Published Jan 01, 2006Computer software available to modern producers now seems unlimited, making once painstaking and time-consuming tasks as simple as a click of the mouse. One might think Kid Koala (née Eric San), would have taken advantage of the convenience when piecing together his sophomore release, Some of My Best Friends are DJs. But not only has Koala not given in to certain modern delights, he's complicated his quest to acquire the perfect noises for his oddball blend of hip-hop and comedic dialogue, deftly executed with his trademark touch on the turntables.
The Canadian scratch wizard prefers to make as many notes possible in a homemade fashion, like arts and crafts through hip-hop. With nothing more than his turntables, mixer and obscure vinyl treasures, Koala prefers pitch control fiddling over mouse clicking. "I like the hands on approach where you have to pitch it up or bend the notes and warp them out. That's a faster way for me to work. I know that they have pitch shift devices now and computers that could probably do that in ten minutes, and that's very depressing." Without his loving touch added to tracks like his rendition of "Basin Street Blues," in which he creates trumpet notes through scratching and manual pitch control, Koala's music would lack the fun and creativity that's defined him. He laughs about the effort that went into "Basin Street," the first single from Some of My Best Friends Are DJs. "That song took me months to do. Maybe I've got to step into the '80s. I'm way behind the times."
With "Basin Street Blues" Koala's effort pays off with a version of the heavily-covered classic he can call his own. Along with the manual trumpet effects, he handpicked each bass note from a variety of records, then puzzled them together to create a continuous blend. "In jazz, you're supposed to elaborate on how you feel through your instrument, so I scattered the bass line because I didn't want to just rip the whole bass solo off," he explains "It's a really, really tedious way of making a track when you think about it." It's exactly these slow-paced but highly creative productions that give Kid Koala tracks a much more organic feel, as if they were being played live by an unusual, highly animated cast of characters crammed in his bedroom.
His process is just a part of what makes him stand out as a musical treasure. Through numerous snippets of dialogue that he's lifted from his record collection, he is able to give his tracks a theme, including conversational dialogue where a man from one record is trying to get a date with a woman from another. "I found this sample where this elevator operator is yelling first floor, second floor' and I used that as a springboard to piece together a little ditty about a guy trying to pick people up in an elevator." The spoken selection only included the first two floors, so "if you listen to the track he's actually only going up and down one floor," Koala laughs. "Which as a concept was funny to me, to have an elevator operator and there's somebody who just hangs out in there with him working on his pick-up lines. Such a stupid idea that I thought, Okay, let's go with it.'"
His cut-and-paste style and sense of humour stems from years of listening to old comedy albums; those same records are also a huge source of sample material. "I get big cues from The Muppet Show and Monty Python records and the way they used to put their albums and movies together. My threshold for odd things is a bit higher than normal because I just got so into those shows and records as a child." These inspirations have culminated in numerous clever tracks that play out like scripts from Jim Henson's studio. "In my dreamy high school years the ideal job was to work on The Muppet Show," he reminisces. "I always thought that would be just hilarious. At the time I didn't realise that there would be art directors and set builders. I thought maybe it was the same few people that got to do everything. They would go build a set and then go write a song and then do a puppet show." Instead, he's directing audio plays on his own terms, with a cast of fictional characters created through samples, sound effects and organic beats, resulting in some of the most heart-warming hip-hop, jazz, ska and blues you'll ever hear through two turntables and a pair of hands.