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article imageKid Koala Rocks Luminato Special

By Cate Kustanczy     Jun 12, 2013 in Entertainment
Toronto - Along with cool beats and lush sounds, Canadian scratch DJ Kid Koala will be bringing something new to his Luminato Festival performances this coming weekend, incorporating scent into the live music experience.
“I’m very excited for people to experience it in a live show,” the scratch DJ (real name: Eric San) says one grey afternoon on the telephone from his home in Montreal, “even if it’s just, "Well that’s never happened before!" Initially, I thought it would be this funny gimmicky thing, but what it’s turned into... there’s artistry here if you open your nose to it.”
Kid Koala has been opening the minds and hearts of listeners since 1996, with the release of his first album, the playful, busy-buzzy Scratchcratchratchatch, a work that seamlessly incorporates hip-hop sounds with opera, beats, and even snatches of Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. Growing up between British Columbia and Maryland, studying classical piano and listening to hip-hop much of the time (favorite include Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, and the Beastie Boys), San was eventually signed to British label Ninja Tune, and released his second album, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, in 2000. As well as appearing on albums from Gorillaz and Handsome Boy Modeling School, he has opened for Radiohead and Bjork, performed at Comic-Con multiple times, scored films, remixed the work of an impressive array of artists (including Jack Johnson, Amon Tobin, and Emilie Sande with the Bryan Ferry Orchestra), and contributed to the original score of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in 2010.
Two upcoming performances at Toronto’s annual Luminato Festival are being billed as “a late night “quiet time” immersive headphone experience.” The live show -based around his 2011 graphic novel Space Cadet (Uni Books) -involves the audience sitting on inflatable space pods, and listening through individual headphones as the score is performed with both animation and scent accompaniment.
San is an artist inspired by many things at once: old music, new music, painting, drawing, eating, and interacting. He speaks in lengthy sentences, his observations and insights occasionally punctuated by pregnant pauses or nervous, maniacal laughter, both of which belie his thoughtful approach to his artistry an electronic musician; his is a keen understanding of the role of different sounds in peoples’ lives, and the effect they have in creative, emotional, even spiritual realms. He readily admits he loves the music (and perhaps, related spirit) of the past, talking with wonder about Son House and Louis Armstrong, even as he embraces contemporary hip-hop and dance sounds.
“People ask me  “Why do you still play vinyl at shows? You’re hauling around a 100-pound bag!...
“People ask me, “Why do you still play vinyl at shows? You’re hauling around a 100-pound bag!”" laughs Kid Koala. "My joke answer, half-serious is, I’m too lazy to bring a laptop! To me it’s just like these old blues cats: these (records) are my axes in a way [...] I’m out-of-step with the actual times, but I’m glad, in a way, being an outsider. I’m out-of-step with what’s fashionable.”
Emma Gutteridge
His fifth album, 12 Bit Blues (Ninja Tune, 2012), was made using a classic bit of DJ hardware, the E-mu SP-1200 sampler; it was a piece of equipment that had eluded him for over twenty years, since he knew, back in the mid-1980s, he wouldn’t be able to afford the $5,000 price tag with just the income from his then-paper route.
“At the time, it was state-of-the-art,” he recalls of the machine, a smile creeping into his voice. “By today’s standards anyone’s smartphone can dance circles around this, but from a tech perspective - from an interface and sound perspective -it just makes you play different. The stuff coming out of it has little quirks [...] it actually has a warm analogue tone to it, because of that everything that comes out, to me, has dirt on it that makes it inherently bluesy.”
Described as "the Ark of the Covenent (sic) of hip hop production" by his own label, the SP-1200 has been used by a wide array of artists including The Prodigy, De La Soul, Dr. Dre, Ice-T, RZA, Daft Punk, KRS-One, Beastie Boys and Danger Mouse. It was also used on Jay-Z's 1996 debut album, Reasonable Doubt.
San finally got his own chance to experiment with the equipment at Brazilian record producer and studio engineer Mario Caldato’s house a few years ago. “He said “You gotta get your hands on one of these! They’re on Craigslist for super-cheap now!” The result, 12 Bit Blues, was described by the BBC as "a beguiling mutant form of blues, like the genre’s staggering drunk through a circus hall of mirrors."
Creativity also extends into the literary and visual worlds. Nufonia Must Fall (ECW Press) was Kid Koala’s first graphic novel in 2003, and it came with its own audio CD. San's instinct to integrate the visual, literary, and sonic expressed itself again eight years later, with Space Cadet: A Graphic Novel, a work that came complete with its own dreamy soundtrack. It’s a work that tenderly, deftly explores the relationship between parents and children, and the ties that bind families together.
“In essence, the music is all lullabies for a child, and played on both turntable and piano,” he says. “Musically, it's as far as I could get from my hip-hop turntable roots, but at the same time they’re still turntables and scratching, it’s just harmony and melody as opposed to rhythm”
San wanted to give audiences a deeper experience of the work that went past the dancefloor aesthetic. “The intention was for it to be as far from a normal DJ show as it can get,” he says of the Space Cadet tour. “I did the (traditional DJ) events, with tents and festivals, and I just realized at one point, like the Bjork song, there’s got to be more to life than this. There are other sides of your brain or heart (to engage with) when you do shows and [...] they were being neglected. I thought, “What’s the freshest thing I could do over two or three thousand shows at dance floors? Let’s do a show that’s completely different, where everybody’s lying down on the floor.” So the music isn’t head-ringing and adrenalin-inducing, it’s nuanced and trippy.”
San has found what he calls “a magical part of the population who’s ready for it in every city.”
Torontonians will have an opportunity to discover Space Cadet live on June 14th and 15th, with an added twist. Partnering with International Flavors and Fragrances Inc., attendees will be given a blister pack containing five different scents, which have been specially coordinated for five different sections of the show. San says it was a whole new way of approaching not only live presentation, but electronic music too.
“It literally kind of cracked my head open when I got into it,” San says. Meeting with perfumer Celine Barel, the two came up with a sort of olfactory “score” to accompany certain passages in San’s book.
“At first I thought it was going to be a scratch-this-card  something very base   Kid Koala says o...
“At first I thought it was going to be a scratch-this-card, something very base," Kid Koala says of the initial idea to incorporate scent into his live "Space Cadet" show.
Corinne Merrell
"Celine opened my nose up to this world,” he marvels. “Before I met her, I just thought, “Oh, this smells good; this smells bad, this smells sweet; this smells sour.” [...] The way she speaks is very compositional. We got along like a house on fire.”
International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) are responsible for a range of scents in the commercial markets, everything from, as San puts it, “big ticket items, all the way to gum flavors, and deodorants” According to a 2007 profile in TIME, IFF "invests heavily in research, spending about $185 million annually to develop new smells for products like deodorants, shampoos and perfumes, and to create fresh flavors for snacks, packaged meals and drinks." Of the more than 31,000 compounds the company is responsible for producing, roughly 60% of them are flavors, with the remaining 40% devoted to fragrances.
To prepare for the live project, San visited the IFF labs in New York City, where, “surrounded by thousands of little amber bottles,” he and Barel collaborated to create scents that are directly created from (and for) five specific sections of Space Cadet.
“People say smell is most connected to memory,” he muses, “that smelling something from childhood can fire a synapsis in brain, and (Celine) knows this. She was able to distill things in some very, very strange, magical way [...] She would say, “I want this scent to feel nostalgic and warm and safe,” but with another one, “I want to feel isolated and cold and melancholy.” What is the smell of melancholy? I don’t know, but she does!”
It’s this relentless sense of curiosity, combined with a love of busting open definitions of what a DJ is and should be doing, that perhaps best express San’s deep commitment to his craft -or, rather crafts. “Even with the visual arts, you can paint with canvas and paint and that will never be replaced by drawing on a tablet or editing stuff from Photoshop -not to say those aren’t valid forms of visual art, it’s just a different thing,” he says. “It’s like if you’re going to work in analogue tape and then throw everything into zeroes and ones and flip it backwards... in a way you’re not making a certain commitment while you’re working.”
San prefers to work in a space that where commitment and experimentation aren’t mutually exclusive ideas. “ It’s this interface where you’re committing to the process,” he explains of his varied creative pursuits, “I’ve never been one to just follow what the popular trend is, my joke is, I’m always trying to be in time, I’m either thirty years behind, or, thirty years ahead of the times.”
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