Kid Koala at the Opera House (735 Queen East), tonight (Thursday, October 9). $20. 416-870-8000. And with Radiohead at Skydome (1 Blue Jays Way), Wednesday (October 15). $47-$57. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
While Kid Koala's fellow turntablists have become obsessed with perfecting the fastest routines, there's always been a kind of higher purpose to the scratching that cut creator Eric San does under his fuzzy marsupial alias. In fact, the best moments on Koala's Some Of My Best Friends Are DJs disc are when you forget that he's a DJ at all. As on his Carpal Tunnel Syndrome debut, there are some novelty cut-ups on the new disc, but he really shows off his skills as a composer, using the turntable to create music, not just flashy routines.
Skanky Panky is a ska song cut up and reassembled, with sax lines and skanking beats built out of dozens of different sources. Koala's cover of the New Orleans jazz standard Basin Street Blues takes the approach even further, assembling a swinging jazz tune note by note.
Other DJs have talked at length about using the turntable as an instrument. Koala has finally made good on that boast.
"I came to terms with the fact that I like turntables because they can do the really silly, random things," San concedes from Montreal, "but you can also use them to do more developed musical projects. At the end of the day, the whole sideshow thing doesn't appeal to me any more.
"Basin Street Blues was the starting point for the new record, and it really set the tone. I wanted to see if I could do a turntable version of this song, so I worked on it for six months. I could have brought in a horn section to just play the parts, but it was more interesting to do it piecemeal. It was an experiment."
Dispensing with the sideshow element, or at least packaging it into something more compelling, is crucial. San's concept of being a DJ isn't simply scratching the fastest or using tired comedy breaks - although his new record has plenty of that, too.
With the brief mass public interest in turntablism long gone, San is committed to reinventing how he uses his decks.
"When the whole turntable thing took off, people were like, -Here's something that's going to make all other musical instruments obsolete,'" he laughs. "That was so wrong. Sure, you can do bass, drums and vocals, but it's still turntables to me. I don't mean that in a bad way, but that's what it is.
"Right now, I'm looking at what doing this means. Being a scratch DJ, what does that mean? Does it mean you're just scratching over things, or does it mean taking the role of, say, a bass player? With Basin, that's what I did.
"I didn't want to just sample a bass rhythm, so I started scatting bass lines, then found all those notes on different bass records, scratched those in and then took my voice out. It was like doing an animated film. In the end, it sounds a bit surreal, but that's the charm of it."