Turntablist Kid Koala’s first studio album has shaped how music has since evolved.
Before mashups became widely prevalent in the mid-’00s thanks to the rise of online remix culture, the concept was still fairly new at the turn of the millennium. What composer John Oswald proposed in his 1985 essay Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative (and his discography more than shows these ideas in action)laid the groundwork for many an audiovisual enthusiast to take their own stab at reassembling pop culture.
Enter Vancouver-born, Montreal-based turntablist extraordinaire Kid Koala. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Koala’s first studio album, introduced the world toKoala’s unique approach to turntablism, a fresh and exciting take on hip-hop. The incredible choice of samples made for a sublime experience from front to back that never sacrificed an ounce of complexity or self-awareness. Koala’s nuanced and precise scratching, at times subtle and rhythmic, at others ferocious and primal, remains a marvel to experience.
“Nerdball” layers dialogue from two well-loved films (Revenge of the Nerds and Airplane) over bouncy drums with such precise cuts in ways you didn’t know were possible. The smooth flow of “Fender Bender” is only punctured by an appropriate sample of a car crash. And “Drunk Trumpet”. If that song is not the precursor to many a YouTube Poop, I don’t know what is. The song’s frequency-shifting opening leads to an out-of-nowhere-but-oh-so-perfect jazz piano line, with a shifting trumpet sample that comes in at exactly the right moment to cause uproarious laughter. The “Barhopper” interludes continue the slow and sensual vibe from “Drunk Trumpet”. You’ve definitely done something right if nearly twenty years later, these diversions from your record’s main concept can still grab listeners’ attention.
“Music for Morning People” is a standout example of what Carpal Tunnel Syndrome achieves. Deftly blending Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Beastie Boys with a spoken word greeting to houseplants (Ken Nordine), it makes for a morning jam guaranteed to speed up any commute and turn it into a dance party in your ears. Koala’s personality shines through in spades, and I’m so happy to find a gateway into a form of music that can be quite daunting for newcomers.
Remix and mashup culture is constantly evolving, and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a big reason why the art form continues to evolve in the age of the Internet. Plunderphonic is still blowing minds across the web and acts like Girl Talk, Kids & Explosions, and Neil Cicierega continue to subvert culture in hilarious and unexpected ways. And Kid Koala is right up there with John Oswald, Negativland and many others in being able to take all these distinct facets of pop culture, throw them in a blender and blow people’s minds. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is not just an approach to hip-hop and to mashups for the Internet generation, but its influence has shaped how music can–and ultimately has–evolved.