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Fist of fury: SA's own Filipino touring machine, DJ Jester (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

SA scratchmeister joins star DJ for Austin tour stop

"It's not just wicka wicky wicka all night."

That's San Antonio vinyl junkie DJ Jester - a.k.a. the Filipino Fist, born Mike Pendon - allaying fears that having three DJs on stage at one time will result in a cacophony of scratching and nothing else. The tour he is on may be called "Short Attention Span Theater," but it's not designed for listeners with no attention span whatsoever.

The tour is the brainchild of Kid Koala, one of the most admired turntablists working today, whose new disc, Some of My Best Friends are DJs (Ninja Tune), has just hit stores. Koala, a Chinese-Canadian born Eric San, is one of those multi-skilled types who isn't content to make a killer record: He'll draw a comic book to accompany it, concoct some Flash animation for the promo package, and design a bonus video game that turns LP love into a spinoff of Asteroids. That hyperactive creativity resulted in the Short Attention setup - in which animated shorts give the stage show a visual component, and the DJ takes occasional breaks at the instrument of his youth, the piano.

On DJ Jester's latest release, Heavily Booted (Exponential), he spins for more than an hour without a break, fusing '80s dance-club hits, TV themes, and lame rap records into a river of dead pop culture. Koala's new record, on the other hand, consists of skits and tightly composed songs that happen to be played entirely on turntables. Some, like "Basin Street Blues," drag familiar melodies through a pitch-bending forest, using original recordings in a way their creators never imagined, and layering them with beats and samples. Others feel like they were born in the motors of a Technics deck: The hypnotic "Skanky Panky" may borrow a sax melody from somewhere, but the solo is planted in a loping beat whose sources are unidentifiable, inspiring visions of a wild-haired Cab Calloway flailing in front of a diamond-needle orchestra.

Short Attention Span Theater

Featuring Kid Koala, P-Love, DJ Jester
Tuesday, Oct. 28
6 & 10pm
$12 advance; $15 door
The Parish (formerly the Mercury)
214 E. Sixth Street, Austin
Those of us who haven't seen Koala perform live may suppose that these finely honed compositions only work in the studio, and that his live show will more closely resemble a long freestyle session. But Pendon says that some of the album cuts do show up onstage: "Yes, there will be recreations of a few tracks from his new album, featuring yours truly on various things like 'turntable bass' and 'turntable drums.' We have eight turntables on stage, a Wurlitzer piano, and a slide projector. There is so much going on. It moves very fast, much like a James Brown show might. But there are times that it is very melancholy, like a Tom Waits show."

That kind of orchestrated collaboration between three record-spinners doesn't jibe with the stereotype of the secretive DJ who struggles to one-up his peers, but the fuzzy friendliness of Koala's cartoon artwork seems to carry over into his professional life.

"I have learned a lot of important things" from him, Pendon says. "Stuff like stage presence, how to deal with rough audiences, how to recover when you mess up, and a ton of other tricks of the trade. Most 'battle Djs' are such arrogant assholes. These guys want to share. I've learned to approach the craft more as a musician."

And like a working musician, Pendon now finds himself living out of hotels. While it's a step up from his days as a traveling Boca Burger salesman, the pace is less leisurely: "We're on a plush-ass tour bus. `But` touring on the Boca Mobile was more of a vacation. We stayed longer in cities and got to see more.

"On this tour, it's like a different city every night. I suppose Boca prepared me for living in hotels and away from home, though. It showed me how to live in a confined environment with a small group of people." At least eight turntables don't take up as much bus space as drum kits and guitar amplifiers. •

More by John DeFore



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