Arts·Q with Tom Power

Kid Koala's new album doubles as a board game about his life

The Montreal DJ and turntablist talks to Q’s Tom Power about Creatures of the Late Afternoon, his latest interactive album.

The Montreal DJ and turntablist talks to Q’s Tom Power about his latest interactive album

Kid Koala sitting in front of a studio microphone, smiling and wearing headphones.
Kid Koala in the Q studio in Toronto. (Vivian Rashotte/CBC)

Kid Koala's musical career has always had an unorthodox do-it-yourself spirit. In fact, when the Montreal-based DJ and turntablist first started scratching as a kid, he used burger rappers as turntable slipmats.

"My first set up was [my sister's] hi-fi system," Koala, whose real name is Eric San, told Tom Power in an interview on Q. "She didn't know I was in there destroying all her A-Ha and Tears for Fears records. But my friend worked at A&W, and my first slipmats were A&W burger wrappers. We knew it was a crappy turntable, but we needed to reduce the friction underneath the records. So we tried all these things, we tried sweatshirt material, tried all kinds of fabrics, and then we realized, 'Oh, the hamburger wrappers actually are great slipmats.'"

Koala loves to make albums that aren't just albums. His 2003 record, Nufonia Must Fall, was accompanied by a comic book (in 2014, he did an adaptation of Nufonia, featuring several stages being filmed live and a small army of puppets). His 2012 record, 12 Bit Blues, came with a make-it-yourself cardboard turntable. His latest album from this year, Creatures of the Late Afternoon, comes with a board game of the same name. The jacket for the vinyl record folds out into the game board. This approach to music comes from his long interest in music as storytelling.

"My first records were the seven-inch, read-along storybook records," he said. "They had music, they had voice acting, they had sound design and sound effects. They also had illustrations. They also had text to read along to. It was a whole universe of things that you can escape into. So now to me, packaging an album this way just makes perfect sense." 

Life experience might give you something like emotion, or it might give you a song genre card, like a breakup song or a workout song.- Kid Koala

Koala said that the idea for the game came to him during the COVID pandemic, when he spent a lot of time playing board games with his daughters.

"At one point I was thinking about the packaging for this album, and I said, 'Oh, it'd be fun for it to have another use, besides just storing the audio,'" he said. "Can we use the package idea and turn it into something that people could play?"

Kid Koala points to a board game in front of him on a table with Tom Power sitting across from him.
Kid Koala and Tom Power play the board game Creatures of the Late Afternoon, which accompanies the Montreal DJ's latest album of the same name. (Vivian Rashotte/CBC)

The premise of Creatures of the Late Afternoon is inspired by the classic Game of Life, except this one is set in the world of independent music. You put together a band, made up of creatures like Walsh the Walrus, a bassist, or vocalist Simon the Star-Nosed Mole. You have to get them instruments. Certain tracks on the album act as timers for different parts of the game. You can land on a "broken heart" square, which will cause you to lose a card, but give you life experience. 

"Life experience might give you something like emotion, or it might give you a song genre card, like a breakup song or a workout song or whatever," he said. "Real life experiences actually inspire you to make music. So this is actually kind of a semi-autobiographical game."

Ultimately, Koala said all his work is drawn from real life, no matter how weird and wild it is. What he's really doing is using the fantastic to tell stories we can all relate to.

"If it's a story about a mosquito, or it's about a robot trying to write love songs, or it's a group of creatures trying to save their habitat through music, it does come a little bit from real life," he said. "I just have a different way of expressing it. And I think the turntables have always helped me do that."

The full interview with Kid Koala is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Interview with Kid Koala produced by Mitch Pollock.


Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.