It’s hard to imagine now how groundbreaking Radiohead’s Kid A was. I’d seen Radiohead in a small Dallas club when “Creep” was hot, and ran to see them all-grows-up at MSG in 2001—but equally jaw-dropping was the opening act, Kid Koala. For music dorks-slash-turntable geeks, Kid Koala executed skillz that were technically mindblowing, while playing actual music that was swoonable for audience members who weren’t hawk-watching the camera trained on his decks.
Seventeen years later, Kid Koala is a household name amongst turntablist fanatics, and basically everyone has heard his work—with Radiohead, with Gorillaz, or in film work like Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. He’s full-on colonized the pop culture, and has tried his hand at all of it while offering up its own detritus as tools for creation compilation: his use of antiquated, rejected technologies, like Califone Cardmaster 2000 on Baby Driver or The Baldwin Syntha-Sound on his new project, makes one wonder if his studio looks like the set of Wall-E—and yes, he wrote also wrote a book about a robot in love
For his next trick, he’s done the soundtrack for a video game—animator JonJon’s living-ink-like breakdancing game Floor Kids— and released the soundtrack on wax.
And because Kid Koala’s live acts have a reputation for being unconventional and collaborative, it’s exciting that he’s bringing this one to Elsewhere on May 18.
We caught up with the Kid Koala via email to pick his brain.
I first heard you when you opened for Radiohead’s Kid A tour at MSG circa 2001. I’ll never forget your “horn solo,” dropping and lifting the needle on what looked like a chromatic scale of long tones. Was I right in guessing you had pressed that record yourself?
Woah! I remember that Radiohead tour. It was super fun times. I learned so much sitting side-stage and watching their concerts every night. During soundcheck I was always picking Jonny Greenwood]’s brain about all their different audio gadgets. You’re correct there is a record cut with some long brass tones, you can bend the notes by hand by moving the record faster/slower and also by using the pitch slider.
Where do you press your records for experimenting?
I have a record cutter in my studio in Montreal.
Related— did you press “Was He Slow?” from Baby Driver so you can scratch it up during sets?
Yes! I’ve been getting a lot of requests to perform that track live so I cut some custom plates and have added it to Vinyl Vaudeville set list. We’re calling Vinyl Vaudeville “The Silliest Show On Earth,” and we try every night to live up to that! I’ve got a tour bus full of dancers and puppeteers who are traveling with me. And the bit we do for “Was He Slow?” currently has ostriches playing a giant MPC and a disassembled club sandwich doing a dance routine. It’s a riot and totally bonkers.
“Floor Kids” feels like a perfect loop for you. After collecting and using sounds from any source—including video games— you’ve now made your own video game soundtrack, pressed it to wax, and can now manipulate those sounds, as you did in “Floor Kids Mega Mix.” What are your favorite tracks on the record for remixing/cutting/etc.?
I think the battle tracks from the game are probably the best for cutting. “Lab Time,” “Big Trouble In Little Battle,” “Turn Style,” “Laser Tagz,” “Five Spot Stomp.” Those are the tracks I’m having a lot of fun chopping up for the b-boys and b-girls. I wanted the music for the game to travel each era of break music. So I made tracks that nod to the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, ’10s, to the future funk of tomorrow depending on which venue you’re playing at in the game. I was scoring to JonJon’s amazing art and animation for the game while trying to capture that break battle energy in the beats.
When I first got “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome,” I thought it was catnip for scratchers— you couldn’t just leave it on in the background, you either had to really listen, or even better, mess with it. “Floor Kids” sounds like it might be more “accessible,” for lack of a better word, for idle listening—or, as you said, “This is the first Kid Koala record that you can actually dance to.” Would you prefer people to listen to your music, or manipulate it?
If people feel like cutting those records up on the turntables, they absolutely should because scratching is fun! But I know music serves different functions for different people. Even if you’re not going to scratch, or practice your moves for a break battle, this record could serve you well at the gym while you’re doing reps, or if you need some beats to motivate you to quickly tidy up your house before the guests arrive, or if you need some short tracks to motivate you while you’re prepping a meal in the kitchen!
I’d hoped to take you digging at The Thing— do you know it? The dingy basement space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with floor-to-ceiling records, everything $1—and the distinct aroma of cat urine? Do you still do a lot of digging? Or have you grown out of such “high-class” environments?
I don’t know that spot, but it sounds super fun (except for the cat urine bit). For the last few years, I’ve been digging more for instruments, microphones, amps, audio gadgets etc. But there’s always something very calming and meditative about digging in a record store. Whenever I’m in a place with stacks of records to the ceiling, I’m reminded of how much more there is to discover, learn and hear.
Bradley Spinelli is the author of the novels “The Painted Gun” and “Killing Williamsburg,” and the writer/director of “#AnnieHall.”