“They make special-effects records just for stereophonic equipment, like sounds from the very deep part of the ocean. … When … everyone can hear that low-pitched sea cow barking at them … people look up to you.”
— From Some of My Best Friends are DJs
Celebrated scratch DJ Kid Koala (secret identity: 28-year-old Montreal resident Eric San), who’s most notably toured with the Beastie Boys and Radiohead, just released a weirdly friendly new disc on Ninja Tune.
On his latest record, San, a classically trained pianist, offers an uneven though often inspired tableau of beats, samples and found sound that’s equal parts indulgent soliloquy and appealing radio drama. For his upcoming Orange Peel date, he’ll be joined by DJs P-Love, Jester and Ledershosen Lucil in presenting the Short Attention Span Theater, a multimedia show encompassing live music and film shorts.
San has styled it “turntable cabaret” — and, as with more traditional cabaret, the Short Attention Span Theater will erase the boundary separating artist from audience.
“What’s on the stage,” he reveals, “is about eight turntables, three DJs and a piano. … We’re gonna set up the stage sort of like a familiar band format.
“That way, hopefully, you know, it just won’t look like a bunch of dudes with their headphones, kind of cuing records. … And what we’re gonna do, hopefully, is make it just a little less abstract for people.”
My own epiphany came sooner. In the midst of transcribing our recent phone chat, I put on the new record (appropriately titled Some of my Best Friends are DJs). Set against Friends’ rhythmic surrealism, the DJ’s tape-recorded words, as I intermittently replayed sections of our interview, began to merge with the CD. Unbeknownst to him, we were jamming.
And so, Kid-like, I’ve taken the liberty of sampling said interview, reassembling it into the following monologue. As Mr. Koala himself explains, it’s about “warping the sound that’s already there.”
“I’ve always been into the scratching element of stuff, you know, and the new album is just layers of live scratching.
“To me, that could sound like a lot of things.
“[But] for me, it has always been about the human element. … On ‘Basement Street Blues,’ the chords are already set, ’cause it’s a jazz standard.
“But I wanted to write an original bass line over it, so I actually just scatted one with my voice.
“Then I went and I found those single bass notes, on classical albums … and then I scratched those in … and then I puzzled that all together, and then I took my voice out.
“What’s left is just sort of a turntable.
“Obviously, you can sense that I like the sound of vinyl.
“Some of what turntables can do is just re-contextualizing stuff. It’s actually a charming thing it can do … taking, like, a spoken-word bit and just having it sort of create a little character, and a narrative, something in a story.
“It’s how you clip it and how you time it or scratch it or bend it.
“It’s not like something you listen to and have dinner.
“The way it jumps around is … the way we want to make the show jump around, too.
“We’re gonna play bingo. It’s gonna be awesome.”
His name is another sweet surprise.
“That comes from a fizzy, sugary drink that was out in the ’80s. And it was something that my friends just started calling me, ’cause there’s empty bottles of stuff, like, lining the windows.
“I was a bit of an addict. It’s just one of those things you do when you’re a kid, whatever.”
“‘Koala kid’ or whatever. You know.”
Kid Koala joins some of his best friends in hosting the Short Attention Span Theater at the Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave.) on Halloween night (Friday, Oct. 31). The show starts at 9:30 p.m.; tickets cost $15. For more info, call 225-5851.