Renato Pagnani is now Diving off Docks.
One of the great things about Ninja Tune is that they give guys like Kid Koala a viable platform. Let’s face it, DJ albums are a hard sell. Demand-wise, they fall somewhere below instrumental hip-hop and above klezmer rap. Which isn’t to say that Kid Koala isn’t a great DJ, he is. The Vancouver-born Eric San has long been regarded as one of the premier turntablists around for years, but 2003’s Some of My Best Friends Are DJs holds up because of his composer’s sense of track construction and his sly humor, not his fader pyrotechnics and Twista-like scratching.
Labeling Some of My Best Friends Are DJs a comedy album isn’t inaccurate. “Flu Season” is a fictional account of two “ill” DJs meeting on the street, and the beatboxing beat that Koala scratches is composed of sneezes, hacks, and throat-clearings. On “Elevator Hopper,” a man asks the elevator operator “Haven’t I seen you somewhere in this building before?” before receiving a terse, “No” in response. Koala’s humor relies on juxtaposition and the unexpected. Even straightforward tracks like “Basin Street Blues”— ostensibly, a cover of the 1928 jazz standard of the same name, bulges with light-hearted touches. The track’s melodic linchpin, a trombone, sounds like the person playing it had about six too many gin and tonics before taking the stage.
The majority of the album’s laughs come from Koala’s ear for finding and matching samples of disparate origins that share a common thread. It’s more clever-funny than LOL-funny, and it comes off as less gimmicky that it might’ve under lesser hands. It also ties in with Koala’s focus on jazz: “Shanky Panky” captures the freeform improvisational feel of jazz so well that it could arguably be classified as nu-jazz (though not as lame as that sounds). It hints at the future of jazz music that acts like Koala’s labelmate Jaga Jazzist would soon explore.
“Space Cadet 2” conjures a fog-thick bass and space satellite bloops, a nod to the crawling dread of 60s psychedelic rock. Whether “Stompin’ at le Savoy” refers to the hotel or the legendary recording studio, the track imagines what jazz would’ve sounded like had it began in the 1980s in the Bronx. There’s a stretch on “Vacation Island” in which Koala just rolls out a vocal sample of a woman reminiscing about a date –recounting about how she and a former flame laughed and kissed and listened to one record all night. “It was one of the most romantic times of my life,” she adds wistfully.
If Some of My Best Friends Are DJs is about anything, it’s about laughing and falling in love with discrete bits of sound and grinning like a mad scientist when you realize how they might fit together. It’s about record collections — not even the collections themselves, but everything (and everyone) that surrounds them. All the little moments, the first kisses, the all-nighters listening to your favourite records. It’s sentimental and perhaps cheesy — the syrupy, fairy tale Lawrence Welk strings that briefly spring out of the ground after the sample only cement this — but it’s an incredible little snippet, so off-the-cuff and genuine and innocent that it could melt the heart of the hardest gangsta rapper. The record that the woman and her man were listening to? Some of My Best Friends Are DJs.–Pagnani