By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Celebrated scratch DJ, artist and producer Kid Koala brings one of his most ambitious projects to San Francisco for a series of performances when Nufonia Must Fall Live recreates his acclaimed graphic novel as an elaborately staged puppet show at San Jose State’s Hammer Theatre Center for two nights.
Long regarded as one of the most gifted and musical turntable maestros to emerge during the ’90s boom of hip-hop scratch DJs, Montreal-based Kid Koala (aka Eric San) got signed to a record deal with forward-thinking UK imprint Ninja Tune when he played his demo tape for label owners Jonathan Moore and Matt Black (better known as the DJ/production duo Coldcut) while serving as their driver when the pair visited his hometown. They were so impressed by Kid Koala’s eclectic samples — including a wide array of children’s records and early comedy albums — and remarkable scratch technique that they issued the tape without any changes or additional production as the promo-only 1996 cassette release Scratchcratchratchatch (excerpts also made it onto the 10-inch record Scratchappyland).
The tape and his subsequent proper 2000 debut album Carpal Tunnel Syndrome — a jaw-dropping audio adventure that was meticulously constructed on an eight-track recorder over the course of four years — showcased not only Kid Koala’s dexterous and tuneful vinyl manipulation skills, but a whimsical sense of humor and wonder found in many the intricate, jazz-influenced musical creations that would follow. Established as a turntable artist with the same level of virtuosity as the Bay Area’s own scratch masters like the Invisibl Skratch Piklz DJ Shadow and the Space Travelers crew, Kid Koala would be exposed to much wider audiences after being invited to open major arena tours by Radiohead and Bjork.
Kid Koala would expand his repertoire and push the boundaries of turntable artistry in the years that would follow. Already known for drawing and designing his own album covers (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome also came with a comic book that introduced a number of characters), he published his 340-page black and white graphic novel Nufonia Must Fall with an accompanying soundtrack in 2003 and toured his multi-media Short Attention Span Theatre show with turntable collaborators P-Love and DJ Jester that included tandem performances, a game of bingo and a puppet show. The DJ was also tapped by well-known Dr. Octogon producer Dan the Automator to work on the studio recordings and tours for his futuristic Deltron 3030 project with Del the Funky Homosapien and the downtempo/lounge group Lovage with vocal chameleon Mike Patton.
In 2009, he expanded on the “Slew Test” songs found on his Your Mom’s Favorite DJ album to create the hard rock meets scratch DJ concept the Slew. Working with producer Dylan J. Frombach (aka Dynomite D), the group crafted the pulverizing album 100% to answer the question, “What would happen if Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad produced a Black Sabbath album?” Kid Koala performed the songs live on a tour featuring partner P-Love backed by the original rhythm section of Australian heavy rock band Wolfmother with explosive results.
In recent years, Kid Koala has focused on his quieter “Music To Draw To” live DJ sets and a pair of collaborative albums of tuneful ambient music he recorded with singers Emilíana Torrini (on 2017’s Music To Draw To: Satellite) and Trixie Whitley (on the recently released sequel Music To Draw To: Io) in addition to the break-dancing video game Floor Kids and its accompanying soundtrack, but he has also spent years developing the creative live staging of Nufonia Must Fall.
Working with Oscar nominated production designer K.K. Barrett (Her, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Where the Wild Things Are and Marie Antoinette) as director, the production retells the graphic novel’s sweet tale of a lonely songwriting robot who has fallen for a human with a group of puppeteers manipulating their characters through detailed miniature sets which are filmed and projected on widescreen above the creative bustle. Meanwhile, Kid Koala and the Afiara String Quartet perform a live soundtrack as the dreamy story unfolds. Receiving universal praise at performances in Montreal, New York and two years ago in San Francisco, the visually sumptuous and unique stage production returned to the SFJAZZ Center this past weekend with four performances in Miner Auditorium. This week, it moves to the South Bay for a pair of shows at SJSU’s Hammer Theatre Center starting Wednesday.
Kid Koala: Nufonia Must Fall Live
Wednesday-Thursday, Feb. 13-14, 7:30 p.m. $29-$46
SJSU Hammer Theatre Center