February 2018

The Nation Reviewed

Inside the Hot Dub Time Machine

By Darryn King
The Australian musical export that’s making history

In September 2011, a Sydney DJ named Tom Loud premiered a dance party, for little more than a hundred people, in Marrickville’s Factory Theatre. The only lights in the room were the projections on a screen of two bedsheets that Loud and his wife had sewn together and gaffer-taped onto poles. A couple of guys, in a state of MDMA-assisted euphoria, jumped onto the stage (there was no security), fell backwards into the sheets and ripped the screen.

The night was a roaring success. Today, the show is one of Australia’s most successful musical acts and exports. “Hot Dub Time Machine” plays extensively across Australia, the US and the UK. It was the largest ever ticketed event in the history of the Edinburgh Fringe. On New Year’s Eve, Hot Dub was the centrepiece of the inaugural NYE in the Park festival in Sydney’s Victoria Park.

It’s an ingeniously simple concept. Hot Dub is a two-and-a-half-hour chronological history of popular music, not just a “musical journey” – that old DJ’ing cliché – but a genealogy. It begins with Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” (1954), winds through The Beatles and Bowie, Beastie Boys and The Backstreet Boys, Britney and Beyoncé, and culminates in hits from the current year (most recently, Lorde’s “Green Light” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble”, remixed by Skrillex). Balloons drop, strobes flash, fireworks explode and visuals are projected throughout, morphing from grainy footage of baby-boomer teenagers doing the twist to the technicolour of MTV to super-slick modern-day music clips.

The effect is something like the BBC documentary series Dancing in the Street crossed with Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music crossed with your life passing before your eyes. With no intentions grander than a simple desire to throw a sick party, Loud has created a captivating and multi-layered work of art. Hot Dub is, at once, a masterclass in the evolution of popular music and dance, a portrait of shifting social mores and the changing complexion of youthful rebellion, a showcase of the rapid advancements in musical technology (as a microcosm of innovation more broadly), and – depending on your level of sobriety – a poignant reminder of the hurtling passage of time towards the moment when the music inevitably stops.

Loud caters expertly to the crowd: more Britpop in Brixton, more hip-hop in Brooklyn. Before the latter show, I suggested to 39-year-old Loud – sipping a Coke in his DJ’s standard-issue black T-shirt – that Hot Dub might work equally well as a museum installation.

“It used to be much more like that,” he says. “I used to cover punk and new wave and obscure things, songs that were important musically that maybe the crowd weren’t into. But as I’ve gone on, and gotten to know my audience, you realise it’s about the biggest pop bangers.

“But I do love how you go from ‘Respect’, Aretha Franklin, to Beyoncé, ‘Crazy in Love’. Or Ray Charles, ‘I Got a Woman’, to Fatman Scoop, ‘Who Fucking Tonight’.” (Add to the list of things Hot Dub is: a brief history of human mating rituals in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.)

For years, Loud worked as a sound designer on Channel Nine series such as Underbelly and McLeod’s Daughters. He acquired his decks in 2002 and DJ’ed on the side. “I loved the theatre of it, really. But all my gigs sort of sucked.” He came up with the time-travelling dance party concept and became a full-time DJ two years later.

Inevitably, there are haters. Out of context, and to hardcore purists of the art form, a DJ dropping Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” or Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” at a serious electronic musical festival is a hanging offence. “The hate mail I get tends to be young male DJs,” Loud says. (“Don’t Stop Believing” is one of the sure-fire highlights of any Hot Dub event.)

Apart from that, the multi-genre musical inclusivity of the show is neatly reflected in the diversity of the audience. “I do a lot of college shows, particularly in the UK; I’ll DJ for people just entering university – 16, 17. They love ‘Rock Around the Clock’. I did the Leeds Festival this year and there was a circle mosh pit to ‘Johnny B. Goode’.” (In fact, the crowds are getting even younger – Loud’s wife, Lulu, hosts an occasional children’s version of Hot Dub, called Kid/Dub.)

Loud is especially pleased with the fact that, in the often male-dominated clubbing scene, women outnumber men in Hot Dub audiences. “It’s guys who DJ. Nightclubs are run by men. So they can be kinda snobby about music that girls like. DJs won’t play Beyoncé or whatever, because it’s not ‘cool’. But I don’t give a shit … For a lot of people, it rocks their world.”

By his own admission, before he conceived Hot Dub Loud was a pretty severe music snob himself. “I now genuinely believe that there was no bad time for music. A friend was telling me the other day that he doesn’t like ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’. I was like, ‘No, you don’t understand. It’s actually an amazing pop song.’”

If the show has a message, it might be that times change and we along with them. Admittedly, the official tagline is much catchier. “Best. Party. Ever.”

Darryn King

Darryn King is a freelance journalist based in New York.

@DarrynKing

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