Kid Koala gets the au­di­ence in­volved A


The Georgia Straight - - Music - By

Mike Usinger

du­la­tion and end­less ac­co­lades are great for one’s ego, but at some point Kid Koala de­cided that maybe there was a deeper, more grat­i­fy­ing way to con­nect with au­di­ences.

“Hav­ing toured, pretty much non­stop, for the past 20 or so years, there’s this risk of go­ing into au­topi­lot,” says the Van­cou­ver-raised le­gend born Eric San, on the line from his adopted home of Mon­treal. “You get to a cer­tain com­fort level.”

Un­leash­ing peals of in­fec­tious laugh­ter—some­thing that he does of­ten dur­ing the in­ter­view—he adds: “Some­times it’s al­most like a Pavlo­vian sit­u­a­tion. Like ‘If I play this, I know that the crowd will do that’ kind of thing. So at some point you find your­self go­ing, ‘There has to be some­thing else—more to life than the kind of tour­ing you’ve been do­ing.’ No dis­re­spect to that kind of tour­ing, be­cause I re­ally en­joyed it at the time. But I think that more re­cently, it’s been about ‘Can we cre­ate some ex­pe­ri­ences?’”

San has been do­ing just that with Satel­lite, a mul­ti­me­dia live per­for­mance spun out of his 2017 al­bum Mu­sic to Draw To: Satel­lite, which he’s bring­ing to the West Coast for the Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val. As has of­ten been the case for the past two decades, dur­ing which he’s risen from hot-shot scratch DJ to one of the coun­try’s most in­no­va­tive cre­atives, the 43-year-old will find him­self on-stage for the event.

But what’s dif­fer­ent for au­di­ence mem­bers this time out is that rather than sit­ting and watch­ing—and oc­ca­sion­ally scream­ing re­quests for “Drunk Trum­pet”—they’re part of the show. At­ten­dees sit at ta­bles, each fea­tur­ing mul­ti­coloured cus­tom 7-inch records and a turntable. Over the course of the per­for­mance, they are in­structed to drop the nee­dle on records cued from the stage, adding lay­ers of tex­ture to the am­bi­ent works San spins on-stage. When a red light comes on on the turntable, that means reach for the red 7-inch; the same goes for pur­ple, with blue saved for the show’s grand fi­nale.

San says there’s an im­por­tant rea­son for mak­ing the crowd part of the creative process.

“When the al­bum [Mu­sic to Draw To: Satel­lite] was fin­ished, we found our­selves go­ing ‘How is this go­ing to make sense con­tex­tu­ally?’” he re­lates. “I was like, ‘I could just do up­tempo ver­sions of the songs, put drums on ev­ery­thing, and mash it all into a club set.’ But the point of it was that the vibe was sup­posed to be a lit­tle more down­tempo and am­bi­ent. I’ve never been to many am­bi­ent shows, and I think there’s a rea­son for that: it’s prob­a­bly not that in­ter­est­ing to watch the mu­sic be per­formed, you know?

“So with Satel­lite,” Koala con­tin­ues, “it was about tak­ing pro­duc­tion tech­niques, like lay­er­ing mul­ti­ple har­monies on dif­fer­ent turnta­bles, and then task­ing the au­di­ence with that part of it. If I was to do that live, I would need, like, 26 arms and 26 turnta­bles. I’d be run­ning around like crazy, and that would cause a dis­con­nect be­cause what I’d want com­ing out of the speak­ers would be some­thing as close to the record as pos­si­ble: this slo-mo, evolv­ing, some­times quite tran­quil mu­sic.”

Part of the chal­lenge of or­ches­trat­ing those in the au­di­ence is get­ting that no­tion of tran­quil­lity across.

“In do­ing these shows, we’ve found that peo­ple do have an ur­gency when you cue them for cer­tain sec­tions,” he says with an­other laugh. “Be­cause they have to play the dif­fer­ent records that are colour-coded, some peo­ple who aren’t overly adept at even putting a nee­dle on a record have a bit of a per­for­mance anx­i­ety. So what I’ve learned, over the last few shows any­way, is that I have to start with a bit of a tu­to­rial. It’s like, ‘I’m here to talk you through this—it’s go­ing to be okay and fine, even if you come in a bar late or some­thing.’ As a law of av­er­ages, when you’re talk­ing all 50 sta­tions, some peo­ple are go­ing to be right on time, some peo­ple will be de­layed, some peo­ple will be scratch­ing their turntable the whole night, and oth­ers will let it play. De­spite all that, you still get that har­mony hap­pen­ing.”

And as for those who don’t hit their marks?

“Those sort of out­side cases—the per­son who’s late, or the per­son who’s scrib­bling and scratch­ing and not ac­tu­ally hit­ting the pitch—add to the in­ter­est of the sound. I re­mem­ber think­ing be­fore we’d done one of these, ‘This is 50 live turnta­bles in a room. And this could sound so, so aw­ful.’ The op­por­tu­nity was there for it to be hor­ri­ble and chaotic. But the way it’s set up, the pac­ing of the show, and how we’re kind of in­ter­act­ing with the crowd—it’s sur­prised me the nu­ances from the au­di­ences. Es­pe­cially be­cause some of them have never touched a turntable be­fore.”

Au­di­ences range from small kids and par­ents to those in be­tween.

“The shows de­pend on the mood, the ine­bri­a­tion level, the age of the crowd—there’s lit­er­ally all these dif­fer­ent fac­tors,” San says. “I re­mem­ber one show in Toronto—it was an af­ter­noon show where a lot of par­ents brought their kids. We were record­ing most of the set, and I re­mem­ber lis­ten­ing back. I don’t know what the right word is, but maybe let’s say there was a taste­ful­ness to the way that they were play­ing. I think a lot of them had never touched a record player be­fore. But we have a mae­stro, Fe­lix, who’s up there con­duct­ing in terms of am­pli­tude and vol­ume level. I think be­cause they are kids they were able to fo­cus on that, pay at­ten­tion, and sort of fol­low his con­duct­ing in a way that had a real sweet­ness to it. It was al­most like hear­ing a chil­dren’s choir.”

In many ways, San sees Satel­lite as a way of get­ting back to his younger years, a time when he was dis­cov­er­ing not only mu­sic but also a love of draw­ing and comics that en­dures to­day.

“One of the big­gest mis­matches at the be­gin­ning of my ca­reer was that I was play­ing, ex­clu­sively, night­clubs and dance clubs. I didn’t come from that cul­ture—i came from more sort of a scratch­ing, mix-tape, nar­ra­tive cul­ture. A lot more theatre and cin­ema in­flu­ences. This was a case of ‘Okay, let’s try and do a show that brings in some of those other dis­ci­plines.’”

In a way, he adds, that puts al­most ev­ery­one who shows up on the same play­ing field. The goal for his Satel­lite shows, Koala says, isn’t to prove that you’re a con­tender for the next Red Bull 3Style cham­pi­onship, but in­stead that you can play well with oth­ers in a creative set­ting.

“The kids are equipped with the ex­act same equip­ment we’ve given the drunk adults from Satur­day night’s show,” he says with a huge laugh. “Even if they are go­ing ‘Wait, what does this knob do, what does this but­ton do, is this the wrong colour?’ at the be­gin­ning, ev­ery­one has a hoot. You re­ally don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen un­til ev­ery­one is in the room to­gether, and that’s what I love about it. That’s what keeps the show from get­ting stale.”

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