Koala’s beats

The busy Montreal DJ brings his decks to Halifax. Johnston Farrow talks to him about being a multimedia hyphenate.

photo Paul Labonte

Kid Koala possesses a short attention span. That’s not a knock—he freely admits he has an overactive mind—but it goes a long way to explain his creative process. Kid Koala (AKA Eric San) is a man who can ingest much more information than the common person and make it into something exciting and original. At the moment, he has a handful of projects on the go, not to mention a busy gigging schedule, including his April 15 appearance at the Marquee Club with fellow Ninja Tune artist and former Haligonian Sixtoo, and local turntablist DJ Anderoc. None of it seems to faze him.

“Here’s my theory: You can listen to a track like ‘Basin Street Blues,’ and even though it might be five minutes long, you’ve listened to about 200 records,” San says from his home in Montreal. “And whether you know it or not, on a subliminal level, that’s a lot of information. I’m always trying to be near the threshold, but never past it. Otherwise people would be having seizures.”

The 31-year-old turntablist has been working in music since 1988, but he burst into public consciousness with his debut LP Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in 2000, now considered a classic album of inventive, avant- garde electronic music. It landed him critical acclaim as well as lucrative opening slots for some of the world’s best bands, including Radiohead. Since then, he’s been one of the most in-demand live DJs in the world.

Yet, the DJ label is a misleading term—Kid Koala does much more than play records. His sets are often hour-long mash-ups of multiple musical genres. It’s not uncommon for him to go from standard jazz tunes to Björk to Cypress Hill in the span of a minute, mixing and scratching the songs into a format that transforms the records into his own style. It’s an impressive sight to behold and a fantastic aural experience.

More impressive is when Koala experiments outside the traditional two-turntable set-up. Often he will perform using three or even four decks. It’s this mad wizardry that will find itself recorded as a yet-to-be-named mix-tape to be released in the fall. It will be his first since 1997’s Scratchappyland.

“On the recording, I’ve been collecting these odd little bits of records that I’ve wanted to use, but for whatever reason, they didn’t fit on any other of the projects I’m working on,” San says. “At one point it just tipped the scales and I thought it was going to turn into its own little thing. I have a multi-track reel-to-reel recorder and I just looped it up, hit record and just see where it went.”

Also an accomplished pencil artist, Koala is also working on a new graphic novel with the working title the book about the mosquito who is trying to play the clarinet. The novel will also include a soundtrack written and performed by him, much like his 2003 graphic novel Nufonia Must Fall.

“We decided—Louisa Schabas and I—to do it in 3-D,” San says. “So she’s been building sets and I’ve been making characters, so right now my house is completely packed with these scale models of everything—this little city, little country town and all these characters. We’re going to shoot every panel as a photo. The first chapter took six weeks to do.”

On top of those projects, there’s the 2005 CD/DVD package, Live From the Short Attention Span Audio Theatre. He recently recorded a song “Fruit Belt” with the humourous, synth-playing barmaid Lederhosen Lucil for a kids-themed record on Paper Bag Records. And he’s also recording parts for the newest Deltron 3030 release with the well-respected underground producer Dan the Automator.

While most acclaimed artists might feel pressure to produce something even better than the previous project, Kid Koala takes on each task as a brand-new possibility. Like the jazz artists he likes to listen to, it keeps his creative ability fresh and his imagination flowing. If he gets bored with one idea he can pick up another, much like his records.

“I think the main challenge is keeping yourself interested,” San says. “This has always been a life-long pursuit for me. I just look at someone like Thelonious Monk to see the level that he took it. And I’m just scratching the surface, so to speak.”

Kid Koala w/Sixtoo and DJ Anderoc, April 15 at the Marquee Club, 2037 Gottingen, 10pm, $12.50/$18, 451-1221

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