Interview: Kid Koala
Date: November 1999
Location: South Bank, London
Words / interview: Des Berry
2010 : Setting the scene:
This was the second big one after DJ Vadim back in June of the same year. Me and Dan arrived at the old Ninja Tunes HQ down there on Clink Street, Southwark, London for what we hoped would be a quick interview. It turned out to be a whole day event which took in a visit to a games arcade and a late lunch on the south bank. I remember being pretty exhausted and a bit pissed off after this one. Anyway back to ’99!
Well the original plan for this piece was to go shopping with Kid Koala, buy the parts to build a fruit turntable, go back to Ollie ‘Herbaliser’ Teeba’s flat and build the thing. So armed with 101 fruity questions we met at Ninja Tune only to be told that watermelons are out of season and Ollie Teeba has not done the hoovering for a while. Quickly a new location is needed. Someone suggests Hamleys, the toyshop, but the idea of re-creating WW2 wit the tourists over some Pokemons was not to our liking. So we settled for blasting some aliens and zombies over at the Namco arcade under the shadow of the millennium wheel, on London’s south bank.
Kid Koala loves his arcade games. As the afternoon went on his advance for the album was plundered as we battled it out on ‘House Of The Dead’ and numerous other simulators and shoot em ups. After a humiliating go on one of those disco dancing games, followed by some disses from some locals we retired to the safety of a late lunch to discuss this ‘Carpel Tunnel Syndrome’.
‘Its like watching an episode of The Muppets if they had all just bought turntables and then did a huge routine’. This is how Canadian Eric San, aka Kid Koala, describes his eagerly awaited LP on Ninja Tune. ‘You can’t bop your head to it, you can’t dance to it, its hard to blend another beat into it and the scratching is really off beat. It’s all hand cut and theres no perfect timing. People are going to think I was drunk when I made it.’
Kid Koala is a turntabalist with a difference. Alongside DJ’s like the Scratch Piklz and The Executioners, Kid Koala is up there with the precision scratchers. But where others use well worn breaks, samples and vocals, Koala takes it to a different level mixing obscure breaks next to funny and funky material. ‘My target market is women over 40’, he laughs. ‘I create it on 3 turntables, building layers onto an 8 track recorder. The beats are 2 copies of something, back spun or beat juggled together. Its similar to the way the ‘Scratchyhappyland’ mix tape was put together. Theres no samplers or drum machines used’.
Its this style that grabbed Ninjas attention back in 1996. Since then remixes have come for label mates Coldcut and Vadim as well as collaborations with Money Mark & Handsome Boy Modelling School. Are there any collaborations on the new LP?
‘In the middle of a Montreal winter its hard to get people to fly over or even come round and visit. But I might be doing a track in the future with Blurum and I’d love to work with Bjork or maybe Sporty Spice!’
‘The LP was recorded at my apartment in the ‘Record Room’. Its a total mess in there. I live with my girlfriend and I have to put all the records in there’. Asked what she thinks of his, he replies, ‘she likes it as long as I keep my headphones on.’
Those lucky enough to have witnessed him in action on the recent Coldcut tour will have seen what appears to be Kid Koala’s total disregard for his vinyl. Does he have a safety net behind the decks?
‘Sometimes I’ll lay my jacket down, but if I destroy the record its time to learn some new tricks! I’ve got a lot of vinyl, but all of it is too heavy for me. Even 80 in a box and I need wheels on it. Those 120 boxes! Man they are instant hernia if you try to pick them up.’
Most of the records he uses are the result of many an hour searching through bargain bins, charity shops and second hand stores.
‘I’m not a rampant collector though. If I go into a shop and see something on the wall that looks cool I’ll go how much is that? One weeks rent! No way, because by the time I’ve put the needle on it, queued it up, I’ll have burnt the groove right out of it.’
With all the high profile DJ supports for the likes of Coldcut and the Beasties Boys has Kid Koala ever had the benefits of female groupies and their flying underwear?
‘No’ laughing, ‘I mainly get women over 40 coming to the gigs. No underwear gets thrown, but sometimes I get rocks. I prefer it softer like the toilet roll that got thrown at the Beasties concert. But hey thats really handy because it can support an unsteady deck.’
Alongside his own work Kid Koala can also be found teaming up with Montreal friends ‘Bullfrog’ for the occasional release.
‘Its punk country disco’ he laughs, ‘no its me and a rhythm section. Its got a heavy turntable slant but its kinda rootsy.’
With teenage DJs like A-trax coming its an example of how the popular sport of the DJ is reaching a wider and younger audience. Everybody wants to be a DJ, (‘everybody wants to be an MC’) buying a set of decks in order to reach the next DMC final. ‘Guys like A-Trax are super disciplined. I can call him up and I don’t need to ask what he’s doing. I can hear the clicking in the background. You can go into music stores and see grandparents with slipmatts and headphones they are buying for the kids. Theres gonna be some crazy styles coming up. Who knows these kids maybe pan flute prodigies and they’ll drop that in the mix! When I started I was a student and I had a paper round. That was how I got my first decks. I delivered a lot of papers. I couldn’t afford Technics, but a friend got some, he had a bigger paper round. Then he got bored so I borrowed them off him. Indefinitely.’
If t he hands get tired in the future, Kid Koala can always turn to his art skills. ‘I’m getting old. I gotta warm up before I go on. I wear mittens. But thats what this whole carpel tunnel syndrome is all about. It’s an anti-social thing we do. No sleep, no daylight and no food. But we can’t no do it. I’m always drawing when I’m not scratching.’
Alongside the asteroids type game, ‘Vinoids’ (where you have to battle it out against flying vinyl) the LP also comes with a 30 – page comic drawn by the Kid himself. Its a romantic tragedy concerning a DJ who battles against Club Nuphonia and the Nufons (no fun) ‘the type of people who go out to a club and have no fun. They are a nightmare crowd.’
The LP has track names like ‘Fender Bender’, ‘Drunk Trumpet’, ‘Temple of Gloom’ and ‘Music For Morning People’ a song about neighbours. Its something that anyone who lives in a block of flats can relate to (couple shagging, crap music from above and those early risers) ‘The song is about my old neighbour. I moved out. In fact we both did at the same time. I needn’t have if I’d known. The guy was into opera and his girlfriend used to sing along.’
Finally with the waiter chasing the bill, we get to use one our fruit questions. What are your favourite fruit? ‘Probably mangos, kiwis are nice. Things like oranges are the pop fruit, the Celine Dion of the fruit world.’
Originally published in Breakin’ Point 01.02 March / April 2000
Kid Koala – Carpal Tunnel Syndrome