The DJ at most modern rap shows has a very simple job: keep the crowd hyped in between sets and play the songs at the right time. The evolution of electronic music production means that most of a DJs job is already finished by the time they get on stage. Scratching went from novelty, to the hottest trend, to underground artistic expression used by only a few DJs in recent years.
One of the DJs that has been holding a torch for these artists is Kid Koala, a Canadian DJ who has been in the game for more than 20 years. Despite coming from Vancouver, an area not generally known for churning out Hip-Hop greats, Kid Koala, whose real name is Eric San, has been very Hip-Hop since the beginning. His first project in 1996, titled Scratchcratchratchatch was only released on cassette, and limited to 500 copies. Since then, Kid Koala has been a part of several producer collectives, released multiple projects, and even worked on the children’s television show Yo Gabba Gabba.
In 2017, he created the soundtrack to Hololabs Studio’s Floor Kids, a videogame about breakdancing. In support of this soundtrack, Kid Koala is currently on a national tour which made a stop at Union Stage in Washington D.C. on May 16. The mostly white, hipster type audience seemed appropriate, in addition to a few overly drunk and vocal patrons.
The show, entitled “Vinyl Vaudeville,” was an enthralling mix of puppetry and Hip-Hop that was a sight and sound to behold. Almost every single track in the over 90 minute set featured numerous unique and colorful puppets. Each set of puppets clearly had an immense amount of thought and care put into its conception and construction. Some notable examples include human-sized, trombone-playing ants, a 10 foot spider walking through the entire venue and a giant walking trumpet that appeared to play itself as Kid Koala scratched a trumpet-sounding sample out on his turntable.
The many puppeteers that were employed in bringing this show to life were not the only players on Kid Koala’s stage. Midway through the set, three dancers, Adira Amram and the Experience, took the stage, and spent much of the rest of the set performing. They did an intricate and alluring dance routine involving feathered fans, spoke to the crowd, and even helped with much of the puppetry for the rest of the show.
The music that Kid Koala makes is not always best suited for live performance, but Kid Koala treats this show like a theatrical experience more than a concert. Beyond the puppetry, Kid Koala is placing real vinyl onto turntables and making the music right in front of the audience. The show included a scene where two bird puppets came out to play on a giant sampler, and Kid Koala played along to the bird’s feet. Little penguins scooted through the audience and danced with each other. During a song called “Laptop,” three oversized laptop puppets and letters spelling out LAPTOP danced all about the stage
A large section of the show was dedicated to Kid Koala filming a mockumentary about his tour. He explained that he wanted to do a tour video, but not a traditional one, so they made up a story about an inter-dimensional alien trance DJ. As he explained this, a diligent group quickly brought out a smaller turntable and light set up for this fake DJ. A real film crew then came out and recorded the entire fake experience. A two-headed, tentacled, helmeted creature emerged from the curtains, and, as instructed, the crowd went wild. After doing it twice, the film crew packed up all of their things and the show moved forward.
After a large conga line through Union Stage involving the entire crowd, the Experience, and Kid Koala, the show ended with what surely had to be the largest paper airplane fight any audience member had ever participated in. Kid Koala wrapped up the performance with “8-bit Blues (Chicago to NY to LA).” Adira Amram and the Experience came out and threw a few paper airplanes into the crowd part way through the song. They encouraged the audience to keep them going by continuing to throw them, and then briefly went back stage. When they reemerged, they were holding baskets, each with dozens of paper airplanes inside. They threw several at a time, passed them out and encouraged participation until the air was filled with a plethora of paper airplanes, constantly whirring and flying about. After sufficient chaos had been achieved, one of the members of the Experience brought out an enormous paper airplane and launched it into the crowd.
Vinyl Vaudeville is an experience unlike any other concert out there. The production value involved in a show like this is usually reserved for theatrical performances. The massive number of talented people involved in creating Vinyl Vaudeville cannot be applauded enough. This show may not scratch the Hip-Hop itch a concert-goer might have coming into this show, but what they will find instead is creative and unique enough that it doesn’t really matter.
These incredible photos from Kid Koala’s performance at Union Stage, in Washington, DC, on May 16, 2018, were taken by StayUp.News senior content producer and photographer Jack M. Angelo:
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