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Kid Koala's long love affair with Weird Ottawa

In decades spent digging through the crates of the capital’s record stores, the veteran DJ has discovered what makes the city special

Though he hails from Montreal, Kid Koala may know the Ottawa music underground better and more intimately than anyone.

Corinne Merrell / Contributed

Though he hails from Montreal, Kid Koala may know the Ottawa music underground better and more intimately than anyone.

Kid Koala can tell a lot about a city by flipping through just a few crates of records at a local music store.

The Montreal musician, turntablist, producer and DJ always cruises for that “left field” sound when in a new city — the weirder the local wax, the more willing music fans are to push their musical boundaries.

And Ottawa’s record shops, Koala says, have spoken volumes.

“I always knew there was stuff happening in Ottawa,” says Koala, a.k.a. Eric San, the Montreal-born DJ who can often be seen bouncing to chopped-up beats wrapped in a fuzzy koala suit. “You could tell by the indie record stores, whether it was just your regular middle-of-the-road Top 40 albums, or whether people were digging deeper for stuff.

It was clear, he says, that Ottawa “was always surprisingly open to even left-field music.”

In that light, it stands to reason that Ottawa is the only city in the world, besides Montreal, that has seen every single production Kid Koala has put on. From his scratch DJ days with Ninja Tunes in the ’90s, to last year’s breathtaking graphic-novel-turned-live-show, Nufonia Must Fall, the nation’s capital has always been at the top of San’s tour dates.

And it’s not just because of proximity. As San puts it, the city has always been willing to jump into his rocket ship and fly to Mars with him without even arranging a ride home.

“If you ask me what I gained from that, it was partly the courage to be able push outside of what might be expected from, say, a scratch DJ,” San says. “I think Ottawa, like Montreal — it’s a very nurturing city for creatives, meaning the economy around art and music is less about bar sales or more about doing something cool with music.”

Case in point: The forward-thinking Arboretum, the artist showcase and conference Megaphono, the literally underground hip-hop festival House of Paint — all and more are driving the city’s collective creative conscience to new heights. 

While San used to “smash turntables apart” to crowdsurfing revellers at Babylon in the ’90s, he now puts them in a slow trance at churches, museums and libraries, often tasking them with some form of interaction within the shows.

It will be no different when his Satellite concert series hits the NAC tonight: Koala will cue audience members play to records and loop sounds at 50 turntable stations set up in the venue. The idea is to create a live, organic DJ orchestra.

But don’t worry if you’re not musically inclined; the show won’t completely collapse if you turn the interstellar orbiter the wrong way.   

“We’re not trying to cause anyone an anxiety attack or performance anxiety,” he adds, chuckling.

“The songs themselves, for the most part, are quite downtempo.”

Kid Koala’s Satellite runs through Saturday.

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