Permanent Playground

Posted by Leo Messias on 19. Oct 2009

Twisting the laws of sonic creation since for over a decade with the release of his first 10", Scratchcratchratchatch (Ninja Tune, 1997), Kid Koala has become the indisputable master in combining the art of turntablism with tons of humor.

Three solo albums of scratching strangely-befitting chicken noises later and collaborations with hip hop supergroups Gorillaz and Deltron 3030, this Montreal-based Chinese-Canadian still has a lot of creative juices in him, putting on innovative shows including, but not limited to, inviting the audience to draw throughout his performances, making graphic novels (he is also an accomplished author and illustrator) and creating board games that are released alongside his albums.

Now performing for the third time in China, we can expect nothing but the most intensely-fun show to hit Beijing this year, with the Kid mixing up bags upon bags of unexpected samples with the best in rock, blues, jazz, hip hop and whatever else catches his ear at the time.

In anticipation of his upcoming gigs (Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai), we spent some time with the youthful 35-year-old and discussed his previous trips to the country, the art of staying young and using the turntable to please as much as to impress.

WLIB: Where have you been in China before, and what are your favorite memories from each trip?

Kid Koala: I've been to many places in China, and have been able to visit from when I was quite young. My parents grew up in Hong Kong and my grandparents were from Guangdong Province. It's always such an exciting place to see and experience. I enjoy visiting both the cities and the countryside in China. There's a lot to see!

WLIB: What is your favorite food that you can only get here?

KK: The soup dumplings are the best!

WLIB: You've had the name Kid Koala for over a decade now. Is feeling like a "kid" still something important in your music?

KK: I'm always interested in trying something different, whether it's in the recording studio or while working on a show. I like having new challenges in my work and trying to learn from them. That's when I still feel like a kid. The world of music and recording studios are like a big playground to me.

WLIB: In this world of music you talk about, you are still a turntablist by definition, but your style is way more approachable to the common listener than that of your peers. Also, you are "Every Mom's Favorite DJ." Where does your different approach to using the turntable as an instrument come from?

KK: You can't escape your upbringing. I grew up playing classical piano, and certain kinds of music were always playing in my house, including music from composers like Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart. I think that experience helped shape the way I hear and understand music. That being said, I have always been a big fan of the Muppet Show: sometimes I like to make drumbeats out of chicken noises. Regardless, I've always seen the turntable as way to communicate your story or personality. At the end of the day, I still want what I'm doing to communicate something whether it's something sad, silly or rocking! I don't really try to do anything that will just fly over everyone's heads.

WLIB: Recently you finished your conceptual series of "quiet" and "loud" shows where people were invited to draw freely while you performed live. Can you elaborate on what these shows were about?

KK: As I am also a big fan of quieter soundtrack music, we did a series of nights called Music to Draw To. Many of the quieter records I have would never work in a club or dancefloor situation. Still, I wanted to share these records with people somehow and we wanted to try something different for an event. We brought in eight small h-ifi systems and filled the room with the little speakers. We then brought in a bunch of little drawing tables for everyone. I would play a set of really downtempo tracks and film score music and my wife would set up a bake sale where they served a variety of cupcakes and snacks. Everyone got a free cup of hot chocolate and a pencil when they arrived. Even though the rooms were full of people, no one was talking. Some people brought knitting needles, others were drawing 3D animations on their laptops; some were making small sculptures, while others wrote scripts. It was a really creative environment and it was inspiring to see everyone so focused on their craft.

WLIB: Are we gonna be knitting during your performance or is it going to be a loud, get down-type of show in Beijing?

KK: Definitely the second option!

WLIB: Which side of the multi-faceted Koala are we gonna see?

KK: I'll be bringing a variety of records to play and scratch while I'm there. To me, the turntable is a very versatile instrument and scratching can have a wide range of feels. I think the shows in China will be most definitely on the loud/party side of things with a little silliness interspersed throughout! That's the way I like it.

Kid Koala will perform at Hong Kong's Why Club on Sat, Oct 24, at Yugong Yishan in Beijing on Thurs, Oct 29 and at Shanghai's The Shelter on Fri, Oct 30. Pre-sale tickets (30 RMB) for the Beijing gig can be purchased at NLGX. 50 RMB at the door. No knitting allowed.


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