my favorite TV shows, Californication,” he shares, “but I couldn’t show it to my mom because the scene was set in a porn shop.” After a few songs, he briefly went backstage and came back on dressed in a koala suit. “I lost a bet, so now I have to wear this for a hundred concerts, “ he explained. Adira and her dancers kept the show at a high energy level with their ever-changing costumes and exuberant stage presence. My favorite routine was to “312 to 213” where the ladies were dressed as 50s style flight attendant and threw paper airplanes and flew a toy helicopter over the crowd. I also loved that they would oftentimes venture off stage to dance with the audience. Kid Koala himself would follow them into the crowd, hopping along to the beat of his handheld sampler. The dancing ladies and Kid Koala collectively encouraged audience participation in the form of a giant conga line, an impromptu limbo contest, and my favorite – an exciting kazoo battle! Puppets masterfully controlled by Adira and crew illustrated much of the 12-bit Blues album, each one intricately hand made and creatively utilized to demonstrate the different layers that make up each song. Before I knew it, it was time for the last song of the show. The perfect end to the night was Kid Koala’s rendition of “Moon River.” Ever the storyteller, he graced us with one more – this is his mother’s favorite song, and he remixed it in order to help her understand his craft.