World-famous DJ and turn-tablist Kid Koala performed at Revolution Hall on Friday night. RPI students were part of the crowd that welcomed the artist to his first performance in Troy.
The show opened with sets from local DJs Brad Lee and Back from Japan. Lee’s act beautifully combined some dance music with power and excitement, building upon layers of ground-shaking percussion as well as a live hand drum. Back from Japan added a blend of dance and pop sounds, cleverly injecting popular music which ranged from Nirvana to MGMT.
The music met a fitting atmosphere at the venue; Revolution Hall has great acoustics, a state-of-the-art sound system, and an impressive lighting system, all within a small, comfortable space. For this show, the lower level was an open dance floor with a bar at the back; the upper level had chairs and tables plus a screen featuring abstract music visualizations. The friendly staff and attention to a high-quality visual and aural experience amplified the excitement of the show.
Kid Koala greeted an air of anticipation when he came to the stage around midnight. His setup consisted of three turntables with a small control board in front of him and a table holding several stacks of records behind him.
The performance was both fascinating and stunning: spinning up to three records at once, Koala layered rock, hip hop, jazz, blues, reggae, and dubstep tracks on top of each other. Beats, riffs, and vocals cascaded into an immersive, often intricate sound. Often, he would extract instrumental or vocal snippets from one song and use them to build upon another track. A live video feed of his turntables, projected onto a screen above the stage, revealed that his fingers were a blur as he spun multiple records and adjusted the control board at the same time.
Scratching and manipulating the records, Koala built new kinds of sound from the existing recordings, not so much modifying the original music as adding his own voice and interpretation. For example, he played “Moon River” as a peaceful interlude; with careful scratching—not the rough “scratching” sound often associated with DJs, but rather careful, precise transformations of the pitch and quality of selected moments within the song—he added a new but very delicate, expressive voice to the song.
After the show, I had an opportunity to chat with Kid Koala. He has been playing turntables for almost 25 years, and I was curious about what drove him to master turntablism and make a career out of it. Kid Koala grew up with turntables; like any other instrument to a musician, the turntables have become a part of him, and they are a way of expressing emotion as well as playing music. He explained that “there are so many ways of bending sound” with turntables. Yet he sees himself as part of a tradition of DJs—a tradition that began with hip hop music in the 1970s—and he believes that DJs are still exploring the musical possibilities of the turntable. Throughout his career, Koala has continued to learn more about the instrument as well as the wide range of music he plays.
Kid Koala’s music is a reflection of that exploration; his style combines the tradition of turntablism with a variety of musical styles, the tradition of music production, and the legacy of the art and technology of recording itself, as well as his own personality and musical background. He recently toured with a group called The Slew; for an example of his work, The Slew’s album, 100 percent, is currently available for free on his website.