Live review

Kid Koala
Empire, Middlesbrough : 15.11.2003

I wonder if the bouncers asked Kid Koala for ID when he walked in with his fellow DJs to set up his kit? The Chinese-Canadian looks about 16. But that doesn't stop him enthralling the crowd around him using his trusty decks and a bunch of cuts so impressive it makes you wonder why you haven't heard of him before.
    After hearing he was playing at the Empire, I got hold of a few of his songs in advance, and while they were bursting with energy, charm and humour, nothing compares to seeing the man himself up there. The room was packed as Kid Koala (real name Eric San) stepped out and introduced himself, his six turntables glowing under the dim lighting. First up was some new material from his recent album, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and new release Some Of My Best Friends Are DJs.
    Astonishing to say the least; this young and cheeky looking DJ interacts with the crowds so well through his vinyl, most nodding their heads or dancing, some sitting there with mouths slightly ajar at the wondrous beat bending mayhem. You just can't help but smile.

There is a loud applause as the crowd recognise the starting sounds of Bounce, one of his most popular beats, to which he reacts by performing a mock muscle man pose, smirking like an insane man. Humour and character mean a lot to this guy, and without it his act probably wouldn't be anything special. Sure, he can scratch a fine tune, but so can a countless amount of other up-and-coming DJs. That's where Kid Koala is different. He is just as much a showman and a comedian as he is a turntablist, which he confirms when letting his services be known: "we also do parties, weddings and bah mitzvahs!
    Another burst of applause rises from somewhere near the back as the infamous speaking section of ScratchHappyland tells the crowd how to serve cucumber sandwiches from a turntable, while Eric San is looking up at the PA speaker on the wall and grinning after realising the acoustics in the rom are creating a strange popping noise. Rather than frown at what could be a problem, he seems all too happy to make that resonance part of his wacky musical arsenal.
    More songs are pumped out into the small and intimate room, including the very outlandish Bjork Scratch, which does exactly what it says on the tin. The highlight this evening though comes towards the end as Eric sets himself up for Drunk Trumpet. I had heard this song before and was hardly stunned by it - on CD it just sounds like a broken trumpet - but live it takes on a whole new meaning. Sometimes you don't realise how much work is put into making the sound that you devour without thinking about. Koala grasps his decks, runs his fingers along the record and slows it down by placing his hand at the side, bringing it back to create the jazzy surreal sound of a trumpet that has been drinking all night. It is simply amazing. His hands snap vividly back between cross fader and vinyl as he makes the sound his own, dominating the slow drumbeats. Rapturous whistling and shouts engulf the young DJ as he grins in acknowledgement - he knows he's good and confidence would be his finest virtue, it seems.

Interestingly enough, Eric San never thought he would be a musician of any kind. His strict and square Chinese upbringing meant that his parents disagreed somewhat with the arts and music as a career. After pursuing a career writing songs for Sesame Street (how much fun would that be?), Kid Koala finds himself in the land of scratch DJs, and most importantly here in this room. A room, which, sadly, he is about to leave.
    After introducing his fellow DJ and receiving a lot of credit and respect, Kid Koala calmly puts his records away and lets DJ Chester have some of the action. I walk away feeling strangely fulfilled, certainly on a high, still buzzing from Kid Koala's energetic songs that have cascaded through the PA and rigorously beamed themselves directly into my cranium. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

:: Graham Drummond

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