Rock Around the Clock

The Monthly (Australia) - - CONTENTS - by Dar­ryn King

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.

“The hate mail I get tends to be young male DJs,” Loud says.

It’s an in­ge­niously sim­ple con­cept. Hot Dub is a twoand-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.”

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