Kid Koala

If hiphop and turntablism conjure up images of trendy young kids with too much attitude, performing impossible technical tricks in front of a self-involved crowd of cap wearing wannabes, then get ready to have your world turned upside down by Kid Koala. Having parents from Hong Kong, but being raised in Vancouver and Montreal, Canada, Eric San aka Kid Koala has a diverse cultural background to draw upon, but it is his background in classical music that led him to the wheels of steel. Being one of the most enigmatic producers on a Ninja Tune, a record label that is renown for it’s eclecticism, in conversation he is very down to earth and friendly, jumping around the place, looping upon himself, much like his records, and is also very quick to laugh. After finally getting through, “It’s turning into one of those fibre optic traffic jams”, he laughs, and we chatted about his history and his upcoming tour with RDJ2.

“I’ve actually been to Australia once”, San quips when I ask about his DJ name “but I don’t think that trip had anything to do with it. There was a drink in Canada when I started DJing in the late 80’s, a really sugary beverage called Koala Springs. It had this really big stamp that said ‘Made In Australia’, which is really funny because every Australian I’ve spoken to has never heard of this drink,” and I had to concur that I’d never heard of it either. “It was actually quite a popular beverage especially amongst those who likes really sugary drinks,” he laughs. “So anyway, my mum would buy cases of this stuff from Costgo [the Canadian version of Bi-Lo] and if you were a kid, you know, 25 and under or whatever, you’d always be offered that – it’d be milk, water or Koala Springs. My friends started calling me the “Koala Kid” as a joke, as there were always empty bottles of the stuff around my room”, he laughs again, “and that’s the real story”.

San starting DJing in the early 1980’s, “in my really awkward, pimply period before I discovered discover girls”, he chortles. Inspired by the sounds of New York’s hiphop scene, as well as the sounds of the British cut up artists like Coldcut, he says “at one point you stop spending all your money on firecrackers and candy and spend it on something you decide to get into. Some kids get into comic books and I got into records,” he says.

“I think it was the classic music stuff I was doing. It was like an elastic band being pulled back,” he says referring to the stress of his training. “Because it was such a strict music experience for me as a kid, just being told ‘you have to play this 500 year old piece exactly the same way it’s been played for the last 500 years – any deviation will lose you points with the adjudicators'”, he laughs. “It wasn’t a very joyful musical experience for me, so when I first heard scratching the first thing I got from it was that it was so free from these rules. And the people doing it were maybe 10 – 15 years younger as opposed to 500, it was more within my grasp. I was like “oh there’s these DJs and they’re doing their thing and they’re really good at expressing themselves and they’re not like buried somewhere” and again he breaks into infectious laughter.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he begins, with a hint of seriousness in his voice, “I think at the time I was just too young to understand how you play a classical piece and actually put your own feel into it. For me it was just a rope memory exercise, and now obviously I’ve grown to like and understand all kinds of music. But when I got into turntablism there was a central idea that all the DJs, whatever they were doing, they were trying to do something new. And I think that was the most impressive thing to me. Technically I didn’t know what they were doing”, he confesses. “I didn’t know how they were making the sound, I just knew that every time I got a new hiphop record the producer or DJ behind it was trying to do something new. You never knew what you were going to hear when you dropped that needle, and I really liked that, and I think that’s something I keep to heart when I go to play or go into the studio. In my mind, if there were any rules to scratching, it would be to do something fresh,” he states.

One of the tunes that San is most famous for is Drunk Trumpet, a fantastic scratch fest involving a trumpet being played over a 12 note blues loop. It’s distinctive sound drew me to Kid Koala, and I still haven’t heard anything like it. “I think for me when I started scratching it was very percussive,” San begins, but the falters as he tries to describe the process behind the tune. “How can I say this? I’m a big Louis Armstrong fan, and I know I’m doing him a disservice by comparing the two,” he laughs. “For the first few years I would say [my scratching] was very percussion orientated and very much into making the WEIRDEST noises ever. Stuff that would stand out and make you go “What is that noise?” And I still like doing that, making the freakiest noises ever,” he giggles, “but I think that from playing with bands and playing with other musicians that it’s equally as interesting to try to blend in a certain context. ie: you’re scratching, but you’re scratching on a ballad, so how can you do that? For me starting to do that with Drunk Trumpet – trumpet through a melody scratching – you’ve got a 12 bar blues song, is there a way to play and actually run within that by scratching? Trying to figure out how can you do something that can only be done on a turntable, but doesn’t totally overtake the rest of the song.”

San is stoked to be on the Ninja Tune label. “I can’t really imagine being anywhere else”, he states matter of factly. “Coldcut were one of the first tracks I heard with scratching, and Bits and Pieces was very inspirational to me, and still has a big influence on the things I do, so philosophically there’s that kinship. They’ve very patient and they let you explore whatever music avenue you want to and give you time to fall on your ass and take a break if you need to,” he laughs.

Being based in Canada, but flying to London every few weeks to do a Ninja Tune performance means San has racked up a lot of frequent flyer points. “Let me put it this way – we’re very excited to be coming to Australia for the first time. I’ve been touring across oceans since 1996 and still haven’t made it to Australia,” he sighs with a smile in his voice. He’s also looking forward to touring with RJD2. “We’ve never worked together before… it should be fun!” he exclaims excitedly. “I’m a big fan of his work and I’m really excited to see him play. I know he has a show that he does, and a have the show that I have and we’ll do them on tour, but who knows what we will do with the remaining time… we’ll probably open it up”

Dave Clarke

When I found out I was to interview Dave Clarke about his latest album The Devils Advocate and his imminent tour of Australia, I was a little nervous. I had heard he was a horror to interview, but now I think it’s because he’s a complex individual and most of the music press is like the press in general – it finds complexity discomforting and unwieldy. The thoughts and the knowledge Clarke relates are more suited to academic texts than a short interview designed to fill up advertising space. I found him to be quite personable, if a little brisk, but it was rather early in the morning in the UK, and most people are grumpy in the mornings. Initially I thought the Devils Advocate was a reference to the mash of styles over the album. Clarke assures me my presumption was wrong. “It’s more to do with my personality”, he states. “I like to make people think a different way and play devils advocate.” Through the course of the conversation I began to get a sense of what he meant.

Other people I’ve interviewed who have burned by record companies in the manner Clarke has been come across as jaded, and I was curious to know if Clarke was the same. “I was already jaded. I came to planet earth a jaded person,” he jokes. “I wasn’t the only one who was screwed by them, there was Felix the House Cat, Thomas Schumaker, Timo Maas and others. But you deal with it and you move on and hopefully you put it behind you as best you can.” However, from bad things come good, and Clarke’s first single after this episode was an “internet-only” download. “That worked out really well,” he says. “I was just a little nervous to see if people were still interested (in me), and I just wanted to do something fun with it.” The single went on to be so popular a run of about 12,000 was released on vinyl. “But,” says Clarke, playing devils advocate, “this was a long time ago. Now you’ve got to take Moore’s Law into account – computer power doubles every 18 months, and this was 6 computer generations back. People’s download speeds are much faster now. It was at the very inception of pay-per-track, but if it was released now who knows… Maybe we wouldn’t have to come out on vinyl,” he muses. “But I still think it would because DJs would want to play it (on record). Then again, there are some DJs now who use digital files in lieu of vinyl, so maybe it wouldn’t have sold so many copies.”

On the topic of downloading, Clarke has some very definite views. “I think it sort of was inevitable. I think it shows that record companies weren’t thinking when A) they were charging so much for CDs when it was a relatively old technology when it appeared and B) when they didn’t realise they could actually sell them online, it had to take a couple of teenagers to prove it. I think it’s a shame because I like the tangible evidence (of music), but then again saying that I’ve just bought a terabyte of hard drive space to store all my CDs on and then download them into my iPod; and use it as an archive. I don’t know,” he pauses, “you can’t always hark for the old days all the time but I think it’s a shame people don’t go into record shops as much and you know, have that ‘hi-fidelity’ moments that we all hope for,” he says, referring to the book by Nick Hornby and movie by Stephen Frears.

Although he’s a technology freak, reportedly owning a light switch that cost over £500, he’s always been rather traditional about making music. “I haven’t ever used any plugins for anything whatsoever,” he says surprisingly. “A while ago I tried to heavily invest in cutting edge equipment and it never did what it was supposed to, so I decided from that point on I’d use it for sequencing and to go hardware on everything else. That’s pretty much what I’ve done up until now.” In doing a remix for DJ Hell, Clarke is branching out a little. “I’ve just ordered a computer as a stand-alone software sampler so I can run that in conjunction with my system, see how a software sampler runs compared to a hardware sample and if I get on with that I’ll move across. But when it comes to VST instruments, I’ve never been a big fan of synthesising. I like to synthesise samples, but I can’t really be bothered with attack, delay, sustain and release because it just bores me to tears.”

His latest album has collaboration with Def Jux’s Mr Lif in a tune that can only be described as hiphop, which is odd for someone known as a techno DJ and producer, although he began his career playing hiphop. “I was thinking about wanting to do hiphop, and I didn’t want to go down the usual route of using someone who’s famous in a big commercial way,” Clarke says. “Someone suggested Lif, and I went to see him live and I liked what he had to say, I liked his presence, attitude and lyrics. After a lot of talking we got together in the studio a few months later and found it very easy to work with one another.” Similarly the collaboration with Chicks on Speed was an enjoyable experience. “I recalled them from years ago in Munich, just hanging out and getting drunk with them, and there again we worked well together and it was a lot of fun.”

With such a diverse range of genres on the album, I wondered if this now reflected in Clark’s DJ sets. “I can split myself down the line (between DJ and Producer). When I DJ I specifically play techno, and electro is some other stuff thrown in, but when it comes to making music I’m a lot more wider… I have to be; I couldn’t survive just making one style of music, I just couldn’t do it”, he sighs.

As the current tour is a DJ set, I wanted to know how Clark would work his new material into it. “I don’t really concentrate on any of my own stuff when I DJ, I’m actually kind of embarrassed by playing my own music,” he confesses “I’ll actually play one or two of my own tunes in a set, but generally I get a great kick out of other people’s music. I always feel a responsibility as a DJ not just to promote your own music,” he says “I don’t know if that’s just me being silly, because a lot of other people do it, but it just doesn’t feel right. To go and play 6 or 7 of your own tracks and raise your hands in the air when you’re playing off vinyl or CD just doesn’t look or feel right, I dunno, it just leaves a bad taste.” I mention how PWEI’s Clint Mansell once said in an interview that listening to his own music felt a bit like masturbation. “Maybe I just like to masturbate in private,” Clarke retorts with a smile.

Concord Dawn

In the past five years, Concord Dawn, comprising the duo of Matt Harvey and Evan Short, have become one of New Zealand’s highest profile and most respected dance acts. Slamming head first into the drum n bass scene with their impressive, hard-as-nails anthem Morning Light, the pair has not only infiltrated the UK-centric scene, the album has gone platinum in their home country, and any respectable drum and bass DJ has at least one of their tunes in their box. Even after an awful experience whilst last in Adelaide, Matt Harvey, is a very friendly, chatty guy. He found time to chat to us about not only that experience, but also a lot of things beside. Other DJs have had similar things happen to them in the past, and have left Adelaide bitter and regretful, but Harvey doesn’t share that sentiment at all, and is in fact looking forward to coming back.

But first, a little history. “Evan and I have known each other since we were 11 years old,” Harvey begins, in a think New Zealand accent. “We went to the same intermediate school, and we were in a band, and I think we were in the same music class, and we played rock and roll songs at school assemblies and that,” he laughs. “Then we went to different high schools, lost contact for a while. There used to be a thing with the North Shore (the big suburban area of Auckland) where all the kids from the schools would go and do a big choir, orchestra, that kind of thing. My school would host Jazz bands, and I was in the top Jazz combo and Evan was playing guitar. He was looking to kick out the drummer in his band, saw me playing jazz on the drums, and said “you’re still playing the drums… you’re pretty good these days, but are you into the heavier stuff?” I was into that as well, and started playing with him again.”

“Our high school band won the Auckland Rock Quest, the big high school battle of the bands, and we came second in the nationals, and were doing alright for ourselves and thought we ‘we’re the shit’” he laughs. “We used to play at community halls, people’s parties and underage events, that kind of thing, and that rolled along for a while. But then that band split up, and we didn’t see each other for a couple of years.” But with New Zealand being such a small place, fate brought them back together at audio engineering school. “We both had bits and pieces of equipment – synths, samplers, and effects units, and both had something the other one wanted. So then we linked up, put our equipment in the same room, and we both dug each other’s tunes”, he adds.

Harvey was introduced to Drum and Bass in about 1997. “I was at an outdoor all trance party, and a mate of mine who was playing,” he reminisces. “We’d made friends a few months before, he did some of my tattoos and we played the Starwars card game together,” he laughs nervously. “I had been listening to trance all night and was kind of bored of it, and he came on and played drum and bass and I was wasted and it was wicked and that was it, I was head over heals! His name is Aaron and he’s one of the first dnb DJs in New Zealand. He was playing hardcore and rave music when it first crossed over and got called ‘drum and bass’”.

With the release of their magnificent album, ‘Uprising’, Concord Dawn are set to become one of the most talked about acts this year. Their unique fusion of sound includes Slayer samples, as well as guests Tiki from Salmonella Dub and Skribe. Having spoken to Freq Nasty (Darin McFadyen) late last year, who also hails from New Zealand, I asked if they shared the view that radio plays an important part on the scene over the Tasman. “Yeah,” begins Harvey, “Student radio in NZ is really strong, they play a very broad range of music during the day, and a whole lot of specialist shows at night. We grew up listening to that, because commercial radio is quite cack (that’s kiwi for shit). But both of us come from diverse backgrounds,” he adds. “Evan used to play in heavy, HEAVY metal bands, and I used to play more EMO rock, more poppier sort of things, and also jazzy hiphop crossover sort of thing.”

Harvey also thinks the nature of New Zealand’s live scene is an important factor. “If you’re living in London you can go out Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday… every night you can go out to a drum and bass club,” he explains. “But if you want to have a drink here, you’re force to go out to hear something different. And just with the small circle, you know? I’ve known people for nearly 10 years, a lot of guys playing in the big hip hop bands over here, guys who play dub, guys who play in rock bands, guys that are now house or techno DJs. So if you want to catch up with your mates for a quiet drink you tend to go out and get exposed to a different kind of music to what your main focus is.”

This diversity in music leads to originality, and is precisely Freq Nasty’s sentiment. “It means you write more original music”, Harvey says. “If you spend all your time listening to drum and bass you can still write really good drum and bass, but you’re never going to write anything that’s quite innovative. All the tunes that we’ve done that have gone on to become quite big have usually contained something different. We’ve done stuff that’s contained a rock guitar, done stuff with Evan singing that’s trancey but still quite hard… something that dips it finger in another genre and has a little bit of that influence. Just to make waves (in the scene) you need to be doing something different,” he finishes.

Then the conversation turned to their recent experience in Adelaide. “That’s the second time we haven’t been paid for a gig out of about 400 gigs,” he says evenly. “I’m not completely happy about it, though it’s bound to happen. That’s one thing about DJing; you never get paid more if the party does really well… we’ll maybe very occasionally, once or twice… but if a party loses money people try not to pay you, or pay you less. That’s not how it’s meant to work,” he states. “If you work at a gas station and you have a slow day they’re not like “hey mate, we’re not going to pay you today”. We work quite hard at what we do, and it’s a bummer but these things happen.”

But Harvey is philosophical about it. “It’s kinda what you get… If we played for a regular drum and bass promoter then basically their reputation is all they’ve got. If we played for a long time dnb promoter, we’re safe because if he didn’t pay us, we’ve got enough friends in the drum and bass scene, you know, it wouldn’t be cool for him [and his reputation]. But for someone outside of drum and bass, it doesn’t really matter to them, and they can get away with it. I don’t think it’s really anybody’s fault, he’s the fall guy, but these things happen. We’re going to be back in April, so it’s all good.”

Maybe the philosophical side comes from Starwars. Harvey is a Starwars nut. Concord Dawn is the planet upon which the suddenly orphaned Jango Fett was rescued by the Mandalorian warrior Jaster Mereel as a child. (Thanks to our illustrious editor Andrew Street for that info). Harvey, as he mentioned, played the Starwars card trading game, has read the comics, and has quite a few Starwars themed tattoos as well. Or maybe it’s the fruitful looking future, which includes another album and then relocation.

“Since writing tunes together things have been happening. First tune we wrote together got played on the radio down here and by the time we had done 3 or 4 tunes we had been offered a record deal in NZ and then started getting sets and that and it’s all been good from there… we can’t really whinge! But we are planning on relocating, but not to London because London’s HORRIBLE!” he stresses. “We’re moving to Austria next year. We’re going to knock out another album, well, not knock out, you know, finely craft and hone a beautiful album”, he says laughingly, “and then probably tour that, then head over. So we’re looking at heading to Vienna and Austria in about June next year.”

Austria seems as unlikely a place for dnb superstars as New Zealand, but Harvey explained his reasons. “It’s a lot less expensive a city to live in than London, just things like rent and food and beer and that; and it’s really central to both West and Eastern Europe. We’re both taking our girlfriends, so it means we can take trains instead of flying and it means we can take them around. It allows us to spend 3 or 4 days in places, take our laptops and just soak up the atmosphere. We’re probably going to keep it quite mellow, do a gig a week. It’ll probably only be for a year or something, and then move back here to New Zealand,” he adds.

“Basically anything we do apart from NZ is a bonus. We’ve got enough gigs and sell enough records here; we could live off (and have been doing so for years) and save lots of money staying right here. Basically us going overseas is us being greedy really,” he chuckles, “well, not greedy, just trying to make things bigger and better. It’s not exactly a holiday, just a chance to go seeing different things and eat some weird sausages and drink some different beers. I think if we lived in London for a year or so we’d eventually get not so much worn down, but we’d be in the same boat as a lot of other people writing drum and bass.”


Resin Dogs

Resin Dogs seem to be one of Australia’s most well loved live acts. Hailing from sunny Brisbane, they seem to bring the party vibe to wherever they visit, whether it’s a small club like the now defunct Minke bar here in Adelaide, to playing to thousands at Livid and Big Day Out. We caught up with Katch, the DJ of the crew, to talk about what they’ve been doing recently and about their coming tour.

He mentions it’s very hot in Queensland, and also says, nonchalantly, that he’s been “doing a lot of office shit – the record label and that. It’s very interesting; running the record label is an interesting and intriguing part of being in a band. I’m just learning the ropes of all that, dealing with getting stuff out and deadlines. You gotta know what’s going on with your business or else your fucked,” he laughs.

Speaking of the record label, they’ve been rather quiet of late, with no new signings but a few “potentials”. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a bad sign… quite the contrary, with acts like Katalyst and Downsyde supporting some of the bigger hiphop events around Australia. “I think Katalyst and Downsyde getting huge exposure is great, more of it!” Katch enthuses, “for that style of music as well as the acts.” I mention that I’ve heard the Resin Dogs on our ‘different’ Triple M. “I didn’t even know Triple M played our stuff. Wow, this is great!” he exclaims. Wondering if this extra radio play will impact on the group, Katch is, as I expect, unfussed. “Just means more people are going to hear it,” he says, probably with a wry smile.

On problem with becoming commercial is being pigeonholed and labelled. Katch is rather philosophical about this. “If it helps sell “that thing” to “that person”, you know what I mean, it’s just a description thing. If it helps sell it to the audience to help them get an understanding [of what we’re about] I guess its OK. To me it’s all beats, uptempo, downtempo, whatever. We are a “party” band,” he adds, referring to the classification of the Resin Dogs being ‘party hiphop’, “we like people to have fun, but if we want to tell people about the reign of terror and stuff like that we can bring that along as well. But labels are labels these days – there’s so many brands of t-shirts but it still just a t-shirt. This might sound wanky,” he laughs, “but even if you’ve made one person change, at least you’ve made a change. I’ve had people come up and say “you’ve started me getting into DJing” and stuff. And I feel sorry for them, because now they’re going to spend all their money on records,” he chuckles again.

Talk moves away from the “business side” into the makeup of the band for this tour. I had heard that the band rarely practices, and was rather astonished that they could sound so good together live. “Sometimes there’s no rehearsals,” Katch agrees. “When we brought Abstract Rude out we had a couple of rehearsals, to get him used to our songs, so he knew what he was doing and wouldn’t be walking into it blind and put on the spot. If there’s time we’ll do it, but most of the people we tour with have a fair idea of the songs.” The line up is quite variable, featuring different session players and different guests, ensuring a different experience each time. “We try and keep the main core of the band of course,” Katch says, “but we bring guest acts out who we’ve worked with, or like to work with, friends of ours from interstate and what not.”

Collaboration seems to be a big part of the Resin Dogs vibe, and they’ve collaborated with DJ Ransom, Ben Ely from Regurgitator, Abstract Rude, Lazy Grey from Brothers Stoney, Mad Doctor X, Kenny Dope, Barry Ashworth of the Dub Pistols and more recently The Pharcyde, Jungle Brothers and the wonderful vocal talents of the UK’s Spikey Tee, who’s on tour with them. “We’ve collaborated through the record company ringing up saying ‘we’ve got a bunch of people who you may be interested in working with’”, Katch explains. “Our first record was produced by Robert Reed from Trouble Funk because the record company said “you sound like these guys, maybe you should contact this dude” The Pharcyde were hooked up that way too… We’ve even simply looked at peoples records, found phone numbers on records and got in touch through that. It’s amazing”, he says, “you find records and they have numbers are for the actual artist, because they’re underground or whatever, and it’s quite a buzz!”

Talking about Spikey Tee brings up my favourite topic, sampling. We talk about the impending trade agreement with the USA and what impact that may have on Australia’s recording industry, especially those groups that use samples. “It’s what you do with samples,” Katch says. “People take huge chunks and are oblivious to the whole thing, and there’s those who take it and chop it up and make it their own. If you contact the right people and get proper usage it’s all fine. Sometimes the whole art of sampling is ‘can they find it’ in the first place, a game of deception.” I wondered if the difficulty in clearing samples was the reason why there are two versions of Adore You, one with the original singer Queen Adreena, the other with the aforementioned Spikey T. “It was partly because yeah, fuck, this is going to be a big nightmare clearing this, so it’s like a cover version. But mainly it was the fact that he could sing the part. He had these solo records out on Grand Central, and his vocals just spun me out. When he came out, I think it was 2002, I introduced myself, and we’ve kept in touch since. When he came out to do the Livid festival last year, they hung out with us for a few weeks at the Studio, and one day I just asked him ‘do you want to sing this, coz I reckon a male version of Adore You could be good’. So we got it done.”

As time was quickly running out, although it felt like we could have chatted all night, things turned to the impending gig. Katch is definitely looking forward to coming to Adelaide. “I’ve had some wicked nights at there,” he says wickedly, speaking of times fondly remembered at Minke. “Small and intimate is good, but sometimes it gets too hot,” he says. “The Big Day Out and that you know, are just massive. Good crowds and a massive audience to appeal to, but they both have their merits. If I had to I’d play in front of one person, or one hundred thousand it doesn’t really matter, I’d still play my best,” he adds.