Kid Koala is best known as a DJ who plays his turntable like an instrument, both as a solo artist and with acts such as the Gorillaz and Deltron 3030. But he is also a comic-book creator. With Nufonia Must Fall, the man born Eric San has combined his twin passions of music and comics and thrown in some filmmaking for good measure.
"I've been drawing as long as I can remember," Kid Koala tells New Times on an early-morning phone call. "I've always had a pen in my hand, but I never went to art school." His early training instead went toward piano, until he rebelled against the classics at age 12, when he fell in love with hip-hop and learned to DJ.
All these years later, the Canadian-born 42-year-old laughs about how he got his DJ name. "There was a sugary drink my mom used to buy called Kid Koala. There were always bottles in the fridge, and she'd offer it to whoever came by. So my friends started calling me Koala Kid when I started DJing. Some people think I took the name because I love the animal. They want me to help save koalas, and when we had a P.O. box, fans were always sending me koala things. Like I once got a koala papier-mâché Christmas tree ornament."
Koala shares his fans' arts-and-crafts inclinations. He began Nufonia Must Fall in comic-book form in 2003, when he penned the tale of a music-loving robot without a mouth who sets out to create a love song. At the same time as the comic's release, Kid Koala put out a musical soundtrack. The idea of mixing comics with films was in his mind way before the Gorillaz popularized that notion.
"I think growing up, I always had the idea. My first records as a child were storybook records. I always had memories of music going with stories. My first album, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, I had a comic book come out with it, and that was before the Gorillaz."
Nufonia Must Fall's story stayed with Kid Koala after its comic release. He found himself thinking about turning the book into a movie and touring it while performing a live score as it was screened. Then he decided to take that idea one step further. Now each night on the tour, Kid Koala performs the score onstage with the Afiara Quartet while puppeteers manipulate puppets to show the story while a camera crew films. "I've always loved DVD extras, with those behind-the-scenes making-of features. With this, the audience gets to choose where they focus their eyes: on the music, on the cameramen filming the movie, or on the screen."
With each performance offering a new opportunity to reshoot the film, Nufonia Must Fall is constantly evolving and improving, he says. It has expanded to 15 people being onstage with five cameras capturing the puppets as they traverse more than a dozen uniquely created sets. Kid Koala says audience members can walk onto the stage and check out the sets for themselves.
The stage show will keep Koala busy, traveling as far as the Middle East and Asia. But he has a couple of other schemes afoot. He's scoring a videogame about break-dancing battles and recently released his fifth studio album, Music to Draw To: Satellite.
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"It's kind of a winter album," he says of the record, on which he's accompanied by Icelandic singer Emilíana Torrini. It was inspired by an activity in his hometown of Montreal, where groups of people get together to listen to music while they draw, write, play videogames, or take part in any other silent activity. "I have a lot of friends who are comic-book artists or writers or graphic designers, and they like to have a record on in the background, something that gets them in a groove. This is something I hope can do that. You can put it on and just draw forever."
The music and the film that compose Nufonia Must Fall, however, both require and will earn your full attention. "It's a great night out for the family," Kid Koala says. "My fondest childhood memory was seeing Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times. I remember being captivated by it, all the camera tricks of Charlie Chaplin climbing up the wall. We try to make this have the same kind of wonder."