He opened for Radiohead's summer 2001 tour. He spins with a jazz band, Bullfrog. His sample-infested Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (Ninja Tune album, 2000) earned him a reputation as a scratchadelic boy wonder, a rep cemented by his involvement with the hip-hop collective Deltron 3030. He illustrates his own comic books and animated videos, and he's even working on a graphic novel. “It's a romantic tragedy about a robot,” says 26-year-old Eric San, aka Kid Koala.
But whatever pot he has his hands in, one thing remains consistent: Kid Koala tells stories. “There's stories in songs; there's stories in sounds,” he says. His obsession with wallflowers, outcasts, and shy people in general is evident in most of his work and particularly so in the crackly old spoken-word records from which he pulls his quirky samples. As the baby-faced sample slinger embarks on a record hunt, he gives a glimpse of what makes a good sample.
The day begins at Kid Koala's quaint little pad in Montreal's hipster district — a shared house that doubles as his studio when he's in town, which isn't that often. He's just putting the final touches on his forthcoming mix CD for Ninja Tune, a moody, downtempo joint featuring artists such as Boards of Canada, Björk, and new Ninja find Ben Obo. Not much scratching is on the disc, which may surprise die-hard Kid Koala fans.
“It's not as short-attention-span inspired as my scratching,” says Kid Koala. “This is the music I listen to, my favorite songs that survived the repeat-play test. The tempos are so different you can't really beat-match; a lot of it just sort of morphs. It's the type of metaphysical winter thing to meditate on, a good record to be alone with. Or you can be with someone you know really well or want to know really well. Maybe it came out that way because I live in Canada and the climate is different.”
Disquivel is at the top of Kid Koala's list and is run by two human encyclopedias of music, Bruno Tanguay and Marco Boileau (who bear an amazing resemblance to Jay and Silent Bob — in a good way, of course). Located on a street separating the urban-cool neighborhood from the sketchy hooker block, this used-record shop possesses a no-frills, ghetto-retro vibe. Worn-out wood-paneled walls house relics such as a mini rubber Godzilla. Tanguay is delighted to see Kid Koala, who hasn't been shopping as much since he's been on tour.
After catching up with his friends, Kid Koala ignores the store's new-release sections and marches directly to the Bizarro/Exotica area, eight deep bins chock-full of weird sound effects, obscure spoken-word albums, and cultural oddities dating back to the nifty '50s. “This is my favorite section. It's mostly stuff people are embarrassed to buy,” he says, grinning as he pulls from his record bag a battery-powered miniturntable, which he places on top of the record bins as naturally as a baker sets out buns to cool.
“Air-eeek, I have something for you,” says Tanguay in a charming French accent, rushing off to the back and returning with what looks like just another record. He hands it to Kid Koala, whose eyes practically pop out of his head. “This is pretty much the coolest thing I've seen in my life,” he says in disbelief. It turns out the surprise isn't a record, but a jigsaw puzzle shaped like a record — a broken record. “This is exactly what I do,” he says, “take little pieces of records and put them together.”
Kid Koala begins methodically thumbing through the stacks, looking for that unusual je ne sais quoi to catch his eye. When he finds something that looks like it might sound interesting, it goes in his listening pile and gets the turntable tryout. Potentially cool samples generate a huge smile, whereas rejects get tossed. Fascinated, he goes through every piece of vinyl in the section.
“These are the records owned by the nerds of the universe,” Kid Koala says, holding up a '50s-era cover that promises to teach the listener How to Throw a Perfect Dinner Party. “This is the history of people who spent lots of time alone. They grew up, got a wife and kids, and their records ended up here. The loneliness — put your hands on these records, and you can feel it.”
Indeed, the shop practically smells of memories of lonely guys who just didn't fit in and tried to learn people skills from how-to records. Kid Koala's sample hunt is like an archeological dig through outcast history: kitschy cover art, wacky melodies, and smeared fingerprints on an album's sleeve reveal long-buried layers of America's awkward sociological past. “I have a record that tells you how to date women, but you listen to it alone,” he says. “It tells you how to comb your hair and how to meet her father. You can imagine the intimate moments of some kid in the '50s who was like, ‘I don't know what to say.’ Then he saw the record advertised in the back of a comic book and bought it. You can almost go there, feel how he felt. It's cool.”
Kid Koala's original tracks are often inspired by the fantastic stories that the records tell. “I'm working on a track that's a job interview, so I listen to records with that filter in my mind,” he says. “When I did ‘Barhopper,’ I was listening for anything that could be turned into a dumb pick-up line.” He lifts a worn EP called Bubbles out of the bins. “See? I think I could use that in the bubble-bath song I just decided I was gonna write,” he proclaims. “It all starts with the record.”
Kid Koala holds up an album titled Music for Readers. The sleeve pictures a '40s pinup ingenue lounging by a fireplace, reading. “When my book comes out, I'll find this woman and get her to sit the same way,” he says. “Do you think people will get it?” He pauses, reading the tracklist. “‘Claire de Lune’ is a beautiful song.” Next, he stumbles across a quirky sound-effects record. “Look,” he says, pointing to markings on the back cover. “Somebody already checked off ‘Toilet Flush’ and ‘Urinal Flush.’ [Disquivel has] two copies of it, so I can loop it!”
Here are the other obscurities that gave Kid Koala warm and fuzzy feelings:
Accordion in Hi-Fi
I just watched Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain [a French film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet], and there was accordion music in it. I was very inspired by that film. There should be more accordion in turntable music. I have a weird gravitation toward the south of France.
The Makers of History: Abraham Lincoln
I bought this so I can keep up on my history when I'm not in school. Quiz me in a month, and I should know everything. The sounds are interesting, and the voices are quite serious in tone, which is always funny. When you hear someone trying to sound serious, that's funny. I'll mess with the pitch to make it sound like a question or freak it to flip the context. When I'm listening to records, I'm usually doing something else: knitting, accounting, playing Tetris.
Vampire and the Harpsichord
This is from 1974, the year I was born. It also has this insert featuring ads for other records you can order. It's like a little time capsule for me. You know — scary, spooky stuff good for DJing a Halloween party.
Singer Education and Training Product
SVE Innovation Records
This is an educational, narrative record. These are usually acted out very dramatically by vocal-actor people. It has four myths, like “Theseus and the Minotaur.” There are little questions here, discussion topics, vocabulary lists. “Enchantedness.” There's a word I don't use very much. “Smitten.” See? I like it already. It was probably in an elementary school somewhere for story time. I like listening to stories.
Environmental Sounds: Nature's Music Recorded Live on This Planet
I don't know who bought this originally; probably someone who lived in the city. You get weird birds, frogs, streams, and other nature stuff. This will be good for the changeover at a Bullfrog show. If we have to move our gear or something, I'll put this on and turn the whole club into a marsh until we're ready to play.
How to Charleston
This features Betty White, the prominent authority on popular dancing. I don't make dance music, I never actually went to nightclubs, and I don't know how to dance. Maybe this record can help me get into the mood of dance culture. Sometimes I'm booked into these dance clubs, and it's like, “Oh, this is gonna hurt.” Apparently, this is the “easiest way to learn to dance,” so I'm set. Next time I'm in a club, I'll break out the Charleston but with conviction. This whole mail-order, correspondence-school, record-learning culture intrigues me: people a bit too shy to learn in a room full of people practice alone, get really dope, and then go out and shock people.
Music for Courage and Confidence
I'm gonna put this in the crate and play it in the clubs 'cause maybe there'll be this lonely guy or girl sitting in the corner of the disco, eyeing someone. But she might not have the courage to ask him to dance. I watch that. I keep my eyes on the dynamics of the people on the wall. Next time, if I see that happening or if the dance floor isn't coupling up fast enough, I'll put this on to inspire people to ask each other to dance. Maybe it'll facilitate first dates. It never occurs to me that they could be standing on the wall because I don't play good dance music!
Disquivel; 1587 Boulevard St. Laurent; Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2X 2S9; tel. (514) 842-1607
Check out www.kidkoala.com for more info about Kid Koala.