Vancouver-born, Montreal-based Eric “Kid Koala” San has performed all across the globe as a member of Bullfrog, Deltron 3030, Gorillaz, Lovage and Money Mark. He’s also one of the best known DJs in the world, having opened for The Beastie Boys and Radiohead.
He’s been invited to ring in the New Year in New Orleans, and his 2005 will kick off with a tour of Australia and New Zealand. But the biggest news on his tongue these days is that he’ll be spending his 30th birthday in Halifax.
“It will be my birthday somewhere around the middle of the set,” he says, of his headlining performance alongside The Jimmy Swift Band and Brothers Past at the Marquee on Saturday, December 4. “I’m going to find every version of “Happy Birthday” that I can, and do a 40-minute set of exclusively “Happy Birthday” songs. Then, when everyone is about to leave, I’ll start the show. Expect all kinds of shenanigans. It will be fun, just put it that way.”
The well-travelled San has played to thousands of people, but one city sticks out in his mind as his favourite place to play.
“Tokyo is crazy,” he says. “I don’t have a top 10 list, but Tokyo is one of those places that you go, and you come back spinning out of control. There’s so much stuff to check out there. That city moves so quickly. The music scene, the art scene and the food, everything is great there. Halifax is like the Tokyo of Canada, isn’t it? I imagine the seafood restaurants are pretty happening. The audiences there are pretty sweet, too. The people have a lot of soul there. They can just cut loose and get into the music. Halifax isn’t one of those uptight situations where everyone deconstructs the whole set.”
Speaking of uptight situations, The Coast reached San via his cell phone from New York City, where he had just finished meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time, over US Thanksgiving dinner.
“It’s been high pressure,” he says, closing his car door. “I think I fared pretty well. I was asked what I did for a living a few times. I said ‘Scratch DJ,’ because it sounds like it comes with some work.”
Don’t get him wrong, San has been hard at work on his turntablism since his first preteen scratch on his sister’s record player. He says that his DJ experience developed from the age of 12, while experimenting at home—far away from the clubs.
“I’m not really spawned from club culture, yet I get booked almost exclusively in night clubs,” he says. “I never actually did that. My whole turntable experience was pretty isolated at first. It’s also because I can’t dance. I don’t really make dance music. That’s not where I come from.”
While growing up with an appreciation for records from an early age, his record collection was not an immediate flood of hip-hop.
“Some of them were music records, but a lot of them were storybook records,” he says. “As I went into the teenage years, I had of course all of the hip-hop records when I started DJing, but the other half of my collection was Cheech and Chong and Monty Python stuff. Produced comedy records. I really got a kick out of them and listened to them almost as much as De La Soul and Public Enemy back in the late ’80s.”
Many of today’s top DJs have been following in the footsteps left by the pioneers of hip-hop—Af rika Bambaataa, GrandMaster Flash, Run DMC. Most of San’s roots are evident through his music, bu
t his biggest influence might come as a surprise.“If I have one overriding inspiration, both musically and sensibility-wise, it would be Jim Henson,” he says. “Those Muppet Show records are albums that I know every second of. I used to play them ad nauseam—I put the stuff onto my iPod and still listen to it. It was high-calibre stuff. At the time, I didn’t really know, but now, I’m looking at the liner notes and they have some heavy people playing on there. Before DJing, I always thought that working on Sesame Street or The Muppet Show would be the ultimate gig. It’s the perfect place where all of my interests would collide.”
As both a skilled musician and artist—he illustrates the comic books that come along with his albums—such employment would be right up his alley. While his colleague Buck 65 once made an appearance on Sesame Street, perhaps it is San’s destiny to one day work on the children’s program.
“I’ve done some music for them, but just for some animation stuff,” he says. “I’ve never actually been on the set. Maybe we’ll go on and do a puppet show sometime.”
San is also a natural with kids. He earned a degree in elementary education at Montreal’s McGill University, and served as a first grade teacher for a year and a half before focusing on his DJ career full time. While scratching grades on report cards and scratching records might seem like polar opposites, the two have certain connections.
“There are a lot of parallels between the show industry and being a teacher,” he says. “As a teacher, you have to be on ‘stage’ for hours and hours a day, but when you’re a DJ, it’s only a couple. But it was like being in a comedy club for nine hours a day. Kids are hilarious—they know things, and you learn a lot from them. I almost slipped discs from holding in laughs all day.”
As an artisan and a former teacher, San can appreciate the dilemma surrounding the periodic budget cuts in public school systems, which have all but decimated Nova Scotian art and music departments. Still, he says that music is important, and can make—and keep—our children’s learning experience fun.
“You can design programs around things like art and music to teach all the other subjects,” he says. “My dad used to sing these rhymes all the time to get us to do chores like cleaning the table and brushing our teeth. There are some really tedious things that kids have to learn in school, like times tables and what not. But, with things like Schoolhouse Rock, I think that people know way more than they would about the Bill of Rights than if you just lectured them about it in a history class and had a quiz. Putting it in the form of art and music makes it more fun, accessible and pertinent. You know, learning doesn’t have to be a horrible experience.”