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Kid Koala’s Brings ‘Nufonia Must Fall’ to Stanford

In Music
Soft Machine: In ‘Nufonia Must Fall,’ a story by Canadian DJ Kid Koala, a robot faces his 
own obsolescence while attempting to pen a love song for the woman he loves.

Soft Machine: In ‘Nufonia Must Fall,’ a story by Canadian DJ Kid Koala, a robot faces his own obsolescence while attempting to pen a love song for the woman he loves.

When Kid Koala began work on what would ultimately become Nufonia Must Fall—a “silent graphic novel” about a robot attempting to write a love song for the human woman of his dreams—the most advanced hipsters were still wielding flip phones, calling was more common than texting and WiFi wasn’t yet commonplace.

Fast-forward to 2016: flip phones are for grandparents, folks under 30 are notoriously averse to talking on their handsets and WiFi is expected in most public places—at least in major cities. Also, Kid Koala is currently preparing to embark on a nationwide tour of his live stage adaptation of Nufonia, which he made with K.K. Barrett, a film production designer who has worked on a number of cult hits about the intersection of technology and the human condition, including Being John Malkovich and, most recently, Her—about a human man who falls in love and sings songs to his computer’s operating system.

“It’s funny,” says Eric San, the Canadian scratch DJ and producer who goes by Kid Koala on stage. Looking back, San says he never would have guessed that the ideas in his book would so closely resemble the world he now inhabits, barely 15 years since he first put pen to paper. “Robots being at this level is actually a reality,” he continues. “I’m not sure they are writing love songs yet.”

Bay Area hip-hop fans will know San from his work with producer Dan the Automator and emcee Del the Funky Homosapien on projects such as Deltron 3030 and Handsome Boy Modeling School.

The DJ met Barrett in Los Angeles a few years back and they got to talking about turning Nufonia into a live show. They came up with the idea to shoot a film with actors performing on stage in front of an audience before downscaling a bit and changing the actors to puppeteers manipulating a variety of figures across numerous sets on a single stage. All the while San mans the keyboards and turntables as Kid Koala, a string section plays and the movements of the puppets through miniature sets are filmed, edited and broadcast live on a big screen above the stage.

The idea was to give the audience access to the creative process—to invite them to look “under the hood,” San says. But it also had to do with challenging himself to do something bigger than spinning records in a club for a few hours, returning to his hotel room and moving on to the next city the following day. As a performer, San says he gets bored if he doesn’t run into surprises on stage.

“All of us have to actually keep an eye and an ear on everyone else on stage,” he says, explaining the excitement and uncertainty that is generated during the show. “We have to get it right the first take. We couldn’t do two nights exactly the same even if we tried.”

San also wants his work to be emotionally moving. While amping up a crowd is certainly an invigorating experience, he hopes that the new production will raise the ante—that people will laugh and cry, preferably at the same time.

While the story definitely has sci-fi elements—the robot-human connection and the robot’s newer and more advanced rival, Hexabot—San says that his story is very much about the human condition. It deals with the very human fear of being inadequate and becoming obsolete. More than that, the fact that he and the other musicians, the actors and the film production crew are creating everything live, means that the show “can fall apart at any moment.”

“I think underneath it all there is that human element,” he says. “That’s what gets the audience out of the house and into the theater.”

Nufonia Must Fall
Feb 4, 7:30pm
Bing Concert Hall, Stanford

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