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Eric San, who goes by the name Kid Koala, plays the blues. But just as Kid Koala isn't a traditional blues name like Blind Lemon Jefferson or Doctor Ross the Harmonica Boss, he isn't a standard blues man.
Kid Koala is a DJ. Big turntables, fast hands, scratching old-fashioned vinyl records — the whole deal. Now, he's taken that DJ equipment and produced a "turntable blues" album titled 12 Bit Blues.
So how did a Canadian DJ discover the blues, exactly? San says it all happened in high school.
"I wasn't one of those kids that could just write poems and play guitar and all of a sudden have six girls swooning," he says. "For me, turntables was one of those things I just gravitated towards. As I got into my high-school years, getting into hip-hop and getting into the rock and the rowdier aspects of music and trying to connect all those dots to the past, I realized that all those roads eventually lead to the blues."
Using equipment just as nostalgia-inducing as blues music itself, San set out to record his album with classic hip-hop tools such as the SP-1200, an iconic drum machine and sampler from hip-hop's golden age. Making a conscious effort to outplay and out-think the machine, the turntablist strips the music down to its purest form — and hand-crafts 12 Bit Blues in a fashion that's never been heard before.
"Did I succeed in making a proper blues record? I would be always the first to tell you that any blues purist or jazz purist would listen to my stuff and dismiss it quite quickly," San says. "But you have to understand it's coming from a complete scratch DJ's angle. I think it's all done with a lot of love and intent and respect and regard for that music. The tools that I've chosen are the ones I've learned to master over my career in music, like if you played my version of 'Basin Street Blues' to an actual New Orleans jazz combo, they'd probably say, 'Wow, those musicians sound really drunk.'"
In this segment, Kid Koala deconstructs "3 Bit Blues" for NPR's Scott Simon and discusses the creation of 12 Bit Blues.