DJ Kid Koala performs "Hanky Panky" in the KPCC studio on Wednesday, Oct. 31. He will perform at the Echoplex on Thursday as part of his 12 Bit Blues Vinyl Vaudeville Tour.
Musician Eric San — better known as DJ Kid Koala — is one of the most influential and well known-members of the scratch DJ scene. San has composed songs with the band The Gorillaz, performed with Jack Johnson, and has performed at Preservation Hall in New Orleans, typically a more traditional venue.
San talks with us about his brand new album “12 Bit Blues” which is a combination of old jazz songs, original music and beats all mixed live.
First can you explain a little about the technique of the scratch DJ?
“If I had to break it down to its most simple form, all scratching is a combination of rubbing the sound back and forth, and cutting the sound on and off with the volume lever essentially. With that combination of things you can create many different rhythms and pitches that is what I have been practicing for the past 20 years. Anyone can do it, the first scratch you learn is the baby scratch. The volume is up and you just rub the record back and forth.”
Are your turntables different than just a normal at home turntable?
“Yes, these are professional directive turntables. They don’t have the belt underneath them they have a very strong magnet and motor so that even if you are scratching and putting a lot of weight on the record you are not slowing down the platter. If someone was trying to do this at home with their normal turn tables it would sound different... but my first maybe year and a half of practicing was off flexi records.”
Where did the scratch DJ scene really come from?
“Grand Wizard Theodore is credited as the originator of the scratch in the 70s, so then he was practicing this back spinning technique so he had his headphones on one ear like we do right now. The story was his mom was calling him for dinner and he didn’t want to lose is place, so he just kept rubbing the record back and forth to keep his place and while he was hearing this he was listening to his mom in one ear and the sound in the other ear. The next show he did he integrated that sound, the crowd went wild, and that was that.”
One of the older songs you have done people will probably recognize, “Moon River,” what made you decide to do that song?
“My mother has always been my number-one fan, but her comprehension of what I do technically or musically soars over her head. At one point a few years ago, all the kids have moved away she said, 'It's your father and my 30th wedding anniversary and we wanna bring the family all together.' So I booked a show, just so someone would fly me to Hawaii, knowing that the whole family would be there. I knew she would be at that show, so I said I’m gonna do something special for her, so I picked “Moon River” because it was her favorite song.”
How do you deal with people who say the song is fine as it, and ask why does this have to happen?
“It doesn’t. I think in terms of my personal education on an instrument it’s sort of the challenge of seeing if I can find a way to play turn tables and in that case finding a way to bend tones and notes on records to follow a chord cycle or to emote something.”
What is special about the limited edition CD cases for your new album “12 Bit Blues?”
“The first round of the album is packaged with a science kit. A cardboard gramophone that you can fold up, you fold up the ampliphone and the base, and it comes with a little four-inch flexi record, all you need to do is get a pin or a needle and use that as the stylus and you basically have a little cardboard gramophone.”
You kick off your tour tonight, what can people expect?
Well the '12 Bit Blues,' the equipment is vintage, a lot of it older than me, I felt that to do the live show instead of going with the high tech light show that would soar over people's head I wanted to think of an old school way to present this, oldest technology I can think of, which was dancing girls and puppets. A kind of vaudeville show, a variety show that sort of I can play some of this music but there is a lot of spectacle around it.”
You can see Eric San, DJ Kid Koala, tonight at the first show of his album tour. The concert is at the Echoplex in Echo Park.