Part marsupial, part herbivore: all koala. Montreal's musical mastermind Eric San (AKA Kid Koala) is in the midst of a whirlwind tour, making pit-stops everywhere from Randwick, Australia to Bordeaux, France. Derived from Greek, the scientific name for koala is phascolarctos cinereus and translates to "pouch bear." Kid Koala promises to bare all on January 12 at the Marquee.
"I'm an expert on the animal, by default," says San, calling from his home in Montreal. "People tend to offer up random facts about koalas whenever I meet them. My friends gave me the name years ago; I think it came from a sugary drink in the '80s. It was like an energy drink of sorts."
It's hard to keep tabs on Kid Koala, as his latest release, Your Mom's Favourite DJ, is a spastic sonic mosaic. The turntablist weaves a patchwork of sound, as he fuses his classical music training with dense layers of modern pop and indie-rock instrumentation. Whether he's using a snippet of an old Charlie Brown film clip, an old Billie Holiday song, people sneezing, or someone reading a menu in Cantonese, Kid Koala finds even the most mundane moments in life inspiring. Able to make the ordinary sound extraordinary, the displaced, pseudo-Australian has toured with the likes of Bjork and Radiohead. He crafts beats with artful precision and organic expression, bringing the role of a DJ to the next level.
"At the root, it's a very wide-open craft with endless possibilities. Initially I was drawn to the current, youthful expression," he says of his ever-developing skill. "I began with classical music, which is a bit of a one-way experience. I hated practicing when I was younger, though I had no trouble locking myself away for hours playing with records. It's good to get the technical down and then move on from there."
Kid Koala's discography includes 2000's Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, 2003's Some of My Best Friends Are DJs, 2005's DVD Live from the Short Attention Span Audio Theatre Tour!, and his latest, Your Mom's Favourite DJ, all released on the British label Ninja Tune.
Scratching records is only the beginning of his talents. In addition to creating illustrations for the new album's artwork, the visual virtuoso released a full-length graphic novel, Nufonia Must Fall (accompanied by a self-composed soundtrack), and has another yet-to-be-titled 3-D-scale volume in the works, about a mosquito who moves to the big city.
"It's not a dialogue-based story, as my stories rarely have text," he says. "I'm always writing from a place that I understand, situations that happen in life or on tour. I'm always taking notes while I'm tripping through life."
Kid Koala describes the creative process as rather labour-intensive, with some musicians spending a month or two in the studio concocting their album. He spends years dissecting individual sounds, adding layer upon layer, one instrument or sound-clip at a time.
He describes this experience with a quirky, child-like metaphor. "It's a bit like a building made out of Lego," he says. "It's quite inspiring but you're not quite sure you'd want to make one yourself. It's an incredibly tedious process and it takes me 5,000 times longer than most."
At 33, Kid Koala continues to metamorphosize. The recently wed marsupial has been an elementary school teacher (a gig lasting just over six months), an internationally acclaimed DJ and an illustrator and is currently in the midst of working on another project with some "bad-ass Seattle friends," under the alias The Slew.
Last time he was in town, the multi-dimensional artist celebrated his 30th birthday. The event was an evening of "cacophonous enthusiasm," equipped with an enormous turntable birthday cake.
"Halifax is always a party," he says.
Kid Koala proves one can have their cake and eat it too, as there is no need to pigeonhole creativity. It's best to work with whatever means are at your disposal and move on from there. "I'm as much a mosquito or a robot as I am a koala," he says in relation to the visual and audio characters he creates. "I guess it all stems from somewhere."