Typically big on imagination and hoping to “joyfully connect people”, renowned Canadian DJ and producer Kid Koala puts his multifarious skills to good use on his new double album, ‘Creatures Of The Late Afternoon’ – with a built-in board game, to boot

When you first step into Kid Koala’s krazy kartoon kosmos, the sheer range of his kaleidoscopic vision can be a little disorienting. The Canadian turntable maestro’s roots may lie in the old skool hip hop skills of scratching, mixing and sampling, but his ever-expanding musical canvas encompasses deconstructed jazz and blues, funk and metal, experimental electronica and vintage Americana, cinematic scores and ambient soundscapes.

In a little over two decades, the restlessly inventive Montreal multimedia magpie – real name Eric San – has released nine solo albums, worked on dozens of collaborative projects and played with superstars like Beastie Boys, Gorillaz, Radiohead, Björk, Arcade Fire and Bryan Ferry. But music is only one aspect of his creative output, which includes graphic novels, films, board games, puppet operas and more. He may be just 48, but Kid Koala seems to inhabit an infinite multiverse of lives and careers. Everything everywhere all at once.

Even as he chats to me by video link from his Montreal studio base, Koala is bouncing around the room, pointing out his customised piano, his vintage Moog and Buchla synths, and his 1987 E-MU SP-1200 sampler and drum machine, as used by Lee “Scratch” Perry and countless other hip hop producers. He calls this set-up “cyborg”, a mix of digital and analogue, but his signature aesthetic remains hand-crafted and lo-fi. He even has a vinyl cutter to create his own bespoke artisan dubplates for live performances.

Kid Koala’s new album, ‘Creatures Of The Late Afternoon’, is an emphatically DIY affair. For the first time ever, he plays all 26 instruments across this musically eclectic double-length collection. This was more out of necessity than choice, since the album was largely recorded during Montreal’s strict Covid lockdown, but he rose to the challenge with his usual infectiously childlike curiosity.

“I’ve got friends who can play all those instruments better than me,” Koala explains. “This time it was just not an option. But I enjoyed the process and I had fun trying things out in the studio.”

During the album’s gestation, Koala drew inspiration from Peter Jackson’s 2021 documentary series, ‘The Beatles: Get Back’, which led him to experiment with amps, mics and studio acoustics. Hardcore audio nerd stuff, in other words.

“Fully nerd,” he laughs. “I mean, there was a lot of free time. Normally, I would spend half the year out on the road.”

‘Creatures Of The Late Afternoon’ is Koala’s most musically expansive, stylistically promiscuous album yet, from its artfully scuffed funk-rock grooves to its lavish Ennio Morricone homages, jaunty junk shop ska-punk jams and voluptuous retro-jazz chansons. The title has a vaguely 1950s sci-fi throwback feel, but it also ties into a larger meta-narrative about endangered species. It came to Koala while watching nature documentaries with his two teenage daughters during lockdown. The comforting animal antics often came with an apocalyptic twist.

“At the end of the more recent programmes, David Attenborough or somebody would always say, ‘And now there are only seven of these left on the planet…’,” he sighs. “You had this 30-minute escape from your lockdown, looking at these incredible creatures in nature, but it was always this downer ending, as some of them might be in the late afternoon of their existence. So the story became like, ‘OK, what if they all played instruments and then they tried to protect their existence?’.”

Reinforcing this backstory, ‘Creatures Of The Late Afternoon’ comes with its own board game. Plans are also well underway to turn it into a gloriously bizarre stage musical featuring puppets, live video screens, turntable and chamber orchestra. This will be Koala’s third such collaboration with director KK Barrett and The Afiara String Quartet, following ‘Nufonia Must Fall’ and ‘The Storyville Mosquito’.

“We’re prototyping sets and puppets for it now,” Koala says. “It’s about a bunch of creatures that band together to try to save the Natural History Museum, told in action movie tropes.”

This may sound like a grandiose late-career project, but Koala’s output has been pan-dimensional from day one. His debut album, ‘Carpal Tunnel Syndrome’, an ambitiously hand-crafted analogue affair released in 2000, came with its own video game and 32-page comic book. Later releases have been accompanied by graphic novels, chess sets, cabaret-style stage shows, interactive 50-turntable live performances and more. Everything everywhere all at once.

Eric San was born in 1974 in Vancouver, the middle child of Chinese immigrant parents. His father worked as a cancer researcher and genetic toxicologist, his mother as an accountant. During their early courtship in the 1960s, his father left Hong Kong to study in Canada. The young lovers didn’t see each other for seven years, but they wrote twice weekly. Indeed, one track on ‘Creatures Of The Late Afternoon’ – the retro-flavoured girl-group pastiche ‘When U Say Love’ – draws on their treasure trove of letters, which Koala found in a box stored in his studio space.

His father would also send his mother reel-to-reel tapes of Western pop hits taped off the radio, with the lyrics transcribed.

“That’s how my mom actually learned to speak English,” he recalls. “Listening to those songs, those pre-mix-tape mix tapes. She would read along and learn the songs and the words.”

‘When U Say Love’ is not Koala’s first musical tribute to his parents. After a pilgrimage to New Orleans in 2003 in homage to his jazz-loving father, he recorded a gloriously wonky scratch-jazz remix of the 1928 Spencer Williams Dixieland standard ‘Basin Street Blues’. He went on to unveil a turntable deconstruction of the classic Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer ballad, ‘Moon River’, one of his mother’s most beloved songs, for her wedding anniversary party in Hawaii.

“I didn’t think it would work in a nightclub setting, but the crowd was super into it,” he says. “Then afterwards she said to me, ‘Why’d you do that to my favourite song?’. Ha!”


Koala’s musical education began at four with classical piano lessons. He hated them.

“It was a very strict conservatory training of music that was centuries old,” he shrugs. “These days, I actually love classical music and it’s kind of come full circle in terms of the stuff I’ll practise on turntables. But when I was a kid, I just wanted to ride my bike and play with my friends. The piano was very adjudicated and competition-based – a bit stressful, to be honest. I didn’t understand at the time how you could play a song written hundreds of years ago and do it with your own twist.”

When he began scratching, mixing and DJing in his teens, it was “the opposite ethos” that fired his imagination. The reality-bending, time-stretching potential of the turntable opened up an infinite undiscovered universe of sonic invention.

“De La Soul, Coldcut, Public Enemy,” he says, nodding. “Those three artists got played more than anything in my crate. I would deliver newspapers before school and have enough to buy maybe a couple of singles. The first 12-inch singles I got were by Public Enemy, and then I would have a whole week to learn every drop and rotation on the record. Same with De La Soul when ‘3 Feet High And Rising’ came out – it opened the floodgates. ‘What happens now? Anything is possible’. I still feel that about their work.”

Alongside his early DJ efforts, Koala began drawing his own comic books, finding a crossover between two art forms that “live in the realm of the surreal”. On TV, he also became obsessed with animal documentaries and puppet shows. When it came to choosing a college course and planning his dream career, he told his parents that he wanted to work on ‘The Muppet Show’ or ‘Sesame Street’.“My mom said, ‘Just in case Jim Henson doesn’t offer you a job, think of something like a fallback plan’,” Koala laughs. “I said, maybe teaching school, because – especially at the elementary level – I remember having amazing teachers who were so exuberant. They turned everything into this wonderful adventure, no matter what the topic was. So that’s what I studied in college. I was actually certified to teach kindergarten through sixth grade for a while.”

By the time he completed his degree in early childhood education at Montreal’s McGill University in 1996, Kid Koala was already established as a club DJ and nascent recording artist. When his debut mix tape, ‘Scratchcratchratchatch’, caught the ear of Coldcut’s feted beats-and-bleeps label Ninja Tune, he became the first North American artist to join their roster.

In 1998, he was invited to collaborate by Beastie Boys sideman Money Mark. At the tender age of 23, he was opening for the superstar hip hop trio on their ‘Hello Nasty’ tour, sharing a stellar bill with A Tribe Called Quest. Koala expected a “crazy wild party” backstage, but instead found “super mellow” vibes.

“There were candles lit on the bus,” he says. “Adam Yauch was reading a book about climbing Everest. And Mike D was trying to decide what kind of minivan to buy for the family.”

Koala released his debut solo album, ‘Carpal Tunnel Syndrome’, in February 2000. That same year, he also began his fruitful, ongoing Deltron 3030 collaboration with producer Dan “The Automator” Nakamura and rapper Del Tha Funkee Homosapien.

When Nakamura began working with Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett on the first Gorillaz album, he invited Koala to scratch over the band’s debut single, ‘Clint Eastwood’. Soon afterwards, Koala was remixing Amon Tobin, opening for Björk and touring with Radiohead around the ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’ period, playing live onstage with them at Madison Square Garden.

“Radiohead were so pleasant, so sweet and professional,” he says. “What I learned is that even when people are operating at that massive level, they are still artists. Or at least I have been lucky to be touring with those types of bands. It was inspiring to see all these guys work super-hard, even though there’s a staff of 1,000 people.”

Kid Koala’s krazy kartoon kosmos is a mostly sunny, surreal, family-friendly soft-play room populated by animals, insects and robots. But he also has his gnarly rock moments. In 2009, he joined US producer Dynomite D and Australian rockers Chris Ross and Myles Heskett, formerly of Wolfmother, to form the ferocious funk-metal combo The Slew. Billing their sound as “Public Enemy meets Black Sabbath”, this combustible combo delivered wild live shows and a single long-player, ‘100%’, with a sequel in long-term gestation.

“That was such a fun time,” Koala recalls. “Mosh pits every night. I broke so many needles on tour. It was just amazing. We started recording some sessions with Chris and Myles, and we’re in the process of trying to get everybody back together.”

In 2014, working with KK Barrett and The Afiara String Quartet, Koala adapted his 2003 album ‘Nufonia Must Fall’ into a technically dazzling stage production combining live puppetry, real-time video projection, turntables and a chamber orchestra. The same team followed this wildly ambitious show in 2019 with ‘The Storyville Mosquito’, a musical graphic novel staged in a similar manner.

Koala also released two ambient-adjacent torch-song albums under the umbrella title ‘Music To Draw To’ – 2017’s ‘Satellite’, featuring Icelandic chanteuse Emilíana Torrini, and ‘Io’ two years later, showcasing Belgian singer Trixie Whitley. A third volume, with Canadian singer-songwriter Marlaena Moore, is currently in the pipeline.

The ‘Music To Draw To’ concept began around 2011. Koala was drafting his graphic novel about a female astronaut, ‘Space Cadet’, while spending long hours working alone in the depths of Montreal’s brutal winter. To soften this lonely endeavour, he had the inspired idea of collaborative creative sessions. He rented out a small theatre on a Monday night and invited friends to come and be artistic, initially with a background mix tape of other people’s music.

“I didn’t know whether anyone would come,” Koala says. “But 150 people showed up on the first night. By the third week, we had 600 people lining up with their portfolios and art supplies, waiting outside in sub-zero temperatures to come in and draw. Eventually, I started running out of records, so I began creating stuff live. And a lot of that became the skeletal versions of what ended up on ‘Satellite’.”

With the release of ‘Creatures Of The Late Afternoon’, the Koala agenda is even more hectic than usual. This year alone, he’s booked to play solo gigs, collaborative performances with Deltron 3030 and LA-based punk-pop singer Leilani, and some more ‘Storyville Mosquito’ puppet shows. Meanwhile, he’s currently working on his film directing debut, a 3D computer animation of his graphic novel ‘Space Cadet’. A very Kid Koala schedule. Everything everywhere all at once.

You have to wonder where this boundless creative energy comes from.

“I’m definitely restless,” he laughs. “You know what it is? I can focus on a project for years. I have many ideas, I can be patient, and I also actually just love learning stuff. The idea of having three years to work on a record – ‘So what do you want to try? I want to try some stuff I’ve never done before’.”

Maybe Kid Koala is living proof of the glib quote attributed to everyone from Confucius to Mark Twain, that if you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life. The musical multiverse he has created from scratch, quite literally, looks insanely busy but endlessly enjoyable.

“I don’t have much time off, but it’s fun,” he grins. “I don’t consider it to be work if you’re laughing this much all the time.”

‘Creatures Of The Late Afternoon’ is out on Envision

You May Also Like
Read More

Bas Jan: Swamp Things

The new album by London synthpop quartet Bas Jan deftly combines the everyday and the esoteric. Examples? Fonts on British road signs and the tragic history of Irish witchcraft... 
Read More

L’Orange: Extraordinary Man

He’s deaf in one ear, makes beat-heavy music from unpromising raw material – including pre-war jazz and old radio shows – and yet Seattle’s L’Orange will change everything you think you know about hip hop…
Read More

Aho Ssan: Root Cause

French producer Aho Ssan makes stunning experimental music, drawing a host of zeitgeisty contributors into his orbit. No wonder his new work ‘Rhizomes’ reads like a who’s who of contemporary underground electronica
Read More

Max Richter: The Rights Stuff

Inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1948 United Nations document, Max Richter’s ‘Voices’ album reflects his alarm at the state of our world as the 21st century unfolds