By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Chinese Canadian DJ Kid Koala speaks with his hands. That’s an old expression meaning that a DJ makes his art with the hands, spinning records backwards and forwards to create audio mixes and mosaics.
But the turntable artist, whose real name is Eric San, says he grew up appreciating the hidden music of spoken languages.
“I grew up in a very mixed community in Vancouver,” said San, in an email interview. “I would speak English at school and Cantonese at home with my parents. I started learning French in high school in the U.S. and eventually moved to Montreal for university.
“I still hear language very musically, so I would say those languages all have a very different tempo and melody, but are all poetic and expressive in their own ways.”
San plays in Seattle on May 3 at Neumos, promoting his new project, an original soundtrack for the video game “Floor Kids.”
He showed musical talent from an early age, studying classical piano starting age 4. But at age 12, he discovered “the turntable scratch scene” and his future was set.
His parents loved jazz, so he grew up with Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong in his ears. As he crossed over into double digits and found the turntables, his tastes turned to rock, early hip hop, and bands such as the UK’s New Order, who combined electronics and drum machines with more traditional rock instruments.
“My father is very hard working, but is also very funny and likes to laugh a lot,” remarked San about his Chinese parents. “My mother is very pragmatic, but is very sweet and has a big heart. I was very lucky to grow up in their household. I look up to both of them for guidance all the time.”
He’s played Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, Thailand, Singapore, and several spots in Tokyo. He played inside a full-size rail train car, which was constructed inside of a house basement, for the founder of the Rapido Trains model train company.
He recalls being invited to tour with Radiohead for their ‘Kid A’ tour and playing at Madison Square Garden. “That whole tour was a dream come true because I love their music.”
“I also remember doing a show at Preservation Hall in New Orleans and playing with the amazing musicians there. That room fit about 80 people, but it was also a dream come true for me.
“As far as funny stories… Once my contact lens fell out of my eye and landed on the record that was playing, and I had to try and pick it up without stopping the record, while scratching on the other turntable!”
When asked about the struggle to make money and earn respect as an artist (he doubles as an author of graphic novels), San was both philosophical and inspired.
“When you find something you love to do,” he explained, “it feels a lot less like work and a lot more like play. Even when you’re practicing, you just try to stay in that zone, and you don’t even notice the time passing. When I was 12 years old, I had a paper route before school. That’s how I would eventually save up enough money to buy my first turntable and mixer.”
“I’ve always had an interest in drawing, films, and music, so I naturally gravitated towards those scenes over the years. Drawing a graphic novel, recording an album, doing film score work, creating a live show, or working on a video game. I enjoy working in all the fields. I don’t treat them like ‘jobs.’ They are just an opportunity to try new things and apply what you know and love to a new medium. Everything is connected somehow.”
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.