kid koala is an artist i've admired for a long time, but who i didn't get a chance to see until this year, but what a year it's been. i saw him spin about a month ago when, at my invitation, he came to my (soon-to-be-ex-) college to do a set for us. that was so awesome that i decided to go see him in portland last weekend as well. koala (real name: eric san) not only remembered me, but we talked for a while as well, and i got some good koala gossip. first off: there's gonna be a new deltron. koala and dan (the automator) have finished the beats and samples, and del is working on rhymes right now. so fuck yeah. more album news: there's gonna be a new lovage. apparently, there was a lot of tension between mr. patton and ms. charles on tour, but that's been resolved, and there could be a new lovage by 2009. here's hoping. more gossip at the end of the post.
kid koala is probably one of the nicest people i've ever met, in the entertainment industry or outside of it. behind the decks, the most common expression he wears is a smile, and he talks to everyone who wants a moment of his time after the show. he's currently on tour in europe, having just wrapped up an east coast launch for his new album, your mom's favorite dj, which you should buy directly from ninja tune here. i'll be honest; i liked some of my best friends are djs a lot more than the new album. your mom's has less of the bluesiness i liked of best friends and more aggressive samples, like the heavy guitar line that opens the album. but it's still a kid koala album, and he's still better than pretty much every other dj out there, but without the press. i would even suggest that he's a little publicity-shy, avoiding matchups like madvillain, and is more content to add the gloss to projects like deltron and lovage than to assert himself as a major force in the turntable world. which is a damn shame, because his work is just as good as madlib's or shadow's (and way better than the new rjd2), and he's getting no tour support while your mom's barely made it on the radar last year, when it was actually released. however, his portland show sold-out, and people were getting turned away at the door, so he's doing something right.
some local folks opened the gig, a recently formed trio of sontiago, dilly dilly, and gabe fm, a freak-folk rapping mix with dj support. dilly dilly will soon be touring as part of sage francis's backing band (she's the one on the right in the photo), and she contributed more of the freak-folk vibe. sontiago, the lady on the left, alternated between singing and rapping, and they even invited a few guests up on stage. i didn't catch either of their names, but one must have been a local opera singer, who sang backup harmony on one enchanting song. the other was an MC, probably a local one as well. their set was nice, but not something i'd listen to in my spare time. as far as i was concerned, the sooner they finished, the sooner koala went on.
even when their set ended, though, i was stymied. a beatboxer named chas took the mic for two, well, songs, for lack of a better word. i saw rahzel for free last year, and was really disappointed by this whole beatboxing thing, but chas was pretty good. he kept it short, timing his little interlude perfectly, in fact, so that he merely whet our appetites before kid koala took the 'tables.
i want to apologize for the picture quality and lighting...the space (name of the venue) decided to forgo any actual illumination for koala's set, leaving him drenched in red light. i took some pictures with the flash, but that virtually eliminated any chance of seeing the projection behind him. i hope you can live with them.
he opened his set with the starting sample from your mom's favorite dj; most appropriate, as this tour is a launch for the album. after that song, though, i couldn't tell you where he went at all. he spun for over an hour and a half, flipping records like they wuz nuthin. he was traveling with the same case of records as i'd seen him spin at school, so most of the samples were the same, but his mixes are always so fresh that it barely seemed similar. he also dropped some records that he hadn't before, and that was really exciting. there was even some godspeed you! black emperor in the mix ("the dead flag blues," one of my favorite godspeed songs), alongside his more conventional fare of ray charles or m.i.a.
as awesome as his freestyle mixing is, i do like koala's songs the best, especially his cover of johnny mercer's "moon river." he plays it quite frequently, im assuming, since i saw it at each of his shows, because it's his mom's favorite song. and, damn, does he do it justice. the original song is good, yes, but when you watch san pick up the needle and put it exactly on the right groove in the vinyl, producing the perfect note...why, it's nearly a religious experience. it is breathtaking, literally. my videos of "moon river" didn't come out well (definitely time for a new camera), so i've posted an official ninjatune video of the song below.
from my perspective, the crowd was pretty crappy, a lot of drunk douchebags and overaggressive pricks (not to mention the far-too-white-to-breakdance breakdancers), but they all were very vocal in their love for koala's scratching. and, really, it is something very special and unique. thanks to his mini spy camera, the audience gets to see how his hands move over the tables and mixer, taking a self-explanatory form of media (the LP), and making music with it that the original artist could never have imagined. his hands are usually a blur as he scratches and spins and distorts the sounds to create new sounds. as i said above, kid koala seems perfectly happy and totally comfortable behind the tables, and his own joy and passion definitely inspired the crowd as well. by the time san was winding down his encore with rage against the machine's "guerilla radio," the audience was jumping and screaming with joy.
kid koala is currently touring without any support, only himself, his wife, his records, and their cases of merchandise, and i believe he's having a hell of a time doing it. he's the most approachable guy ever, and one of the humblest i've ever seen (one kid came up to him and told him he was legendary. san shrugged it off and said thanks.). you can buy all of kid koala's records at the ninja tune store (or at his show), and you should. at the end of his set, san thanked the crowd and the venue for supporting underground music, because it's something that so few people "get." kid koala puts on a great show, and for more than a fair price. he loves his job (though who wouldn't?) and he makes people happy. i'm happy to shell out a couple bucks for that.
i've posted "shanky panky" at the end of the post; it's from some of my best friends are djs, and it could be my favorite studio track of his (though "nerdball" is a close second). do yourself a favor and go see him, and while you're there, enjoying yourself as much as he is, buy an album or apron.
kid koala - "shanky panky"
p.s. i forgot to mention the rest of the gossip. san really digs his labelmate fog's music, he's working on a project to be recorded under "the slew" moniker, and he and his wife (who happens to be a set designer) are working together on an as-yet untitled project about mosquitoes who play jazz. i assume it will be much like nufonia must fall, a book packaged with accompanying tunes, and san told me that he's making the mosquitoes from clay and then photographing them in the sets his wife built. should be fucking awesome. another release from kid koala can't come soon enough.