The Slew’s Monster-Rock Mash Turns Turntablism to 11

Canadian turntablist Kid Koala is bringing the noise with his latest project, a stellar rock-hop collaboration called The Slew that effectively weds DJ skills and studio wizardry with raw rock ‘n’ roll power.

“I think rock kids who hate turntables may listen to The Slew and get over their preconceptions pretty quickly,” said Kid Koala, aka Eric San, in an e-mail interview with Wired.com.

LISTEN: “Robbin’ Banks (Doin’ Time)” by The Slew

San, 35, collaborated with Dylan Frombach (aka Dynomite D) to create Slew’s spine-shaking debut, 100%, which is available free from San’s official website.

During production of 100%, San and Frombach made a point of turning up the tech by any means necessary. The result was studio and vinyl manipulation and amplification, enhanced by mixing from Beastie Boys’ producer Mario Caldato Jr., that is capable of turning heads and damaging ears.

“When we started this album four-and-a-half years ago,” said San, “we would constantly ask ourselves, ‘What would it sound like if The Bomb Squad or The Dust Brothers had produced a Black Sabbath record?’”

Then they reverse-engineered classic rock ‘n’ roll recordings and transferred their findings to their instruments of choice.

“We studied how many of our favorite rock records were produced, and adapted those studio techniques to the turntables,” he said. “I would play an E chord on a Hammond organ through a Leslie speaker to get that overdriven blues-rock tone, then we would cut that tone to record. Once it was on vinyl, I was able to bend it into any other key live, which gave it the twisted turntable sound which we liked. We would also plug turntables into amps and mike them, so everything was double-distorted, and use a lot of tape echos, spring reverbs and oil-can delays from that era. I think it helped to give it that dust.”

To reproduce the sound live, the Slew enlisted the original Wolfmother powerhouse — bassist Chris Ross and drummer Myles Heskett — to complement six onstage turntables.

“Those guys are the most badass rock rhythm section,” said San. “We’ve cut a whole stack of custom records for the show, and built special shock-proof turntable stands, so we can turn it up and not have to worry about skipping needles. It’s going to be wicked loud.” The supergroup’s tour starts Wednesday in Koala’s native Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Slew

Turntablist Kid Koala’s rock-hop supergroup The Slew brings the noise, the technology and the technique.
All images courtesy Ninja Tune

That’s a good thing: Hip-hop could use more noise these days. The visceral blues-rock backbone of The Slew’s 100% evokes the rewarding old-school recombinations of Run-DMC and Aerosmith or Public Enemy and Anthrax, as well as contemporary rock-hop supergroups like Handsome Boy Modeling School. Such alliances continue the fine tradition of pushing rock and hip-hop’s envelopes.

“At the end of the day, it just has to sound big and heavy; at least, that was our goal for this album,” San said. “The other goal was to have all the parts hand-cut on the turntables, to keep the performance side of things level. My skater friends who couldn’t handle my more cerebral or quirky turntable ventures are totally into it. I’ve been told it’s good car-chase music. But I ride the bus, so I’ll never know.”

The Slew’s music began as a soundtrack for a documentary that fell through. Ironically, the increasing popularity of underground release 100% has brought attention from industry suits in search of a fresh pair of musical minds.

“We’ve been approached by television and film people to do scoring work,” San said. “A couple of notable names in rock have also asked us to get involved in production for them. We’re pretty excited about that.”

LISTEN: “The Battle of Heaven and Hell” by The Slew

The Slew’s noisy debut was originally going be released through beat-crazy British label Ninja Tune, but tour logistics and schedule conflicts made that an impossibility. So San and crew decided to drop it as a free download, especially after incomplete leaks started hitting the internet.

The record will still materialize “at the shows on CD and double LP,” San said, “although last time I checked, I was one of maybe three people who still listens to music on vinyl.”

Even so, San is a fan of how the digital age has irrevocably changed the music industry. From free downloads to file-sharing to friendship-building, it’s only made life better, he said.

“After a set in Detroit a decade ago, this kid asked me to sign a blank Memorex cassette,” San recalled. “A friend in Montreal had picked up a copy of a tape I made, so he dubbed another copy, put it in an envelope, walked to the post office and sent it to him. Can you believe all the effort that took, just to share some music with someone? Nowadays, most everyone is maybe two mouse-clicks away from being able to hear something new.”

Speaking of new, San is working on a graphic novel. Like his last one, Nufonia Must Fall, it will feature a complementary soundtrack as brain-teasing as Kid Koala recordings Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Your Mom’s Favorite DJ (which featured early Slew tracks in alternate form).

“It’s called Space Cadet, and it’s about isolation and space travel,” said San of the graphic novel and its accompanying recordings.

Next year should bring a unique tour to support what San calls some of quietest music he’s ever turned out.

“The audience will sit on beanbags and wear headphones,” San said, “while we transmit the turntables and keyboards to their headsets.”

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