When digging through records, Kid Koala (Eric San) searches for stories as much as sounds.
The Montreal-based DJ, known for his technical mastery of the turntable, builds narratives from characters he finds in the grooves of decades-old vinyl. On past thrift-store hunts, San has discovered a man teaching parrots to talk and another who encourages plants to grow.
“When I listen, I’m picturing some guy in a studio in front of a mic and mixing desk, and I’m wondering ‘Does he have a script or are there plants in front of him to inspire him? Is he a plant lover or is he doing this for the money?’”
This love of surreal characters is reflected in much of San’s creative output. An illustrator, puppeteer and comic book artist (he drew a 350-page graphic novel, Nufonida Must Fall), as well as DJ, San sees music as a form of storytelling. The turntable is his instrument of choice for the challenge it offers: to build a narrative using only pre-recorded sounds.
“(The challenge is) revealing your energy and personality through samples,” he said. “If you give the same box of records to 10 DJs, you’ll get 10 completely different tapes back.”
The relatively short history of the turntable as an instrument and the fact it deals in recorded music set it apart from guitars and trumpets. However, like any musician, San practises every day, honing intricate beat-matching patterns and scratches, and shares the end goal of communicating his musical vision. To do this live, San memorizes his vinyl.
“I can look at a pile of records and know what key and tempo everything is in,” he said. “I’ll pick up some record — for example (one of) 12-bar blues — and find the notes that fit the chord structure I’m working with.”