by Jeevin Johal
VANCOUVER – It’s 1961 in New York City, and Audrey Hepburn sits on the fire escape of her Manhattan apartment. Clothed in her scrubbiest attire with makeup still miraculously flawless, she nonchalantly strums her guitar, singing the lyrics to a song called “Moon River.” Of course, the song and accompanying film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, would both go on to be hits, and the more refined image of Hepburn in a black dress and pearls, holding a cigarette, would go on to decorate the wall of every college girl’s dorm room and tote bag from then to eternity.
Whether you’ve seen the film or not, the song is inescapably engrained into pop culture. It’s been covered, sampled, and remixed by many, but none have given it the hip hop justice it deserves quite like Vancouver-born and Montreal-transplanted DJ Kid Koala, born Eric San. “Moon River” often makes its way into his sets, which is unsurprising given its trance-inducing melody and spacey lyrics, themes common in San’s tunes. It also happens to be his mother’s favourite song.
In 2017, San sought out to make a new album a little outside of his wheelhouse. Digging through piles of records, he discovered some relics on the more ambient and atmospheric side when he suddenly had a lightbulb moment. San rented a club in downtown Montreal and curated an evening of thought-provoking instrumentals, encouraging people to bring sketchbooks, notepads, and whichever other inspirational tools they required, to his newly formed workspace.
“What was amazing to me was that even though the room was full, nobody was talking,” says San. “Everyone was literally in this creative zone. You could feel it when you looked around the room. It was contagious.”
The evenings continued for weeks, serving as the key inspiration for his 2017 JUNO-nominated album, Music to Draw to: Satellite. But as San was conceptualizing ideas for the record, something peculiar happened.
“I got a message from this lady who was going through a really hard time because her son had committed suicide,” he says. “One of the things he left behind was a link to that version of ‘Moon River’ that I did. She was listening to it for comfort.”
San had previously recruited Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini to sing on some of his songs, so the two had already formed a bond. They begun gestating an album with lush ambience and a galactic theme.
“Emiliana and I were talking a lot about the story of how they were recruiting people to go to Mars, but that there would be no way to return,” says San.
But a continuous dialogue with the mourning mother, whose loss was congruent with things happening in San’s own life, added further emotional depth to the songs.
“A stranger is reaching out in pain, and you’re talking to them, trying to help each other out,” says San. “All the lyrics fit into the concept. By nature, the idea is like, ‘Well, there’s nothing left for me on Earth, so clearly I have to go.’”
Kid Koala is as much a visual storyteller as he is a DJ, touring multiple shows at a time, and employing a number of dancers, puppeteers, animators and creatives to help bring his adventures to life. With the heaviness of the world around him, Music to Draw to: Satellite allows San to tell a story through the veil of the character he’s been living his entire professional career, even adding lyric credits to his resume, penning words for his muse.
He confesses, “I was very, very nervous. I wrote some stuff because there was a lot of things on my mind but because we could speak through these characters, we unlocked something.”
What was unlocked is Kid Koala’s most ambitious work to date, and although on the surface it may not sound like one of his traditional scratch records, his signature on it remains fresh and potent.
Kid Koala’s Music to Draw to: Satellite is nominated for Electronic Album of the Year at the 2018 JUNO Awards.Juno Awards, Junos, Kid Koala