Live Review: Kid Koala (2012 Vancouver International Jazz Festival) @ Performance Works – June 27th 2012

Kid Koala Space Cadet Headphone Experience: Vancouver Jazz Festival show at Performance Works on June 27, 2012

Next year I am going to throw darts at the TD Vancouver Jazz Festival schedule, and go to all the shows the darts hit. The festival brings in music that pushes boundaries, music that surprises, and music that is the result of incredible talent. Kid Koala, being far from what your grandparents would call jazz, was one of those surprises. Tucked away in a corner of Granville Island is Performance Works, and on Wednesday night it was transformed into an adult-size sleepover party.

Kid Koala or Eric San, DJ, and graphic novelist did not have an opening act; instead he introduced himself through sculpture, games, and recording equipment. Almost like carnival booths set up on Performance Works’ patio, the audience wandered to look at art, play with a turntable and enter a raffle. The different components of playfulness, audience interaction, and encasement embodied in the opening are the nerves of Kid Koala’s latest tour. The double rows of encased alien plant-like sculptures are manifestations of the theme of isolation explored in Kid Koala’s latest work. In large part the show was a director’s commentary on Kid Koala’s second graphic novel and accompanying soundtrack: Space Cadet, published in 2011. The return to childhood through Plinko, raffle tickets, and a seemingly handcrafted battle game prepares you for his playfulness, as well as his experiments, accidents, and games during the performance. Deejay equipment is causally laid out on tables, with accompanying instructors to invite ticket holders to scratch and edit their voices. Along with the games, this equipment begins the interactive experience integral to a Kid Koala show. The audience becomes part of the creation of the music, and thus becomes part of the show themselves. San’s music reminds us that most recordings are not the creation of one person, or one artist; they are the chopping and piecing together of the best pieces of multiple recordings through digital engineering. Kid Koala’s music adds another layer to existing recordings, which themselves are layers of work done by many; he has become something of musical auteur. While to the unexposed, the turntable may seem an unlikely musical instrument. To the unaware – listen to Kid Koala’s version of “Moon River,” and you will learn that Kid Koala’s scratches, cuts and other added elements are instrumental.

Kid Koala does not limit himself to one genre. Instead he uses his instrument, the turntable, to explore many. In 2000 he released Deltron 3030; a collaborative rap album. In 2009 he became a part of The Slew, and created a rock album. His latest published musical work, Space Cadet‘s soundtrack is mostly composed of lullabies to his newborn daughter, Maple. The album, which the show largely drew from, is looped piano, with scratches on top. As he explains, this is not club music – thus the foam mats, cushions, and games. While previous deejays worked their music to create movement, to create physical connections through dancing; Kid Koala creates an atmosphere of sharing, and friendship. He shares even in the creating of music – audience members played the bells for “Birthday,” others waved the flat tone noodles, and one played the music box. The only crazy group movement came when Kid Koala, bouncing around in his koala suit, led the audience in the “Yo Gabba Gabba” dance. The “Yo Gabba Gabba” dance is silly, but the audience loved it; I loved it. Kid Koala is so comfortable, so at ease with himself, that his confidence infects the crowd. Everyone was enthused, wanting to be chosen for the thumb wrestling competition, wanting to wave the flat –tone noodles, and wanting to play asteroids – to become the show. We were kids again.

When you become free of that awkwardness that prevents you from bopping around to insane music, you begin to move to show true aspects of yourself. Because you can be silly at Kid Koala shows; perhaps this is why San says his shows are places you can meet your soul mate. The set up is friendly; you sit on floor foam mats that fit together like puzzles, with long, white cylinder cushions to lean against. Friendly and romantic – only – I was alone. The headphone experience, the newest addition to Kid Koala’s tour, where all the audience members wear wireless headphones speaks to the isolation that is explored in his novel. The novel is about the separation of two adventurers, one human and one robot. The robot is left on earth, as the astronaut heads out on a solo mission to space. Venturing into new territory, exploring new fields, and the isolation because of it – this is what the novel is about; this is what Kid Koala is about. Headphones are an isolating experience; and yet music is a connecting force. Like the sculptures on the patio, the encased plants, we become our own little worlds wearing headphones, like snow globes. Yet at a show the audience is together, everyone is listening to the same thing, laughing, cheering, and bopping to the same music, and to the same commentary. So the experience becomes shared, as the music threads the audience together.

In addition to songs from the Space Cadet soundtrack, Koala also played from his other upcoming album 12 bit Blues. The song, “1 Bit Blues,” despite a lack of ending, which does make an appearance on the album, is incredible. There is emphasis on spoken word, and it is integrated beautifully. “Mosquito Blues”, from the soundtrack for his other upcoming album (another soundtrack for graphic novel) demonstrates his incredible timing. “Moon River” drifted over the audience, and you could read his satisfaction with its execution in his smile. For all casualness and jokes, he takes his music seriously. The show ended with “Drunk Trumpet”, “Birthday,” “Skanky Panky,” and with the audience calling for more. As Prince Language said, “When you hear something great, you want it to continue.”