June 2007

Kid Koala
at the Toronto Jazz Festival
June 29, 2007 The Mod Club Theatre Toronto
Experiments with Vinyl
Report and photos by Tony Shivpershad
There’s already a DJ on the stage when I arrive. I'm here to see the Kid Koala instalment of the Toronto Jazz Festival. Buried behind the turntables and Apple iBook, DJ Fase is spinning an eclectic set of grooves as the audience filters into the Mod Club Theatre.

At 10 p.m. DJ Fase is joined onstage by Abdominal. The MC kicks rhymes a cappella, sounding more like a spoken word artist reciting poetry than a rapper. After a few bars Fase brings in the beat, Abdominal’s vocals ride it.

Abdominal’s one hour hip-hop set is very entertaining. He covers a wide range of topics, from an ode to the city of Toronto to a song about fast food and his love for those golden arches. The crowd is engaged. Then he gets theatrical, putting on an exhibit of how long he can rap in a single breath. “With this song I take very few breaths, and with those few breaths I say very many words,” he explained. He challenges himself by trying to rhyme through 16 bars between breaths, laughs and shakes his head, “weak” he exclaims when he only makes it to ten bars.

A little later Fase encourages Abdominal to freestyle. He starts kicking rhymes off the top of his head, and covers Canada Day (it is two days after the concert), the jerk chicken he had just before the show, beer, and an audience member's wardrobe. When he ends with a simile comparing himself and DJ Fase to basketball legends Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, he laughs at himself and how "whack" his rhymes are. While most rappers suffer from an excess of braggadocio, Abdominal offers a humourous dose of self deprecation, as is evident on his tune "My sister's hot, but I'm not."

For his finale, Abdominal demonstrated that he could keep up with the beat, as DJ Fase started the last song at a standard hip-hop of pace of 98 beats per minute and gradually increased the tempo until it reached 120 beats per minute with Abdominal spitting lyrics at bullet speed. Then the beat stopped and Abdominal kept going a cappella.

DJ Fase played another set of great music and finally Kid Koala casually walked onto the stage. Anticipation mounted as Kid Koala sorted out some of the cabling on his equipment.

What followed consisted of a demonstration of just about everything that could be done with turntables, mixer and a stack of wax. A small video camera attached to a microphone stand broadcast the black and white image of two of the turntables and the mixer to three large screens, so that audience members could have a view of Kid Koala as he scratched, cut and transformed the records. The show was very light on beat juggling though.

Kid Koala
Mainly Kid Koala runs a beat on one of the turntables and uses two others to scratch on. Although his records have cue marks on them, what is astonishing is that he never uses headphones to catch the track, or match the tempos. He is always able to grab the right groove. The one miscue occurs when the needle skips and the beat abruptly ends. This would upset most DJs; Kid Koala laughs, grabs the mic and says "whoops" before bringing in Kanye West's "Gold Digger."

The mix of music and genres is so eclectic that the only other track that I can identify is a Beastie Boys song. On his song, "Drunken Trumpet", Kid Koala works a fourth turntable. He manipulates the record on this with a special pitch control lever that goes right around the platter. As he slows and speeds the tempo he is able to simulate the sound of a horn instrument.

What is clear about Kid Koala is that he is just plain old having fun up there. He has a great big smile on his face as he taps his feet along to the beats. He is like a kid and polyvinyl-acetate is his candy. On two occasions he communicates with the crowd using hand-written messages on a flip-chart. "I found this next record for you," he has written and then spins a '70s sounding song with the refrain “Yonge Street, Toronto's fun street".

He takes a break from playing for a while and acknowledges that this is the Jazz Festival and that he is able to do something that has never been done before in a jazz festival. He asks for a volunteer from the audiences and calls a beautiful, young lady up. He tells her that he and she are going to battle. He produces a thumb wrestling ring that he found on a trip to Singapore. Emma, the volunteer, feels confident; coincidentally she happened to be born in Singapore. Kid Koala declares, “This is the weirdest DJ show…this week!” as the audience chants, “1, 2, 3, 4 – I declare a thumb war – kiss, bow, fight!” The two of them wrestle away.

A little later as the beats are slamming, Kid Koala returns to the flip chart, going through more hand scrawled message, “I’m feeling silly tonight” and “Are you feeling silly?” The music continues with a bunch of crowd favourites — the enthusiastic bunch sing along to The Flaming Lips, "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1".

Several times throughout the night Kid Koala mentions the book that he is working on about a mosquito who plays jazz clarinet. He promises an ensuing tour to promote the book.

Near the end of the night some overzealous audience members climb up on stage. They are able to dance a bit before the bouncers are able to grab them, only to be replaced by more crazy dancers.

The show concludes with Kid Koala explaining that he was just having fun and trying a lot of new stuff tonight. He dedicates the show to his wife. He was up until five that morning trying out some new things, so that the show would be fresh for us, he tells us. He says that he had to play through a pair of small, tinny speakers so as not to disturb his neighbours and that he was happy to hear his new experiments through a much larger system.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Tony Shivpershad
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