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A Quietus Interview

Chasing The HAHA: DJ Bus Replacement Service Interviewed
Eoin Murray , September 5th, 2018 09:27

Ahead of her set at the Quietus 10th anniversary rave on Friday 7th September and Unsound next month, DJ Bus Replacement Service AKA Doris Woo talks to Eoin Murray about bringing humour to the dancefloor

Doris Woo remembers the first time she laughed at music. Aged eight or nine, she was in class in her hometown of Indianapolis and her teacher had just put on a record by the fictional composer P.D.Q. Bach. The piece – allegedly written by the "only forgotten son" of Johann Sebastian Bach, in reality by satirist Peter Schickele – tinkered masterfully with the stylistic wires of Baroque music, throwing spanner after slapstick spanner into the sophisticated tropes of classical composition. Garbled contemporary motifs stumbled onto the arrangement while utterly inappropriate instrumentation lurched its way in as if it had every right to do so. Despite all its gall, however, there was a subtly to it. A comedic sense of pace, a wry sort of balance.

"You really just have to hear it," Woo (AKA DJ Bus Replacement Service) says now. "It's really hard to contextualize and describe. You can still tell it's a classical piece, but they would play all these musical in-jokes during the composition. I don't know why I realised that was funny, but I was pissing myself. I think for the rest of my life I've been chasing after that 'HAHA' moment. That probably was the seed that became what I'm doing now..."

Behind the decks, DJ Bus Replacement Service is a selector like no other. Donning a rubber mask in the likeness of North Korean "Supreme Leader" Kim Jong-Un, she swerves with car chase dexterity from novelty detritus, rare pop gems and genre-mutating mash-ups into hammering techno, acid and hardcore. An uneasy rework of Missy Elliott's 'Get Ur Freak On' crashes into a traditional Middle Eastern EDM hybrid in her set from Freerotation 2018; a bockety pop tune called 'Alan Charles Wilder Is Never Coming Back To Depeche Mode' falls comfortably into Lebanese experimentalist Rabih Beaini's edit of Rene Bendaly Family's 'Tanki Tanki' in her breakthrough RA Podcast from February. Elsewhere we find something from Alvin and the Chipmunks, somewhere or another there's some Perc Trax releases, some Ansome, and so on.

It all serves to create an experience that transcends that of your average dancefloor. DJ BRS' sets can have you staring bewildered at your mate one moment and laughing uncontrollably along to an earnest football chant the next. Before you know it, you're punching an imaginary giant's chin to some 170 bpm gabber track while someone yodels on top of it. It's pure comedy, but not in the unhinged way of its appearance. Like any good DJ or stand-up comic, Woo is a master of pace and balance, of peaks and troughs and surprising segues, loosely plotted to ensure the crowd remains engaged and rapturous.

"There is a particular formula to what I do," she says. "In the same way that comedians know how to land the joke and write a build up, or how they do that kind of 'gotcha' moment. They make you feel like you know what the punchline is but then it doesn't happen like that."

"You can't just play a sequence of really shitty tracks and have that result in belly laughs," she explains. "That'd be like someone who boasts about what an amazing DJ they are because they play only on vinyl and nothing else. It absolutely holds no interest for me because they're just playing the same sludge for 30 or 60 minutes with no change in mood or momentum."

Like her favourite comedians George Carlin, Dave Chappelle, Tiffany Haddish, Simon Amstell and Michelle Wolf, then, Woo brings professional flourish even to the most frenzied of mixes.

"Everybody realises that good comedians have to craft a story where you can't see the punchline coming," she says, pointedly. "You can't just rely on these really hacky types of jokes. It has to grip you the whole time."

"When I grew up, George Carlin was the comedian I really wanted to listen to every recording of," she remembers. "Especially his earlier material. There were a lot more winks in that, there was a lot more playing with language. As he got older he seemed to get crankier and I found it difficult to get into. But there was always some sort of resolution at the end, you just had to stick with it."

Growing up, the comedic potential of music presented itself pretty naturally to Woo, who started listening to novelty legend Dr. Demento on the radio in 1988.

"I was fed a lot of that in my formative years because I had no friends and so radio was my friend," she says. "In addition to playing funny songs and parodies, on that show they would play bits of stand up comedy. I think there was a natural affinity to do music and comedy at the same time because they existed in the same world for me."

It was almost inevitable then, that upon moving to Birmingham in the early '00s she would quickly become absorbed in the mashcore/breakcore hysterics of Brighton's Henry Collins AKA Shitmat. Having developed a love for hardcore dance music while still in the States through her friends' Thunderdome CDs and the more restrained Tresor and Love Parade compilations, the gravitation toward Collins' head scrambling Full English Break-fest LP was practically predestined.

"That mash-up was absolute life for me," she says, remembering the first time she heard John Peel play Shitmat's 'There's No Business Like Propa' Rungleclotted Mashup Bizznizz'. "I could tell what he was doing was funny but it was really, really well put together as well.”

Are you sensing a pattern? From P.D.Q. Bach, Dr. Demento and George Carlin to Shitmat and DJ Bus Replacement Service, the crucial ingredient in all this hysteria is precision. It's something that Woo has finessed to a fine art by now, not only in the minutae of her DJ sets but in her measuring of an increasingly prolific music career with her day job as a freelance data privacy and commercial solicitor.

"I find balance by doing a lot of extreme things at the same time," she laughs. "If I do something that is comparatively more corporate and technical, like law, for long enough then I start to crave jumping back into music again to do something crazy. Then, when I've had enough of crazy – like my current project of putting together a mix of only Eurovision songs – I jump back and do some very horrendous data privacy drafting for a couple of hours."

"See – I take the lazy way out," she shrugs. "I'm not in this industry 100% of the time. I get out, I find my perspective by doing something else, which is why – you know, having my day job is so important to me, to have that perspective."

Of course, that attention to detail and sense of perspective hasn't always been quite as present. But all of this is, naturally, a learning curve. Woo remembers one particular gig in Brighton – at a Wrong Music party run by Shitmat, whom she had since developed a friendship with – where she played an off-kilter cover of Dschinghis Khan's 'Genghis Khan' only to later discover that the lyrics, in a language she didn't recognise, were more than a little bit racist.

"I was like, fuck . But there were only five people on the floor so it was fine," she says. "But I should have done my homework. I'm very conscious about playing stuff now in a culture that I'm not familiar with and making sure that I'm not playing something offensive. I think you can easily step into that cultural appropriation mess if you don't know. It's like going too far out into the sea, beyond your comfort levels. You get just sucked in by a riptide. I think you have some sort of responsibility to kind of vet the music, to check it out with some friends that might know.

"Due diligence," she says. "Due diligence is everything." The message of due diligence is something Woo feels needs to be woven through the very bloodstream of the dance music community, especially within the precarious world of social media, where "microaggressions are amplified to the nth degree". There is a requisite diligence, for instance, among those with the means to do so to use their position to create platforms for the marginalised, to strive for improved diversity and representation for female, trans, non-binary, queer and POC artists and DJs. There is a responsibility too among dance music followers, as seen in recent weeks, to learn what is and is not a justified expectation to have of their role models. There is a fundamental ideal to not be a massive prick, and to respect the boundaries of others. There's a base level of sense required to not assume that the DJ behind the Kim Jong-Un mask is a man. Crucially, as Woo has explained, you also just need to know when to step away from all if it. Basic enough ground rules, sure, but vital if dance music in 2018 is to be salvaged from the maelstrom of its own volatility and tension.

Perhaps then it has been through that ability to find balance, positivity and community in our culture-drunk and conflict-sodden internet existence that DJ Bus Replacement Service found something something essential. In her near-surgical tapping into the mania of our collective humour, of our escapist anxieties and our distorted mind-massages, Doris Woo became the DJ we needed in 2018. Not that she would be so curt as to admit that...

"This is complete conjecture, but I think it's just that, because of how depressing world politics is, anything that isn't constant chatter about how fucked we are is a nice escape," she says. "But then, I've been doing this for a good part of 10 years; it was just very under the radar. So maybe it was just right place, right time."

And so the momentum keeps on building, and DJ BRS is playing more gigs this summer than she has previously played in a whole three-year period. And as she evolves, so too does her ambition. A recent trip to Belgian mega-festival Tomorrowland with her husband and Little Baby Cheeses collaborator Anthony Child AKA Surgeon, found her gazing at an enormous stage while Swedish DJ Salvatore Ganacci did handstands, martial arts, push ups and performed general physical and vocal humpery throughout his brash EDM set.

"These DJs are just being dumbasses and taking good money for it!” she says. “And this is why I'm not ashamed to say that my ambition is to play at these big festivals like Snowbombing or Tomorrowland. They're already booking people that are clearly doing something way above and beyond just playing music and they're entertaining why can't I get a cut of that!?"

If there is any justice, then maybe someday we could well see the rubbery facade of DJ Bus Replacement Service on a stage of that magnitude, towering over the baffled faces of thousands, relishing in the controlled chaos of it all.

"Sometimes it's like when you go on a really horrific rollercoaster ride, and you're just screaming your head off and every hole is either shitting or vomiting something out. In the end though, when it's all over you're like, 'I want to do that again'."

Because it is, after all, all in the art of telling a really good joke. It's about weaving a story with enough peaks, valleys, loops and turns to ensure that by the time the punch line arrives – or doesn't – you're too dizzy to even care one way or another

"I'm not out to torture people," Doris Woo smiles. "I'm not out to do a DJ version of The Human Centipede! I just want people to have fun."

DJ Bus Replacement Service opens the Quietus 10 year anniversary rave at Corsica Studios this Friday, 7th September - get there 11pm for the madness. She also plays this year's Unsound Festival in Krakow, check the festival website for more information