A Brief History of the Koala Sampler with Insight from Creator Marek Bereza

From full instrumental albums made with Koala, Twitter sample challenges, and a multi-day company-sponsored beat battle, here's how the $3.99 iOS app is making waves in the beatmaking community.

Marek Bereza has been in the audio software game since 1999. His lengthy resume from the past 22 years is impressive, including a recent 2-year stint with Apple. As of late, however, you can find him working under the pseudonym elf audio, where he designs music making apps. Though elf audio currently has three apps available for sale (Koala Sampler, Koala FX, and Sampletoy), the most popular one in the online beatmaking community is the Koala Sampler.

Early inspiration for the Koala app came from the late/great J Dilla. According to Bereza, he started fully to grasp the depth and breadth of the legendary producer’s catalog around 2015/2016. He also marvelled at the way Dilla wove disparate sound sources together. “The art was in the expert discovery and curation of a handful of samples that sound like they were born to be together, even if they were from different ends of the musical universe,” he wrote on the Koala website. “And it seems J Dilla was the king of that.”

Further inspired by the fact that Dilla used the BOSS SP-303 to create his timeless Donuts album right before his passing in 2006, Bereza wanted to incorporate the 303’s embrace of limitation into the Koala app design. “The thing that inspired me with that is how much he accomplished with so little to work with—it's a common story in hip-hop music I think,” Bereza says. “And it's also where a lot of the beauty of sampled music comes from, the minimalism and curation of those samples. And in general giving yourself constraints is a massive creative tool, often overlooked.”

During the design phase Bereza paid particular attention to fine-tuning the resampling capabilities of Koala, a feature that helps unlock the creative floodgates for producers. “You can make something, resample it, rework the result, resample that and so-on,” he says. “It's like a spirograph. A spirograph is just a plastic circle in a plastic circle—can't get much simpler than 2 circles, but it makes these mesmerizing patterns. It's more than the sum of its parts.”

In addition to trying to keep the design simple while maximizing available features, he also tried to picture what sort of instrumentals producers would craft with the app and how they would use it. According to Bereza, “I got a lot of inspiration for Koala also from listening to the music I imagined making on it, trying to imagine how I would want to move my hands and fingers to make those songs.” 

No single song inspired him more than the Guilty Simpson-assisted Dilla remix of Four Tet’s “As Serious As Your Life.”

In just a few years of existence the Koala app has already become a major player in the beatmaking community. Dibiase was one of the first notable producers to start sharing his work on the app publicly, frequently taking to Twitter to share screen grabs of his productions. The impressive beats coupled with the highly visual, eye-catching interface of the app made his videos an immediate hit.

Before long producers like Dayon, Ohio’s lo-tek started to construct entire albums with Koala and nothing else. The ease and efficiency of video sharing on Instagram and Twitter has helped birth a vibrant community of Koala-specific producers. And Twitter sample challenges that help showcase the program’s capabilities have also furthered the app’s popularity considerably.

The sampler certainly featured prominently in all of the Micro-Chop sample challenges I ran in November and December.

And in a new wrinkle, Dibiase and elf audio joined forces to host the first Koala Sampler vs. SP-404 beat battle live on Twitch on Friday, February 12th. The idea came to Dibiase from a Koala vs. 404 debate in one of the Facebook SP forums. Pairing artists who preferred Koala or the 404 against each other seemed like the perfect opportunity to give a bunch of talented producers a showcase.

It was an exciting event featuring two teams loaded with talent along with Dibiase and Elaquent judging submissions. If you missed it, click here to check out the Team Koala roster and here and here to look at the Team SP roster.

You can also watch the entire battle on Twitch by clicking the link below.

Make sure to tune in for the final round tomorrow at 12 PM PST/3 PM EST to see tvkii (Team Koala) and Vinyl Slim (Team SP) face off. Whatever the results, this battle will certainly be another interesting chapter in the evolution of the Koala app.

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