These days, many DJs heavily so rely on the Apple computer they forget what's truly important: the connection between audience and performer. It is quite refreshing to see someone who uses the nostalgic tools of hip-hop and finds other ways to draw in a crowd rather than repeatedly hitting the “whomp” button. Meet Kid Koala, a pure turntablist admired for his commitment to a dying hip-hop tradition: the use of analog machines to create music that is spontaneous, messy and gritty.
His current 12 bit Blues Vinyl Vaudeville Tour is part old-school variety show, part speakeasy dancehall and part ‘80s hip-hop block party. With the dance floor packed, Kid Koala took the stage at Holocene behind the simple instruments the Canadian DJ refuses to let go: three turntables, a mixer, an analog beat machine, a sampler and a box of vinyl. As the 38-year-old native of Vancouver, B.C., remixed old blues records, members of the audience relocated to Holocene's lower dance floor to sensually swing and sway.
For hip-hop aficionados, the show was nothing short of spectacular. Kid Koala's talent is hard to come by these days, and his ability to orchestrate his precise sound while maintaining his cheerful charisma is charming. Watching the big screens on either side of him, the crowd bobbed heads in awe of the quick strokes and movements of the DJ’s hands—from turntable to mixer back to turntable.
Joining Kid Koala onstage were puppets, prop and his dancers, the band Adira Amram and the Experience, who played a solid, entertaining warm-up set. With nearly five costume changes and zany, Muppet-like characters running around the stage, even the person with the shortest attention span could not take their eyes away. Kid Koala even ran offstage to throw on his signature koala suit on, proclaiming, “It’s hot, but I lost a bet to play 100 shows in this thing." In the final third of the evening, the DJ kept up the intensity with his participatory, feel-good cover of the Yo Gabba Gabba theme, then went into a remix of another hip-hop purist's take on blues, Nas' “Bridging the Gap.”
The final song was what Koala called a “travel song,” a rambling, bluesy tune evocative of Mississippi dirt roads, which he complimented with the rough sounds of scratched vinyl. As the dancers ran onstage in 1960s-era flight attendant outfits and showered the audience in paper planes, Kid Koala's concentration never faltered. His ability to please a crowd, while being so technically in-tune and on-point, is simply fun to watch, and the nostalgia his show evokes is appropriate for fans of hip-hop, blues, even theater.
BONUS LIVE VIDEO OF KID KOALA AT HOLOCENE, SHOT AND EDITED BY DREW LENIHAN: