Kid Koala eager for fans to act like space cadets
After years of touring the globe as a superstar scratch DJ, Kid Koala wants to settle down—and he wants you to settle down, too. More particularly, with the show he’s presenting as part of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, he wants you to make yourself comfortable on one of his inflatable space-pod couches, don a pair of headphones, and drift off into the cosmos.
What he’s got in mind is a kind of anti-rave: the Space Cadet Headphone Experience is the exact opposite of the dance parties he once used to host.
“Back in 2004, 99 percent of the time it was all about standing-room-only crowds; really, really loud decibels; and the adrenaline rush of the show,” the turntablist otherwise known as Eric San explains, reached at his Montreal home. “As much as that’s a lot of fun, I started to wonder ‘Could we do a show that would be equally captivating and compelling without all that?’
“And, personally,” the Vancouver-born musician adds with a laugh, “I was tired of going to shows where I had to stand for three hours.”
But there’s more to this than San’s aching feet. The image- and animation-assisted Space Cadet Headphone Experience was conceived simultaneously with the multitalented Montrealer’s second graphic novel, Space Cadet—and the first of his two daughters.
“Having a sleeping infant in the vicinity all the time forced me to play very quietly—for practical reasons, so I didn’t wake her!” he observes. Recording and mixing through headphones, in turn, led San to a gentler form of music-making—one that drew equally on his early classical-piano studies and the whimsical interstellar love story outlined in Space Cadet’s pages. The result, like the novel itself, is a study in nuanced greys, more ambient-era Eno than stadium-filling Deadmau5. Too subtle for bass-heavy club speakers, it should be quite beguiling through headphones.
“It just felt right that the audience should hear it the same way it was made,” San says. “There’s an intimacy, obviously, if the music is literally in your ears, and in some ways kind of blocking out any outside sounds. You have this kind of bubble feeling, I think.”
Lest San’s long-time fans wonder if fatherhood has turned Kid Koala soft, note that his next release, sometime this fall, will be a blues album—played on turntables rather than harmonica or guitar. It’s sure to be considerably more raucous than his Space Cadet soundtrack, and it also suggests why it’s entirely appropriate that he should be appearing at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. After a childhood spent playing Bach and Beethoven, and an adolescence in thrall to hip-hop, the adult San is in love with jazz and the blues.
“I hold that music in the highest regard,” says San, who’s recently been collaborating with New Orleans’s Preservation Hall Jazz Band. “It’s still very much a benchmark of musical expression. And another thing that I like about jazz musicians is that they actually peak when they’re about 70!”
A comforting thought, no doubt, for a Kid who’s pushing 40, and who still has a lot of music left to make.
Kid Koala presents the Space Cadet Headphone Experience at Performance Works on June 27 and 28 as part of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.