As much as I love Kremwerk and Timbre Room, our favorite local outpost of the RA-approved global dance music underground, the complex can occasionally carry whiffs of the holier-than-thou techno temple. Which is why it will be a delightful hoot tonight to hear “Excited Train Guy” pumping over the sound system by a disc jockey wearing a Kim Jong-un costume.
To whom will Seattle’s club kids owe the pleasure? Doris Woo, who performs as DJ Bus Replacement Service. Her three-deck sets layering bizarre vocal samples and electronic beats are an antidote to a culture that is supposed to be fun—it is about dancing after all—but perhaps has lost its sense of humor.
“A very important part of my DNA musically has always been enjoying the absurd,” Woo told The Stranger via phone on a long-distance train from Los Angeles to Portland as she made her way north on tour this week.
Citing artistic influences like Salvador Dali, René Magritte, and Marcel Duchamp, she translates the surrealness of contemporary cultural detritus into audio form, a different medium than the early 20th century artists who preferred vagina-mouthed portraits or museum-quality urinals.
“My mind is like an ocean-dredging mechanism,” she said. “I dip it in and pull from whatever comes out of it.”
A decade ago in one of her earliest mixes, that meant autistic Kirkland folk singer (and convicted ricin maker) Robert Alberg mixed with the cheesy MIDI presets behind German football anthem “Rabaue.”
Last year, in a podcast for the aforementioned tastemaker site Resident Advisor, she dredged up Charlie the Hamster, a Christian alternative to Alvin and the Chipmunks, and James Vincent’s self-explanatory “‘Roxanne’ by The Police but every time they say ‘Roxanne’ it gets faster.”
Will some people find this hilarious and dance along? Hopefully. Will others find it absolutely insipid and go outside for a smoke? Probably. Will the same person find themselves in both camps at different points during the night? Very well could.
“I hope the crowd is not just scratching their heads at the randomness, which happens every single time I play—someone is like what the fuck?” she said. “Five minutes later, there is something they recognize, then five minutes after that it’s back to something confusing.”
Woo urges the skeptics to trust her. “For me there’s continuity—I don’t want my music to be so disruptive that it’s unlistenable or undanceable,” she said.
And sometimes, relaxing one’s inhibitions to float like flotsam and jetsam that Woo’s mind dredges from the oceans can produce its own moments of bliss.
“You’re dancing to an audio tour of the Detroit zoo because I put a track underneath it,” she gave as an example, and the response: “I shouldn’t be dancing to this but I am and it feels great.”
That experience—dancing to something you feel you shouldn’t be dancing to—is the essence of Woo’s mission.
Born in Hong Kong, raised in Indianapolis, and living in the UK since 2002, she learned the ropes of DJing on college radio in the late 1990s when British drum & bass was on the ascendency and a healthy dose of German and Detroit techno filled in the rest. She learned how to mix records but found simply beatmatching similar tempo music didn’t hold her interest as much as hunting for weird music—and then figuring out how to make it work on the dance floor.
As for the unmistakable, unsmiling visage of the North Korean supreme leader? No political commentary, just a wry joke: “So that I don’t get confused with Peggy Gou like every other female Asian DJ.”
While it is tempting to ascribe an aesthetic treatise to Woo’s disruptive take on dance music—breakcore for the meme generation?—she dials back any such navel-gazing.
“I don’t want to over-intellectualize anything I do,” she said. “It’s just playing dance music in a funny way.”