The Evolution Of Hot Dub Time Machine: Tom Lowndes Reflects On Career Ahead Of 'Boogie 1977-2023' Show

4 July 2023 | 4:39 pm | Cyclone Wehner

"I think, as I've gone on, I just wanna rock a party."

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In 2022, Sydney's Tom Lowndes celebrated the 10th anniversary of Hot Dub Time Machine (HDTM), having branded himself "the world's first time-travelling DJ". 

Rather than bask in the glory, he's now staging a new show, Hot Dub Time Machine: Boogie 1977-2023, at The Hordern Pavilion in Sydney – his biggest-ever headlining gig in Australia. 

Lowndes will be in his element. "I'm addicted to this caper," he declares. 

"I wanna play bigger crowds. I mean, it's never enough. Most performers, when they're being honest with you, will tell you the same – it's a drug. You just wanna keep going; you wanna keep playing bigger."

Lowndes has latterly flown in Bali resort, where he DJed at the resort festival Dream Machine – among its stars 2000s mash-up phenom Girl Talk. Zooming from his home studio, he's finalising the setlist for an extravagant production.

Lowndes previously had a career as a sound mixer/editor/designer on television programmes such as McLeod's Daughters and Underbelly, but he also DJed as a hobby. 

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Working on Heath Franklin's sketch comedy The Ronnie Johns Half Hour on the Ten Network, Lowndes hung out with stand-up comedians – and DJed for his pals. 

"I'd been DJing for a long time – I got my decks in 2002," he says. "So I'd been DJing in my bedroom for a decade. [But] I'd never found a niche." 

Lowndes noticed that the late-night parties at comedy (or Fringe) festivals "were a bit lame," recalling that "it was all kind of silent discos or other stuff that I didn't think was very good." 

An exception was the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which had Andrew McClelland rocking parties – Lowndes proclaiming him "one of the great underrated DJs of Australia." 

A comedian moonlighting as a DJ, McClelland specialises in dropping guilty pleasures. "He would just play random stuff and dance on stage – and these parties [were] so much better than what was happening in bars and nightclubs," Lowndes says. 

"It was just really fun and liberating and different. So I identified that as where I wanted to be – and then I kind of took that vibe and brought it with me when I went 'mainstream' maybe. These days a lot of DJs play cheesy stuff on big stages, but it certainly wasn't the way back in 2011 and 2012. So I brought that joyful, random scene with me."

In 2011, Lowndes introduced his "hybrid" HDTM sound system at the Sydney Fringe Festivalplaying hits from the 1950s to the present, all chronologically - but the concept clicked with audiences at 2012's Adelaide Fringe

Later that year, Lowndes headed to The Edinburgh Festival Fringe – and today it's a major part of his success story, Scottish crowds loyal. 

Indeed, 2023's Edinburgh Fringe will be Lowndes' 11th – although he missed two years because of COVID-19 ("a bummer"), instead live streaming Hot Dub At Home on Twitch, nostalgia surging in lockdown. 

"I'm bloody massive over there – it's crazy the amount of people that come to my show in Edinburgh," Lowndes enthuses. "We did 12,000 tickets in a single weekend back in 2017."

Yet Lowndes isn't grandiose. In 2015 he DJed Coachella's Heineken House – his inaugural US date. But, even as he extols "an Australian-led revolution in dance music" Stateside, citing Flume, Alison Wonderland and RÜFÜS DU SOL, Lowndes hasn't returned. 

"I've abandoned my ambitions of having a career in America," he admits, emphasising that it's his "fault". "I think, to succeed in America, you have to move there… If you don't live there, and you don't put in the work – man, there are 100 other acts who are trying to break it." 

Lowndes wasn't prepared to make "sacrifices" – nor unsettle his young family. In contrast, he welcomes regularly visiting Europe.

Lowndes cherishes HDTM. He repeatedly – and sincerely – describes it as his purpose. 

"This DJ set is my life's work. It feels odd to say that, but fuck it, it is – you know, at this point, I've been doing it long enough. All I do is work on HDTM." 

The turntablist is committed to "the creative framework" of HDTM – his show is meticulously pre-programmed.

 "I think, as a creative, it's so great to have a wall on what you do – so I love DJing chronologically. It adds this challenge to me." 

For sets, Lowndes uses a Google Docs spreadsheet – and generates his own custom visuals. But, though not messing with a popular format, Lowndes will contemplate ways to keep it fresh for himself – especially since he has "a short attention span." 

Inevitably, seasoned pop acts routinely perform their greatest hits to gratify audiences. Lowndes, too, has his signature tunes. Recently, he attended Lorde's concert – "incredible show; just phenomenal." However, while fans appreciated her (polarising) Solar Power material, they were most responsive to the old – causing a sense of "tension and release," a dynamic Lowndes recognised.

"I'm always thinking about what people want from me," he reveals. 

"If you're in a crowd at a Hot Dub gig, what do you want from the experience? And I think what people want is to have fun. They want it to be joyful. They wanna hear stuff that they know, but they [also] wanna be surprised. There has to be a moment in the Hot Dub show where they hear something that they didn't expect at all." But, even here, the DJ favours the familiar. "I can't go off and just do 40 minutes of new stuff."

Lowndes hasn't so much as reinvented as expanded HDTM. As early as 2015 he devised the Hot Dub Rave spin-off, then ostensibly exclusive to the Adelaide Fringe. Originally planning to debut the fully-fledged Hot Dub Rave Machine at Belgium's Tomorrowland in 2020, Lowndes finally toured it last year, even playing Printworks London. 

Now, Lowndes is presenting Hot Dub Time Machine: Boogie 1977-2023.

"I'm gonna be doing something slightly different, but it's still Hot Dub," he explains. "Last year I did a rave show, which was dance music 1990 to 2022 – and I really enjoyed that 'cause that's kind of my passion. But I wanted to make a different show. So HDTM Boogie is just about making girls dance for two hours."

Lowndes will launch Boogie… with two seminal 1977 disco anthems, Donna Summer's Giorgio Moroder-stamped I Feel Love and Cerrone's Supernature – and the set maintains "a continuous groove". 

But, he assures, "I'm still playing pop songs." Lowndes jokes that the key distinction is there's "no bogan rock." Regardless, Boogie… isn't purist, Lowndes sneaking in Miley Cyrus' bop Flowers – "a classic".

Traditionally, underground DJs have served as cultural chroniclers: not only exposing punters to new music but also educating them about the old – crucial considering the fracturing and ahistoricity of social media narratives. 

But Lowndes is disinclined to intellectualise his DJing. If initially, he did approach Hot Dub as "like a music documentary," and was "trying to service every genre," then his prioritises have changed. 

"I think, as I've gone on, I just wanna rock a party." Again, elitism is antithetical to HDTM. Besides, Lowndes has long cultivated an intergenerational following, whether playing fests like Splendour In The Grass or corporate events. And he believes that cultural memory is strong: the kids have heard of The Beatles.

Still, Lowndes does have one deep cut in Boogie… (spoiler alert!). He drops Frankie Knuckles' remix of Sounds Of Blackness' gospel The Pressure. 

"It's kind of a fairly obscure early '90s [track], but it is just so beautiful." Ironically, in downtime, Lowndes listens to underground music – "ambient techno-y house mixes," with Israeli psy-trancer Mita Gami a current fave. 

After The Hordern blockbuster, the party DJ will take Boogie… to Edinburgh Fringe. Eventually, he hopes to tour it around Australia. 

"I really am keen to do some festivals this New Year's Eve – and it looks like I'll be doing a bunch of that," Lowndes says. 

"But I'm really, really excited next year to get back and do a proper tour around the theatres again... So, yeah, I definitely want to do a proper tour next year with that and, if we do it, it'll likely be with this show."