Jumpin’ on the Kid’s beat

Kid Koala is scratching for a new breed of cats. Translation: The hip Montreal DJ is playing to a new audience. Moms.

Kid Koala is scratching for a new breed of cats.

Translation: The hip Montreal DJ is playing to a new audience.


But his Your Mom’s Favourite DJ tour hasn’t seen a lot of matriarchs so far.

“I’ve been relatively disappointed how many moms have been showing up,” Koala, a.k.a. Eric San, said from Montreal on Monday.

“All said, we’ve done about 40 shows in the US and Australia, and there have only been 10 moms.

“And one of them was my own — so nine.”

But all the moms had a good time, said Koala, who’s been approached by parents after the shows.

“People are proud, they’re showing off their parents, and I think that’s a good thing,” he said.

“And (moms) are less stand-offish than our peers. They come in, and they know they know better than everybody in the room.”

People don’t give their moms enough credit, said Koala, whose mom owns a turntable and records.

“That’s more than I can say for most people growing up these days,” he said.

“Fundamentally speaking, they may look at a turntable and understand and have a relationship towards it.

“So they might actually understand this craft of scratching innately better than someone who grew up in the digital age.

“But who cares, really?” he added with a laugh.

“It’s all about a good time.”

Although Koala’s mom is hip, jumping on her son’s beats at shows and rocking at home with her record player, she raised Koala on classical piano.

And at 12 or 13, he rebelled.

“When you’re a teenager you’re always trying to find your own thing to do,” he said.

“To sink your teeth into something you feel you could express yourself through.

“And scratching was definitely more relevant to me, just because it seemed to be a younger, more open craft than classical music.”

Turntables presented this whole other realm of possibility for Koala.

When he started scratching, it was a fresh, young scene with lots of room for innovation. And Koala was a pioneer.

“It just seemed like there was so much to be done, so much to be explored through it,” he said.

“And all the people who were doing it weren’t 500 years dead,” he added, referencing classical composers.

“They were maybe 15 or 20 years older than me.”

Scratching also suits Koala’s personality.

It’s a shy person’s craft, he said.

“There are certain personalities that can pick-up guitar and say poems over it, and then others that buy a bunch of equipment, read manuals, lock themselves in a room and listen to 1,000 records, then try and find bits to Frankenstein together into something interesting.

“I’m the latter.”

When he was young, Koala liked noise.

He liked making weird, bizarre sounds.

“And oddly enough, with turntables it used to be about that,” he said.

“Whatever you do, just make sure it’s fresh, it’s weird, it’s twisted, it’s like nothing you ever heard before.”

But as Koala and the whole turntable scene matured, it became clear that all these bizarre sounds needed to be tempered with harmonious vibrations.

“It came full circle, to the point where the freshest thing you could do on a turntable is actually play it melodically, or with some sort of feel, or some sort of emotion attached to the way you’re actually scratching,” said Koala.

Maybe it should be called adult contemporary scratching, he said with a laugh.

Appreciation for adult contemporary scratching usually kicks in with age, he added.

Young people pay microscopic attention to detail and enjoy music with many layers. But as they mature, get a job and raise a family, music becomes wallpaper.

“Then, after awhile, you get to that point, after parenthood, where you get re-into music,” said Koala.

“All of a sudden, there’s beauty in a lot of stuff, and what used to be cacophonous and irritating might all of a sudden become quite beautiful, clever and entertaining.

“I like to balance my sets between the beautiful and clever and the cacophonous and irritating,” he added with a laugh.

But it’s really all about having fun.

“And it takes everybody in the room to make a party, not just the person on stage,” said Koala, who learned this at a Maceo Parker show in the early ‘90s.

“I went in there with the idea, what are these old dudes going to teach me?” he said.

“I had that youthful arrogance.

“Then they came out with their suits on, dressed real sharp like they were going to work, and they had this serious professionalism. And the cat was 53 and played for five hours.

“And looking around the crowd there was this IBM computer programmer-type guy, like this cat in IT, and there was this lady next to me who must have been at least 50, from the old funk era coming to see her idol, and then there was a bunch of ravers and some hip hop kids.”

Maceo Parker took his time warming up, beginning with a 25-minute song.

“But within the course of the evening, everybody’s guard dissipated and everyone started jumping on the same beat, this computer programmer, this 50-year-old lady and me, some hip hop DJ and a bunch of ravers — everybody’s on it.

“And I realized this is what I want to do, when you see that connection between everything, and the music just serves as the thing that threads it all together — when you feel that energy in a room, it’s like nothing else.

“That sort of renewed my vows in live music.”

Koala spends a good part of each year on the road, and when he’s not playing, sleeping, eating, or doing a sound-check, he draws.

“When I get back from the gig, I don’t usually find somewhere even louder to go,” said Koala.

“I go back to the hotel room, play some quiet Billie Holiday records and start drawing until I fall asleep.”

Koala draws what he sees. But he also has a penchant for robots.

“They’re super smile-making,” he said.

“And because I’m lazy, you can draw robots and they emote different things without actually learning to do all the eyebrows.”

After publishing his first graphic novel (complete with soundtrack), Nufonia Must Fall, a story about a place where people have no fun all day, Koala’s started working on a second about mosquitoes.

It’s like a graphic novel, but instead of drawing panels, each image is created by photographing model rooms and clay characters.

“It’s actually quite time-consuming,” said Koala, whose studio is full of these miniature rooms.

“But everything I’m into is.

“I have this sort of penchant for super-labour intensive projects.”

Koala grew up in Vancouver and moved to Montreal in 1992 to study elementary education at McGill.

Although he taught Grade 1 for only six months after earning his degree, Koala still finds these worlds collide.

“One of the biggest hits on one of our last tours was when we played Nufonia bingo in the middle of a show,” said Koala. “And that was something I used to do in language arts period with my first graders.”

Even Koala’s CDs are reminiscent of youthful birthday party grab bags, coming with chess sets, comics, video extras, or cricket sounds.

“When I started making music, I didn’t write songs,” said Koala.

“I started making mix tapes for my friends, or back in high school you make a tape for your girlfriend.

“And you’d make the tape, but you’d also spend a lot of time doing the J-card, and writing little inside jokes.

“And I think all my albums are sort of advanced versions of that.

“I go in with the mind that I’m making a present for somebody. I really think of it like a loot bag — you get to take the party home with you.”

Koala is bringing his party to Whitehorse Saturday night, and he plans to “paint the town red.”

The show’s at the Yukon Arts Centre and starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25; children and seniors are $20.

Koala will also be giving a demo at Triple J’s Music Café, Saturday at 1 p.m.

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