Doss Is Your Favorite DJ's Favorite DJ

Doss Is Your Favorite DJ's Favorite DJ

It's Saturday night in Times Square. The usual throngs of tourists are milling about, gawking at the multi-story LED screens, pouring out of the latest Broadway adaptation of some beloved Disney property with arms full of shopping bags from M&M World weaving in and out of mangy knockoff Elmo mascots and hucksters trying to convince people to attend some Comedy Central showcase.

A line is forming inside the stairwell leading down to the 50th Street 1 train for one of New York's newest clubs, Nothing Really Matters, a speakeasy-style bar tucked away in a repurposed blacked out storefront inside the subway station. Confused commuters look on as a crowd of stylish twenty-somethings you'd otherwise typically find at a Brooklyn warehouse rave wait to be let in to the release party for Doss' latest single, "Jumpin'." The enthusiasm is palpable as the queue inches towards the door, the warm thud of a subwoofer intermingling with the sounds of rushing metro trains. It's a cool venue for an arguably even cooler DJ.

For those in the know, Doss has long been an artist worth ranting and raving over. Despite having put out only a handful of singles and remixes over the past seven years, the producer and DJ has steadily built a reputation as one of the most in-demand and sought after tastemakers to come out of New York's club scene, counting the likes of Lady Gaga, Porter Robinson, A. G. Cook, and the late SOPHIE among her ardent supporters and collaborators.

Drawing on '90s rave sounds and proto-hyperpop (a term that had one of its earliest usages in a Recycle Culture remix of her single "The Way I Feel") gloss, Doss' productions straddle the line between dreamy bliss and bittersweet melancholia wrapped into an immaculate dance-pop package. For her latest EP, 4 Hit New Songs, Doss builds on the iridescent synths and nostalgic breaks that pervaded her debut or a collection of introspective, tender and energetic tracks. From the bouncy synth-pop plucks of "On Your Mind" to the wistful shoegaze of "Strawberry" and the high-octane banger "Look," Doss finds ways to make these songs feel both personal and universal, all within the span of 14 minutes and 32 seconds.

As a DJ, Doss' sets are an experience to be treasured. A familiar face for those that may have happened to frequent chic locales like China Chalet (RIP) or attend the errant trendy industry party, Doss has managed to find a niche in the treasure trove of oft overlooked electro house and trance that reigned supreme over the club world in the 2000s and spilled over into the early years 2010s EDM. Energetic, with an ability to whip any dancefloor into a frenzy of euphoria, Doss as DJ manages to demonstrate the pure cathartic potential that club music can have while side stepping any musical elitism that might come from being a devoted disciple of rave.

For those that only know Doss through a Spotify playlist, there is a bit of a disconnect between the more traditionally structured pop productions and her raw unfiltered club sets, which is what makes her most recent single "Jumpin'" such a pivotal moment for the artist. Bridging the two worlds, the track marries a blood-pumping, four-on-the-floor big room drop with a hi-NRG vocal sample and Doss' enigmatic lyricism for a club-pop hybrid about the giddy infectious hold dance music exerts on us. As the self-branded slogan says, at the end of the day, "It's the music."

Meeting up a few hours before her set, PAPER caught up with Doss to chat about her return, electro's Y2K glory days, musical algorithms, rejecting the album format, her new hybrid label Duet, Tumblr EDM fandom and more.

I love that you tap into the mid-2000s era of popular house and club music.

That’s not what I grew up on, but that was happening when I was 15-18. It’s so coveted to me as something I never got to experience live or in person, so it’s probably subconsciously me trying to do that and it’s also really underrated. It definitely got its moment in the underground, aside from Justice and, of course, Daft Punk, who really are the people who were the precursor to big huge EDM. It never really got its moment. The same with electro, it’s made fun of now, too.

We’re getting to the point where it's been far enough away from EDM, so people are starting to go back to it. There’s a bit of a revival at the moment.

Definitely. I also get somewhat nervous that it’s ironic, which I hate. I think irony is stupid, I love vulnerability. So when I see certain party posters, I hope that’s out of respect. I love seeing Uffie playing now and David Rudnick’s Cities parties. Those situations where people really do it out of pure love.

How do you go about virtual crate digging and finding songs for your sets?

I definitely have a private Tumblr that I’ve had for maybe 10 years almost. Obviously, with YouTube links they sometimes get taken down or broken, so a lot of archiving gets lost, but I'm a big collector of digital things. A lot of it is just hearing something and saving it for later to be able to come back to. When I'm looking for something specific, I can comb through this huge archive and find it later or rediscover it so at least I have a paper trail. Even if I don't know if I'll need it when I first see it, I save it just in case.

Just to have it in the back of your mind.

Yeah like, “This is a cool thing,” and I’ll save it and return back to it someday. Now it’s really hard because they changed the algorithm, but back in the day I used to love going on a crazy K-hole of YouTube and finding tracks that had no views or that no one’s even heard really.

I miss the old iTunes Store recommended algorithm. RIP iTunes Store.

That still exists to some extent, but not as much. I still find things on Beatport because they do have a related section, but it gets easy to fall into a circular hole.

That’s my qualm with Spotify because they have an insular related artist algorithm.

Yeah, I also find Spotify’s UI confusing. I never got into it, but I also don't really listen to music that way, I guess. They don't have the old edits of some random thing. That’s kind of the thing that I'm more interested in listening to than a playlist.

How did the Lady Gaga remix come about? Was that after PAPER's Chromatica release party or something else?

No, it was way before actually because I've known BloodPop for a long time.

That makes sense.

Just because Grimes and Mike [BloodPop] are best friends. Claire [Grimes] used to date Jamie [Brooks] from Elite Gymnastics, who was also on Acéphale and we all sort of knew each other through there. Also MySpace, that’s where everything started and everyone knows each other. That’s how I met Anamanaguchi, we were like 15.

I never got to enjoy the MySpace era. I came of age in the Tumblr moment. God, I remember EDM Tumblr fandom, the fan art...

Oh my God, I didn't even think about the art.

There was shipping. It was weird in retrospect.

That's so weird, too, because Tumblr isn't public in the same way that Twitter is. It's more buried. I still think Tumblr is the best platform to some extent.

Pre-porn ban, yeah. That was a chaotic ass place.

I just used it as a diary basically. I have a private one, so it's not like I'm posting anything for anyone else.

It was nice to curate stuff that you wanted. That recommendation algorithm was weird, as well.

Totally. Like, what is it basing it off of? People you've followed recently? Maybe they have some sort of image algorithm, but I feel like anytime I'm on it's the exact same stuff.

I think it was always just the same set of tags it fed back to you. You would have to go out of your way to find something different, which was both a blessing and a curse. It's interesting, being in this age of algorithmic curation, and how that in turn influences us. Because before that it was radio and people were hand-selecting things.

Yeah, I mean, it was evil in its own ways. At least it was human.

You could argue that most algorithms are, too. They all have a human creator behind them even if it's more setting up the framework than having direct involvement. There is sort of a techno pessimism aspect to it, but it's just different.

It's also just quite boring, I think.

It culls the outliers, which is a shame. Speaking of curation, what's your overall DJ philosophy? How do you approach a set?

To some extent, narrative, like telling a version of a story. I mean, I just want it to be good. Basically the opposite to a techno set, which is very austere and serious. I just want it to be sexy and fun. It's not intellectualized at all. I feel like I'm not a serious person, but I overthink everything. The side of Doss that is nightlife is the place to literally have fun. To lose yourself and be present in the moment and not have to think about the past or future, what you have to do in the morning. Especially because all of my music can be so sad. The music is so personal that I want the DJ sets to be for everyone.

How do you bridge that? Because it's not like your music can't slide easily into your sets, but it also stands on its own as a single. How do you approach that?

I've definitely done club edits of the song, which is a very 1:1 answer, I guess. The way I approach my music, in general, is that I'm not a singer at all and I use my voice more for sampling purposes. Even though I'm writing lyrics and singing them, that to begin with is already a part of dance music as a genre. It's easy to take those parts and play with them.It could be sad in context, but then flipping it into something that's more anthem, dancey, happy or something.

Songs like "Strawberry” always strike me as having this nice melancholic feeling. I love the refrain, "I don't care about anyone," in “Softpretty,” for example.

I like playing with lyrics that can have different meanings depending on when you play them or your mood when you hear it. Like the line, "I don't care about anyone," could also arguably be like, "Fuck it," which I think is fun. I don't think it's always successful because I'm not a [professional] songwriter, but I try. I like that you can take those things and change it and use it as a tool for different outcomes

Would you say you're a perfectionist?

I haven't had as much time lately, just with playing shows and doing design stuff, the other parts of Doss that are more urgent to some extent, but I write music all the time. I like to take my time to let the song tell me what to do next. I know when it's ready. "Puppy" for example, I wrote pretty much in one day, but with "Jumpin'," I wrote the instrumental that you may have heard many years ago in a day and I didn't really know how to complete it with vocals until recently. Song-wise, it's up in the air in terms of releasing them and I don't really like albums as a format. They are so in the past in a way that’s hard to justify for me putting an album out. This is something that SOPHIE and I were talking about: new ways to achieve something along those lines. I guess Kanye is doing that too with making that little Zune device thing. That’s not where I want to go but...

It's a cool concept.

But for $200? But anyways, exploring different platforms and ways to approach it. With "Jumpin'," specifically, it's a style that I know I have, but fans may have not heard yet unless they see me play. They don't necessarily know there's a heavy dance element to the project. Doss, to me, is about the full spectrum of possibilities. I don't want it to be just one genre, so it's moving forward and thinking about singles as a forever album, right? Or like, "How can I tell that story/narrative?" What would be the next song in an album if my career itself was like one long album?

Each single is like the next chapter that's unfolding.

Yeah and it'll make more sense as it goes along. There were people that were like, “This song is not what I expect from Doss, there's no melody,” but I think they might think of it differently in a couple years when there's more of a body of work out and it makes more sense in context. If you just heard something like "L.O.V.E." by SOPHIE you would be like, "What the fuck is this?" You wouldn't understand because you have another context for that.

Getting back to nightlife, how do you prepare for your sets and nights out? Or is that a different process?

Well, this is kind of a release party for “Jumpin'," but it’s also a company launch party for this thing we’re doing called “Duet,” which is a label hybrid. We’re starting with releasing Doss music, and then working with other artists and working on projects that are music-related like design, curation or programming.

That seems like the new wave, similar to how Iglooghost, Kai Whiston and BABii have GLOO collective.

Totally, like umru with Song and Parent Company. It’s essentially that, but it’s all under one umbrella. It’s something that we’ve already been doing, but less formally. It’s really about putting in the effort to make the party something special, whether it's something neurotic such as the poster or hand stamping “It’s the music” on all of the wristbands the night before. Playing a show when I hadn’t DJ’ed anything in forever besides virtual shows, which are obviously different. I guess on that end, a lot of thoughtfulness with wanting people to have a good time and being cohesive and immersive to some extent. It’s that type of preparation. On a personal level, ideally I would like to really practice, but usually it’s just trying to make the set good and probably trying on 100 outfits and then just wearing something simple that I wear every day.

What’s been on your heavy rotation as of late?

I weirdly never really listen to music. That’s not true, but usually when I'm walking around I have my headphones on, but I don’t listen to anything. It’s just so people don’t talk to me. Maybe podcasts, but that’s a terrible answer.

Prior to 4 New Hit Songs, you didn’t do a ton of interviews and you’re not a very public facing individual. I'm curious as to how much of that is intentional and whether you want to keep it that way or actually want that type of connection?

Keep it that way. I think it’s definitely intentional, but I remember buying magazines to read and that’s how you would learn about music. I was young and it’s not like the internet didn’t exist, but the access is something that’s pretty new in the grand scheme of things. I just got an Instagram for Doss, specifically, and I have a secret Instagram but I don’t post much because I'm not that person to begin with. I just don’t have a relationship with social media. Even back in the day with LiveJournal, I may post something and delete it immediately. I’ve never had the desire to post my thoughts on Twitter. More power to people that can. I just get in my head about it and would rather not have that future embarrassment for myself. It's too much anxiety.

Along those lines, is there something you wish your fans knew about you or any misconceptions you want to clear up?

The one thing I wish I could do is respond to people with funny memes. That's what I like the most. It's always been a dream to be made fun of, and now that it’s happened it’s so good. Some of them are so fucking funny. Did you ever see the one with the horrifying black dog that looks like a bald man? They set it to the beginning of “Puppy.” I think I have a screenshot of it, it's so insane.

One of the things I don’t think a lot of fans may know is that you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community.

That’s something that I would like people to know. It’s obviously complicated. I don’t necessarily want to be labeled a “queer artist.” Charli XCX was saying something recently in her Rolling Stone interview like, “I don’t want to be a female artist, I want to be a good artist.” But at the same time too I understand the importance of being out, and being something inspirational or relatable for fans.

It does also raise a lot of questions when it comes to what the public has a reasonable expectation to know about an artist, if anything at all.

Also, fans can be really scary. Not to me personally, but I've seen fans be scary to Gaga or Charli or Grimes. They’re really demanding and once you open that door you can’t close it. I’m genuinely afraid of it. With the access of the internet, it’s so demanding. People have that expectation that you’re going to give them everything all the time and I don’t want that from anybody to want that of me. It’s scary. It’s really dangerous too, as a fan and an artist. Just go outside. Just stop.

Catch Doss on tour this Spring:

Fri, April 29 - Secret Location, LA

Sun, June 26 - Electric Forest, Rothbury

Thu, June 30 - Elsewhere, Brooklyn

Sat, July 9 - Abysmal Festival, LA

-* denotes dates supporting Yves Tumor

Photography: Leia Jospe