All Kooped Up: An interview with lounge lothario Koop Kooper

Natasha Francois chats to Cocktail Nation radio host and arbiter of all things swank, Koop Kooper.

Koop Kooper vividly recalls visiting his grandparent’s home as a child and being dazzled by the mid-century furniture inside. He would lie on the couch watching old movies from the ’50s and ’60s while his mother and grandmother sipped tea.

Sometimes he would take his mother’s old Bluebird wooden tennis racket outside and hit balls against his grandparent’s wall imagining he was playing [Australian tennis pros] Rod Laver or Ken Rosewall. “It was like my own little portal to the past, he says. “Even as a kid, the mid-century appealed to me.”

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“I had quite an active imagination for a 10-year-old. Also, I remember little things like the fact that it was a very old neighbourhood and to me, it felt like ’50s America. Add to this the fact that my mother also used to like listening to old music, I guess it tends to get into your head.”

At 14, Koop discovered the rockabilly subculture. He remembers sitting in a ’50s style milkbar with a friend, watching the local greasers with their vintage clothes and slicked back hair, and thinking they were so brave and he could never do that.

“A year later and I had my hair piled high in a pompadour and was dressed head to toe in vintage 1950s clothes,” he says.

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By the late ’90s he’d drifted away from rockabilly towards jazz and swing. A girl he was seeing introduced him to the Ultra Lounge series which he began collecting and fell in love with all things swank.

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25 years later, and the 40-year-old radio host is still wearing clothes from the era. Granted, it’s a more adult style, but still mid-century to the core. “I have several shirts and jackets I picked up in the early days and I am pleased to say they still fit!” he says.

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Describing his distinctive sartorial style as “vintage 50s/ 60s Cary Grant meets Don Draper meets George Clooney,” Koop favours skinny ties, single breasted thin lapels suits and stingy brim hats. For casual wear, he loves jack shirts and gab pants.

“I wear vintage every day of the year. Same with my hair, royal crown pomaded pompadour.”

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“Too many people play at a lifestyle and don’t actually live it day in and day out. From wearing vintage clothing or vintage-inspired clothing every day, to driving a classic car everywhere (his current ride is a 64 Austin Healey Sprite), I don’t just dress up for the weekend out.”

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“This is how I look all the time, says the one-time pro tennis chair umpire, “I don’t listen to modern music, I constantly read books written about the past or written in the mid-century. I’m not interested in the latest viral sensation, To me it’s just another fad that will disappear faster than you can say Jack Robinson.”

“This lifestyle is 100 per cent for me. It’s not just about physical things but also thoughts, attitudes and manners.”

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However, unlike many vintage fans Koop doesn’t consider himself a collector. “I bought all my furniture and brick-a-brac with the intention that I actually use everything I buy. I don’t want to live in a museum.”

His favourite era is the late 1950s to mid 60s. To him it “epitomises the zenith of style where design and love of technology started to come together.”

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These days he hosts the internationally syndicated weekly lounge music podcast Cocktail Nation which he broadcasts from his Sydney penthouse to an audience across the globe. The hour-long show, which first aired in 2006, fuses interviews, commentary and advice with an eclectic mix of neo and classic tunes.

The music runs the gamut from lounge to exotica, with detours into many other sub genres, but the smooth-talking Aussie is in his element when it omes to interviewing luminaries and pioneers from the world of cocktail culture such as The Martini Kings, Marina the fire-eating mermaid, mid century bongo master Jack Constanzo and tiki cocktail guru Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.

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Tiki cocktail guru Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.

Having worked as a radio announcer on commerical Australian radio for years, and as a professional voiceover artist, Koop felt that there was a gap in the market for a show which combined music along with interviews, a gig guide and news from the world of lounge.

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“I wanted a late-night feel of a show that had a feeling of exclusivity about it. This wasn’t meant to be something that was readily accessible to the public, it’s always meant to be slightly alternative. Certainly this is something which has come up when dealing with potential syndicate stations who want a cutesy pie top 40 of the 50s, we ain’t that.”

Koop’s top five neo-lounge tunes

Check out the show at: www.cocktailnation.net

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The Cocktail Nation is a radio show and podcast broadcast across the world via various radio stations. Every Saturday night, host Koop Kooper talks to the movers and shakers of the lounge and Exotica scene while mixing it up with the very best in swingin’ tunes from the 50s and 60s.