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Hot Dub Time Machine

Gone are the days of secretly jamming out to Rock Around The Clock or Oops!… I Did It Again – now you can dance your heart out at a party that doubles as a time capsule; a safe space for lovers of cheesy pop. Tom Lowndes, AKA DJ Tom Loud, is the man behind Hot Dub Time Machine, and he has been working hard to bring our shame-ridden love of hits into the (strobing) light. EMILY MELLER catches up with the party peddler to talk travelling themed DJ sets and retro kitsch. 

Musical nostalgia – intense feelings for music from your youth – is not just a cultural phenomenon, but also a scientific one. It’s the reason that music from past decades sounds so much better (objectively speaking, of course), and probably also explains the entire karaoke industry. It’s so powerful that it often warps an otherwise discerning critical ear so the listener might lose their minds to a song that is, if we’re honest, pretty terrible.

“I think people love it because they are hearing old stuff, but I don’t think it’s necessarily nostalgia,” says Lowndes. “I think the clubbing scene is very much one genre and it can often feel a bit elitist in some way – like if you feel you’re uncool or too old, too young, or maybe like you don’t have enough money. But Hot Dub Time Machine is not about that. It’s about playing every type of music and being shameless and not being embarrassed if a great song might be uncool. If it’s a great song it’s a great song.”

The concept is straightforward enough: play hits from each decade, countdown-style, from the 1950s until now. Add in some lights, balloons and a crowd of uncoordinated but enthusiastic dancers and you have yourself a show. As brilliantly simple as it seems, even Lowndes was surprised at how quickly the concept took off. From venues with tiny capacities at the Sydney Fringe Festival to sold-out shows at the Enmore Theatre, people clearly enjoy an excuse to ShoutJump Around and mosh like it’s… well, any decade they like.

“I’m big on being anti-cool,” Lowndes says. “I just love playing good music and people seem to be enjoying what I do. I am really proud of the kind of DJing that Hot Dub Time Machine is. It’s not about me being a good DJ, or it being all about my skills; it’s about the best music and the best vibes, and to me that’s what partying is all about, you know? It’s not about how awesome my software is.”

Even if ‘nostalgia’ is the wrong word, it is undeniable that Hot Dub Time Machine plays on emotion. It seems like certain decades do have a disproportionate power over the crowd’s reaction. So curating the playlist can throw up some unexpected curveballs from time to time – and it’s only by playing shows that Lowndes gets a real sense of whether a song is right or not.

“I am aware that what I do is a retro party, but is some way it almost gives itself its own sense of coolness,” he says. “But it is a fine line between that and it feeling like a bad wedding reception. Like Summer Of ’69 – for some reason that doesn’t work at all. But Eye Of The Tiger is always great. Wannabe by the Spice Girls? Absolutely kills. But I find if you put too many of those in a row it can really quickly get too cheesy, so, you know, we have Spice Girls into Tupac to avoid it tipping over.”

Whether Hot Dub Time Machine represents a wider shift that means people are rejecting labels of music as ‘good’ or ‘crap’ remains to be seen. In Lowndes’ eyes, making a distinction based on genre, or whether it belongs to a particular scene, can blind people.

“I think that kind of snobbery is really pointless. It means that with a lot of great songs you don’t realise how great they are. I was, like, a ’90s metal guy and so it meant that there were a lot of ’80s songs I thought were just the worst things in the world.”

It’s a fair point, even if a tough one for a music journalist to take. On the other hand, it’s impossible to deny that often a lot of guilty pleasure songs eventually become favourites, and no amount of criticism or argument can sway that steadfast devotion towards them.

“I kind of got over that whole [metal] thing,” says Lowndes. “Now I think that Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees is an amazing song, it’s so well crafted and funky. And Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) is such a beautifully made pop song. And Call Me Maybe, that’s also a great tune. Now I like that as much as obscure German techno I listen to.”

Lowndes’ unbridled enthusiasm for music is infectious. Anyone who has experienced Hot Dub Time Machine is aware of how much of its success is because of his talent for seeing through a song’s reputation to whether it holds up as a well-crafted piece of work in its own right. That said, he is far from stuck in the past.

“I think good music is being made all the time. [For Hot Dub Time Machine,] this is just the beginning, I think.”

Maybe the Hot Dub Time Machine philosophy is something worth remembering next time you catch your nose upturned at a song that deserves a second chance.




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