Kid Koala

Photo: Corinne Merrell

“Utilitarian” is not exactly the type of description artists long to see as a description of their music. But according to Montréal turntablist and composer Eric San, a.k.a. Kid Koala, that’s the exact word that best describes his most recent album, Music to Draw to: Satellite. The project’s intended goal could not be clearer, as expressed in its title: it’s designed as music to draw – or perform any other calm and solitary activity – to. With its slow tempos and layered synths, the album feels light years away from the eclectic, syncopated collages to which we’d grown accustomed from this ace turntable artist. Yet, to Kid Koala, this is one of his most personal projects, and a natural extension of his  creative output. “The turntable is still there, but it’s not being used as an instrument for solos, more like a production tool that can add texture to the compositions,” says San. “For the live show, I’ve created an orchestra of turntables that are manipulated by the audience, and the result is astonishing!”

The idea behind this unique project was born from DJ sessions where the Kid invited a small audience in sometimes unusual venues (a Vietnamese restaurant, for example) to listen to calm records while doodling in their sketch pads (“music for introverts”, says San, laughing). Those events were so popular that the DJ decided to create his own “music to draw to.” “I think it’s absolute genius to associate certain functions to specific types of music. The Ramones are great for a quick clean-up of the house, EDM is great for the gym, and so on!”

San, who’s been busy with his graphic-novel and animated-movie projects, also has his go-to albums when he sits at his drawing board, and his top two are quite surprising: “Spaklehorse’s It’s a Wonderful World, a somewhat twisted album that has me discovering new details in it even after hundreds of listens, and Lucky Cat by Sian, a rather ambient electronic album that Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood gave me, and which helps me lose all sense of time.”

The latter is definitely the one that comes closest to Satellite. Apart from its ambient nature and slow tempos, the most outstanding aspect of Satellite is the presence of a female voice – that of Icelandic chanteuse Emiliana Torrini, by whose work San has always been awestruck. Following their first long-distance collaboration in 2014, on a song created for the soundtrack of Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children, San invited Torrini to spend a few days in Montréal so they could work on his “petite winter music.” Torrini being the type to take her time when writing, she immersed herself in the DJ’s “cerebral labyrinth” while San whipped up lyrics that talked about two lovers slowly drifting apart in space. “Eric is really annoying: everything he does is successful,” says Torrini. “Creativity flows through his veins, it’s his very nature, whereas I have to struggle really hard to get to that level.”

The project is in fact the first of a series of three “winter records” Kid Koala will produce for the Arts and Crafts imprint. The few constraints he’s imposed on himself are simple: he’ll only work on them during the winter, and they must involve vocalists. Did he feel it was important to involve a Nordic singer for this first chapter? “I do believe it facilitated my understanding of certain things,” San explains. “At some point, Emiliana asked me why the rhythm of one of the songs, ‘Adrift,’ was so slow. I told her it has the tempo of someone who’s been shovelling snow for three hours, and she totally got it! To be honest, I’m still wondering how someone who lives in California will be able to appreciate this record!”

Whether you choose to do yoga, paint-by-numbers, or simply go for a walk while you listen to Satellite, it’s the kind of record that will find a place in your life, if you feel the need to withdraw from the daily hubbub of life. “I meet all kinds of people when I do my Music to Draw to DJ sets,” San explains. “The other day, I met a biologist who builds protein chains on his computer, and a woman who’s studying 3D models of the human brain. Maybe I should’ve titled my album Music to build proteins to or Music to do Neuroscience to. But it’s not as sexy!”