Kid Koala is a world-renowned scratch DJ who has made a name for himself not only with his music, but also with his visual art. He has released three solo albums on Ninja Tune: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (2001), Some of My Best Friends Are DJs (2003), and Your Mom’s Favorite DJ (2006). He has also been involved in collaborations such as Gorillaz, Deltron 3030, and The Slew. He has toured with the likes of Radiohead, the Beastie Boys, Money Mark, John Medeski, A Tribe Called Quest, Mike Patton, Jack Johnson, DJ Shadow, and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. He has contributed to scores for Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Looper. We caught up with Kid Koala in the midst of his busy tour to talk shop. Read below for the full interview…
As an artist yourself, how does your artist capabilities help or hinder your creativity as a DJ? Does it add overall to your musical vision or does it make the process more stressful as a perfectionist?
Kid Koala: At it’s core, everything I do is storytelling. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s through pen and paper or turntables and magnetic tape.
1988 was pretty much the year there was a major upswing in people wanting to get into that profession. When you were first starting out, did you find it difficult to excel in an over-saturated market?
Kid Koala: I was 12 or 13 in 1988. So I was just starting high school when I was introduced to the whole scratch world. The idea of a “market” or even of playing turntables professionally was not really part of the motivation for me to start practicing. I wasn’t old enough to go to clubs or go see hip hop concerts in clubs. The first several years of my involvement with turntables was spent in isolation, listening to records and recording little experiments on a multitrack cassette recorder. It was more of an outlet for self expression through a craft. Some kids chose sports, some kids chose skateboards, I chose turntables.
You did some work on Scott Pilgrim, Looper, and other films. What was the main difference about contributing to a film then creating music normally?
Kid Koala: My first record experiences as a child where quite audio/visual. I used to spend hours as a young child (maybe four or five years old) listening to read-a-long storybooks… hearing the music and narration while reading the text and looking at the illustrations. It was a fully dimensional experience and the two worlds are closely related to me. So when I’m recording in the studio I always have some form of visual narrative in my mind. Scoring for film is kind of a natural progression of that process. I am a huge fan of the cinema and film score music. When I released Nufonia Must Fall and Space Cadet I recorded accompanying CD soundtracks for certain key scenes in the books. When I was invited to work on some musical cues for Edgar Wright or Rian Johnson, I was delighted as I am a huge fan of both of their films. They would just brief me on the scene and the intention of the music and I would get to work.
How is the hip-hop atmosphere in Canada right now?
Kid Koala: Alive and well! Canada actually hosted the first 5 shows from our Deltron 3030 Event II project. The music festivals and audiences there are very much interested in what is going on next and were interested in being the first to premiere shows. The Luminato festival in Toronto enabled us to rehearse, perform and tour with a 20 piece orchestra and choir to debut the new songs! Go Canada!
We know you’re actually a bit a ways away from Canada, having toured Paris and London on the Vinyl Vaudeville circuit. How has this tour treated you so far? Got any crazy stories?
Kid Koala: I’m accompanied by dancing girls, puppets, and robots on stage for this show. It was a bit of a gamble since this is outside my normal DJ SET and light show style of concert. But we’ve been overwhelmed with the response! We’ve already been invited back to Europe and UK to do more Vinyl Vaudeville gigs next season.
Tell us about the creative process behind 12bitBlues. What headspace were you in when developing the record?
Kid Koala: A lot of the music I love whether it’s jazz, hip hop or rock has it’s roots in the blues. All those musical roads eventually lead back to the Delta. That was such potent music. I just decided to do a turntable version of some of that music using pretty low tech equipment by today’s standards. I punched out the beats in real time without the use of a sequencer. I wanted it to be slightly off the grid and human in feeling.
What exactly does blues & ‘90s hip-hop style mean to you as a DJ and why did you choose it for the sound of the LP?
Kid Koala: It was more about a fascination with the technology that was used back then on those hip hop records… 12 bit samplers and turntables. Those were the main tools I used to make 12 bit Blues. There’s a gritty tone to that equipment. The sound is kind of smokey and dusted. A lot of the the other gear I used (synths, tube microphones, tape and oil can delays) are older than I am. There are ghosts in all of those machines. I just tried to let them have their say in the recordings.
Your videos have really cool, no edit shots. What challenges does this entail?
Kid Koala: I chose to do 1 take videos for this album because all the beats on the record were also punched out in one take. I wanted there to be a little urgency in the choreography and performance in the videos. They were a lot of fun to do. We laughed in the studio a lot as we filmed the 5 bit blues and 8 bit blues videos.
On the flipside, what kind of creative avenues can you explore with this method?
Kid Koala: There is always room for creativity. Even in the most restrictive situations. Having parameters usually will help unlock the creative decisions and workarounds. Such as, “We are going to shoot this video in one take” or “This SP1200 can only store 10 seconds of sound.” I see things like that as an opportunity to make creative decisions.
Do you have any favorite Asian films or Anime you could share with us?
Kid Koala: I like Wong Kar Wai’s work. I’ve also been watching a lot of Japanese drama films recently. There is a way those films deal with emotion that is both mysterious and beautiful. The film Oldboy from Korea was beautifully done! As for animation, all the Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli stuff continues to surprise and inspire!
Being a DJ I’m sure you hear a lot of music on the radio and think ‘man I could remix this so crazy’ or ‘I would add in a little of this’. Who are some artists out now that you would want to collaborate with?
Kid Koala: Karen O, Emiliana Torrini, Tom Waits, Woody Allen…
After you wrap up your tour, whats ahead in 2013 (besides a vacation)?
Kid Koala: Deltron 3030 Event II will be released so we’ll be on tour for that. I’ll also be continuing The Space Cadet Headphone Concerts in select cities. Also continuing work on a new graphic novel about mosquito that moves to New Orleans to join a jazz band.
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