“It’s not against the law to have a good time,” said Eric San, more popularly known as DJ Kid Koala, to a packed crowd at Yugong Yishan this Thursday evening. In a way, it neatly summarized San’s raison d’etre as one of turntablism’s most easygoing characters, and he leapt from one feel-good musical moment to another in a sample-filled set that soon had the crowd as upbeat and enthusiastic as Koala himself.
San is Chinese-Canadian, and his “Lei ho” greeting was warmly welcomed by the Southerners (and fellow Overseas Chinese) in the crowd. Though he may speak Cantonese, judging by his almost exclusive use of English, it doesn’t sound like he speaks Mandarin. It’s doubtful the audience even noticed—it probably didn’t hurt that the number of foreign faces outweighed Chinese ones—and he got the crowd moving early on with some signature old school beats over some fuzzy grunge and ragga tracks. San also threw in a Wolfmother sample, perhaps a nod to his recent side project, The Slew, which features the bassist and drummer from the antipodean rock outfit.
Perhaps one of the appeals of a Kid Koala show is San’s utter lack of pretension. Sporting a 60s kung-fu hero bowl cut, he looked more like a naughty teenager in his bedroom, messing around with his parent’s records—the fire siren-like breakdown of his parents’ beloved “Moonriver” a chief offender—than a street cred-conscious connoisseur of cool. Whether leaping between records—as always, sans headphones—throwing in the occasional goofy voice sample or flexing his remarkable scratching skills, Koala’s cheeky, irrepressible grin rarely left his face as he hustled about his tables, sweat dripping down his face.
Koala has described DJing as sometimes akin to having records that he’s listened to take part in a “dating service,” and if Thursday night was anything to go by, San would make for a most interesting matchmaker. M.I.A. rubbed shoulders with ragtime jazz figures, and harmonica-blowing Delta bluesmen mingled with the cocktail dress socialites out of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
After finishing his first set with signature record-as-trumpet crowd pleaser “Drunken Trumpet,” Koala returned, inviting two other DJs—opener DJ Jamming and a friend—to scratch alongside him.
Finally, after a cheerful, crowd-pleasing set, San ended with the haunting, moody “Videotape,” the closing track from Radiohead’s “In Rainbows.” It was a surprisingly mellow way to close, but perhaps echoed the cynical closing statements made by the ponderous (and talented) Chinese MC in the MLK shirt who opened, when he claimed “people in this world are only a little bit happy.”
In which, case, I strongly encourage them to come out in future for some groove therapy with Kid Koala.