British Columbia

DJ Kid Koala brings audience to turntable with interactive VIFF performance

Up until his early teens, Eric San was taught it was nearly sacrilegious to scratch a record. Now known popularly as DJ Kid Koala, he’s made a living doing just that.

Audience members are seated in front of turntables to create "ambient vinyl orchestra" with DJ

Kid Koala's, Satellite Turntable Orchestra is at the Annex Saturday and Sunday. (Getty Images)

Up until his early teens, Eric San was taught it was nearly sacrilegious to scratch a record.

Now known popularly as DJ Kid Koala, he's made a living doing just that.

Scratching, a technique used by turntable DJs, allows artists to mix pieces of existing songs and blend them into unique original content by moving vinyl records back and forth by hand.

"You're always told handle the record from the side and from the label and be very careful," San said.

But after rifling through well-loved records at a Salvation Army in Vancouver years ago he thought, "no one really cares if I ruin this record."

"That's how I first started scratching and it was a bit of an epiphany because it felt like touching sound."

His interactive show this weekend with the Vancouver International Film Festival, Satellite Turntable Orchestra aims to to provide that experience in a "low pressure" way.

Audience members are asked to participate by playing along on one of the 50 mini-turntable stations, each of which includes a small crate of colour-coded custom vinyl.

"I though it would be fun to task the audience with actually being part of the performance," San said. "So they're finishing the songs with us on stage."

"We're able to conduct different sections of the audience to play different parts of the harmony… They become an ambient vinyl orchestra during the show," San said.

While he acknowledged the potential for things to go horribly wrong with 50 turntables played at once by a novice group, he said the little misfires make the show more interesting.

"I'm trying to devise a way to present this music that could be fun and that could also evolve and be different at every performance. I thought it'd be fun to task the audience with actually being part of the performance, they're finishing the songs with us on stage," he told North By Northwest producer Matthew Parson.

Classical upbringing

San started classical piano lessons when he was four years old and by the time he was in his teens he said scratching was a rebellious move that allowed him to be expressive as loudly and wildly as he could imagine.

"But ironically, after 20-30 years of scratching, the most expressive and wild thing I could be practicing is what I hated practicing about piano, like scales.

"Now I actually practice scales on turntables."

After doing a a show at the Preservation Hall, a well-known jazz venue in New Orleans, he said he came away from the experience with an understanding of how much more he needed to learn.

"I realized, wow, I've got decades of work to do still, just the nuance that those cats are able to play with," he said.

And although scratching isn't as popular today as it was in the 90s, San said the kids who are involved in the scene are working with intense drive.

The Satellite Turntable Orchestra is at the Annex Saturday at 6:30 p.m. PST and 9 p.m., and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m..

With files from North By Northwest

To hear the full interview listen to media below:

Read more from CBC British Columbia

now