Kid Koala is respected the world over for his unique mastery of vinyl, creating mesmerising tracks full of narrative and lightning quick scratch work. And you know someone is good when the likes of Arcade Fire and Amon Tobin doff their hat. The man is on fire right now!
Since emerging from the clubs around Canada and Detroit, he has been scratching his way into the public conscious with his unconventional turntable skills, incorporating a discord of influences, from blues, to Monty Python, to heavy rock. He's playing in Islington O2 Academy soon as part of the "12 Bit Blues! The Vinyl Vaudeville Tour". See the links at the bottom of this article for ticket info.
The Guestlist Network caught up with Kid Koala in a hotel in Geneva recently, where he discussed everything from his love of Delta Blues to a new puppet musical about zombies and ramen noodles. Check it here.
Hi, how are you today?
Fine, thank you.
What’s the view like where you are right now?
I'm on the top floor of this hotel in Geneva in the breakfast room with panoramic views of the city. I guess the word would be "breathtaking".
How do you remember those early days handing out demos of Scratchcratchratchatch?
Actually, I left a few copies at 3 or 4 local record shops to see if anyone would be interested in hearing it. When I went back a few days later all the shop owners said they had sold out and wanted me to bring them more! All the other tapes they had available were mixes with summer "jams" on them etc. Mine was more of a collection of narrative turntable experiments I made on a 4 track recorder.
Technology has dictated that is it very easy for people to share music now, i.e. SoundCloud, Myspace. Do you prefer this new technological age? Or was it better when you could trade physical cassettes and CDs?
I remember the first time I played in Detroit a girl asked me to sign her dubbed copy of Scratchcratchratchatch on a maxell cassette. I was astonished that it had reached Detroit because I had never played there before. She said a friend of hers had picked up the tape from one of those 3 shops in Montreal and enjoyed it so much that he dubbed it on a blank cassette, put it in an envelope, stamped it and sent it to her.
She in turn copied it for a bunch of her friends and they'd all been listening to it for months! Plus they were all at the show! I had somehow found an audience in a city I'd never been to. Nowadays, sharing music is much easier, but I still think it's the enthusiasm of your friends who know your tastes whose opinion you'll trust the most. Most of my stuff has caught on that way. Word of mouth seems to work both in the digital and analogue domains.
Where did the name ‘Kid Koala’ come from?
My mother used to buy this sugary Koala juice drink when I was a kid. If you came over to the house you were always offered it as a beverage. My friends in high school started calling me 'Koala Kid' because there were empty bottles of Koala drink all over my basement studio.
And was the ‘Koala’ costume a later addition or has it always been there?
I lost a bet and now have to wear a koala costume on stage for 100 shows. It's a long story, but I was stupid enough to make the bet so now I have to hold up my end of the bargain. It wasn't that bad in the winter but during some of the outdoor shows this past summer I was absolutely MELTING!
So you grew up in Canada. Was turntablism a big deal over there when you were young? If not, what sounds were?
There weren't any DJs in town that could show me the ropes. I wasn't old enough to get into the clubs to see hip hop concerts. I pretty much had to learn a lot of the scratch techniques by listening to records and experimenting. I heard a lot of classical music because I played piano from a young age. My older sister listened to a lot of New Order and Depeche Mode. I got into that music through her influence.
How did you get into scratching? What equipment did you learn on?
I was 12 when I started scratching records. One of the first times I scratched a record was on this DIY gramophone science kit I had as a child. It came with a flexi record with some sounds on it. I was fascinated by how the words sounded when you slowed them down or played them backwards.
We have packaged the 12 bit Blues album with a similar science kit so people can build their own cardboard gramophone. I wanted to provide that opportunity for the next generation of kids because it’s so much fun and still amazes me. Thomas Edison was a genius.
My sister also had a hifi system in her room. It was a turntable/radio/cassette player all built into one machine. When I first practiced scratching I didn't have a mixer. I would just switch the sound from phono turntable to some quiet radio static. I made my first slipmat from a waxpaper burger wrapper from A&W.
You have worked with Amon Tobin in the past, a man whose live shows are famed around the world for their otherworldly quality. How was that?
Amon is good friend and an amazing producer. We made a track together called 'Untitled' because we were both too lazy to name it. We will be doing a whole album together soon.
You often incorporate a lot of disconnected samples into your music and make it work, while keeping it fresh and funny. Is humour important to your style?
My first 3 albums might fit more in the comedy section than in the dance section. It was more informed by being raised on Monty Python and The Muppet Show than by club culture. They were storytelling records essentially. The Slew was more of a loud rock record. Space Cadet was a classical piano/turntable soundtrack to the book of the same name.
That story was about life, death, and cycles of generations. Many people have told me that Space Cadet had made them cry or compelled them to phone and reconnect with their parents. I thought that was an amazing response to the work. Turntables are chameleons and I'm glad that they can run through that wide range of emotion.
You recently said Blues were a major influence. Who are your favourite Blues artists? Tell us a bit about the album ‘12 Bit Blues’?
Charley Patton and Son House are a couple of my favourite Delta Blues singers. I made 12 bit Blues by using an outdated 12 bit machine called an SP1200. It's an iconic machine that was used to make many classic hip hop records. I was finally able to get one about 3 years ago but instead of making a hip hop record, I decided to make a blues album.
What have you got in store for the remainder of 2012 and next year?
I'm on the road with the 12 bit Blues Vinyl Vaudeville Tour. It's a show we have created complete with dancing girls, puppets, robots, turntables and giant gramophones. It is quite a spectacle and a hilarious night of entertainment. After this tour, Deltron 3030 will be releasing Event II and touring with a full string section and choir.
The Slew will be recording a follow up album to '100%' early next year. And finally, I've been working on a puppet musical about zombies and ramen noodles. I've recorded the score on 70s and 80s synths and it features some guitar work by James from Yo La Tengo. That will also be a show like no other!
Thanks for your time today.
For more info on Kid Koala's upcomming show at the O2 Academy in Islington, check the SoundCrash page here