Robbie Lowe: 30 Years of DJing
Tracing the veteran Sydney DJ's three-decade career by way of the music that made it.
30 years is a hell of a long time to maintain a career in the world of dance music. Yet over the course of three decades, Robbie Lowe has endured as one of the country’s most respected and in demand DJs. From the moment he first jumped on the turntables at a house party back in 1993, Robbie knew he had found his calling in life. In 2023, he's still spinning tunes, still rocking club and festival dance floors, still frothing.
We could wax lyrical endlessly over his accolades - the legendary early morning Spice Cellar and ‘all night long’ Civic Underground and S.A.S.H sets, rocking the Electric Gardens Festival main stage after Armand Van Helden, the many support slots for his heroes, Sasha and John Digweed - but perhaps it's more fitting to let the guy tell his own story.
So, in the lead up to his 30th anniversary party at our little clubbing den, we jumped on the blower with 'the nicest guy in Australian dance music' to hear him trace his humble beginnings and career highlights through the music that soundtracked it.
Womack & Womack – Teardrops (1988) [listen]
I imagine you were a teenager when this was released?
I was about 14. It grabbed my attention straight away and sounded so cool back then and still sounds cool today. Everyone fell in love with it straight away too. That whole album [Conscience] is awesome, I always go back for a listen and Teardrops has stuck with me ever since.
It's such an infectious tune.
Yeah and it has a feel-good and sing-a-long vibe. It’s a song that really captures my youth.
How did you discover music as a teen? Were you a big Saturday morning Rage fan?
Sometimes Rage and I used to always watch Video Hits on the weekends. Radio was a big source of music - Triple J Radio used to play a little bit of dance music every now and again. But other than that, you’d have to go to a record shop or know a DJ with a recording of their set on a cassette tape who handed it around to friends. If you heard a really good track you liked in a club or on a mix tape, you had little chance of finding out what it was until you stumbled across it one day by fluke!
Yes! Sometimes it'd be years until you found out what a track was.
Yeah, that's right. Sometimes months or years. I still stumble across tracks now that I would listen to years ago, and just go, "Oh, wow. That's that track, that's that artist."
Were you buying much music back then?
I was buying a lot of cassette tapes and records.
Tony Scott - That’s How I’m Living (1989) [listen]
In the late '80s I was listening to a lot of hip house and acid house and this track takes me back to my later high school years. There was a lot of hip house around at the time, which then led to acid house and then a variety of new genres, essentially. That seemed to be the progression at the time. Funnily enough, my earliest influences were introduced to me by my mum - she went to a few of the famous Hordern [Pavilion] parties and stuff like that back in the day. The Hordern parties were huge and would get like 3 to 5,000 people there dancing till the morning light. Iconic. She was also friends with a DJ who would give her mix tapes, which she’d play in the house. As a kid, I was like, "Oh, I like this sort of stuff. This is cool." And then I'd end up stealing the tapes!
Were many of your friends or kids at school into that kind of music?
I went to Mosman High, which had a strong rave culture, so it was pretty normal. During the last two years of school lots of friends were going to raves. On Monday mornings, you’d see people come into school so wrecked because they’d been raving all weekend, which was pretty funny. I went to school with a lot of people who were in - or would go on to be in – the club scene. Nik Fish also went to Mosman High - he’s older than me and finished school earlier than me – and he had his radio show at the time, Musiquarium, which was huge. Kid Kenobi was in the year below me I think. There were other DJs as well, I just can't remember off the top of my head, but there was quite a few.
Gat Decor – Passion (1992) [Listen]
Had you begun DJing when this track came out?
I had just started spinning tunes, but not in clubs yet, because I was still in school. When I heard it, I was just like, "What's this track? It’s so catchy. This is amazing." It got played by all the DJs at the time and became an instant anthem. It sounded like nothing else I’d heard before. The track has a few different themes that gel together so well. It’s also aged well. It was a pinnacle track for me because it opened up a whole new world for me musically which ultimately led me to progressive house.
Is it a track you've always been able to play in your sets?
Yeah, 100%. And it doesn't matter what type set I'm playing – if it’s played right then it seems to work with everything. I know it back to front, inside out. It still comes out occasionally in my sets and it always gets the same epic response. If you look at a lot of the ‘top 10 best dance tracks ever’ lists, this one is usually number one or two. It's everyone's favourite.
CJ Bolland – Camargue (1993) [Listen]
I really liked some of the rave records being produced around this time and have a couple of crates of early rave records. This is one of the standout tracks from that era that I always keep going back for a listen, still classy as. This record represents that rave era for me.
Bedrock feat. KYO - For What You Dream Of (1993) [listen]
Of all the early progressive house tunes, what made you choose this one?
This comes to mind because it represents a golden era of early progressive house. It was a huge tune - and still is – and really captures the early 90’s progressive sound so well. It was on the Trainspotting soundtrack. And, of course, it was on Sasha and Digweed’s Renaissance: The Mix Collection compilation. I got hooked on those guys for the music they played and the way they mixed. I've always been into mixing as an art form and always looked up to them because they're the best at what they do and have a deep understanding of music and mixing tunes. Even today, when Sasha and Digweed come to town, there's always a buzz. And I always want to be playing with them.
Do you remember the first time you supported them?
I think I first supported John at Home nightclub for Sweetchilli. And then Sasha at Sounds On Sunday came after that. It’s pretty amazing that they're in their 50s now and still killing it. It's insane.
I wonder what the scene will be like when they retire? I can’t really think of any other DJs – at least within their kind of ‘sound’ – who would be able to reach those levels of popularity again. Things have changed too much.
I often think about that. It's really interesting, the OGs, the originals. It’s hard to imagine a scene without those guys. And the likes of Danny Howells or James Zabiela. They've both been super influential in my DJing and career too.
Bent - Always (Ashley Beedle's Mahavishnu Remix) (2001) [listen]
There are three things this track reminds me of: You, Danny Howells and Sounds On Sunday.
It’s funny you should say that. When I first got this track, I was playing at Sounds on Sunday a lot in The Greenwood courtyard. I was playing it there, and a lot of other venues at the time, as my closing track. And then Danny Howells played at Sounds in 2003 for his Global Underground 24/7 tour. He played such a phenomenal set. It's one of the best sets I've ever heard. He finished his set and everyone was screaming, "One more, one more," Then he dropped this track and I was just like, "Holy shit. I always drop this track!" It was quite funny and also such an amazing moment. I still play it now, sometimes. If I'm playing a set somewhere that's a special set, I'll finish with this track. And, spoiler alert, I’ll probably play it last at 77 this weekend!
Mr.G - My Fathers Farda (Mr.G's Soundboyz Dub) (2001) [listen]
In the early 2000’s, I was really getting into Mr. G, Terry Francis, Eddie Richards, and all those guys from the UK tech house scene. I used to play this track a lot and I still play it now. It’s a classic representation of tech house in the early 2000s and Mr. G is such a legend too. He doesn't really change his formula much, which I really like about him. You can always pick a Mr. G track and he's always got such a distinct groove in his music - his choice of percussion, his high hats, and all that sort of stuff.
Did that tech house sound coming from the UK have a big influence on the Sydney scene?
Yeah, definitely. Myself and a lot of other DJs were buying their records and playing them out in Sydney. There were a few nights in Sydney at the time pushing that type of sound - promoters like Ben Korbel and Paddy Nash of the Sounds crew, along with a few other promoters as well. Whichever sound was big in Sydney would also come down to whatever the record shops had on the shelves.
Which were some of your go-to record stores?
I was spending a lot of time at Reachin Records, and Central Station was always good too. Spank! and Acetate were great as well. There was Savage Records too – they were really big on West Coast house.
Was record shopping a weekly ritual for you?
Yeah, usually twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, because that's when the shipments came in. You had to get in there early too, otherwise you missed out on the good records!
Do you miss that kind of social interaction? Because it's such a different experience now buying music online.
For sure, it was all part of the experience. You'd get excited to go to the record shop and catch up with people and have banter in the shop. And you'd be able to find records that no one else had, so it was easier to have your own secret gems. Yeah, I do miss that. That was a really good culture that I feel lucky to have been a part of. But yeah, it's definitely different these days. There's so much stuff at your fingertips. It's a little bit overwhelming at times, to be honest.
Mathew Dekay & Alvredo - Symbiosis (2004) [listen]
If I had to pick another tune that encapsulates you - at least in the 2000s - it's this one.
This one was my go-to for a while for sure. It’s an insane track. It's such a party starter and I love its subtle and slow build. And then halfway through, you've got that unmissable breakdown and then the bassline just swoops from nowhere and basically knocks your socks off. It's so much fun to play and a good go-to. It still sounds fresh and always gets everyone going off. I think it really does encapsulate my sound as well. Yes, fucking fantastic track.
And such an amazing label. Alternative Route had so many gems.
I think it was Desyn Masiello’s label. And that was a really good time for progressive house, when you had the younger wave of DJ’s like Desyn coming up, who were making and playing music that was at the cheekier, house-ier-end of prog.
It was also just before electro started to influence prog.
Yeah, totally. That was just before electro took off, I'd say around 2005/2006. So that was the last of that prog sound before electro took over.
Then it went very minimal. What was that minimal house party in Sydney?
Minimal Fuss - Matt Aubusson and Dave Choe. Then after electro and minimal, a new kind of deep house came into fashion - producers like Milton Jackson, Jimpster and Shur-i-kan. There’s a lot of tracks from those guys that were big for me.
Andre Lodemann - Where Are You Now? (2012) [listen]
I guess this was an important track for deep house coming back again after minimal?
Yeah, it felt like this track reignited the groove and opened up a path for a lot of great deep house producers. That was a big time for me and I really went in hard on that sound because it was right up my alley. That was really me, that sound.
What were some of the clubs you were playing at that time?
I think I was just starting to play at Spice in those early days.
That was a great club.
That was an amazing time of my life playing at Spice. I had the best residency there. I had the best time slot as well, 4am to 6am, or 6am to 9am. I could just play totally me, just really nice morning music. It was incredible. A dream residency that one.
Sydney was on fire then. You’d have people coming down to Spice from the Cross.
People were coming from everywhere. And they were even waking up for Spice. Going to bed and then waking up to go out. You just don't hear of that anymore. People were showering, having a cup of tea, and going to Spice. Crazy. Then it came to an end because of the lockouts, which was a bit shit. But that's life.
Simple Symmetry - Plane Goes East (DJ Tennis Remix) (2017) [listen]
I was playing this a lot around 2017/18. This is a big, in-the-moment tune. I was playing a lot of this kind of music when Sasha and Digweed were here together a few years ago. But yeah, I’ve always been a fan of DJ Tennis’s music.
Deek That – Ramdeesun (2022) [listen]
There’s a lot of this kind of house/prog house sound around at the moment. I've been playing this track a lot. It's just a great, uplifting progressive house track.
What are some parties that it's going down well at?
Well I’ve played it at Blueprint. I also played it at the Strawberry Moon festival in Brisbane and it went down really well there. I also played it at my own party, which is called Brookie Car Park Boogie.
How did that party come about? There seems to be a great scene on the Northern Beaches.
It's a project between myself and good friend Jevon Le Roux. We’ve always had this idea of throwing a fun party on the Northern Beaches, close to Manly. We wanted to do something a bit different by throwing intimate parties in semi random locations, so we're doing it in a car park, which is kind of cool. It's really taken off and we're throwing our third party soon.
Do you think your sound has changed at all over the years?
No, I don't think it’s really changed. The music's changed, but my sound doesn't change much. It's still got the same elements. I like a certain type of warmth, groove and uplifting vibe to the tunes I play. I get influenced by different producers, but I'm still finding those same elements in their music that I really like.
As a DJ, you're kind of beholden to whatever music is being made at the time. Has there ever been times when you haven't felt connected to the music and you’re forced to go back and dig?
Yeah, 100%. It happens occasionally. If I'm not feeling it, I don't play it. I just go back and get inspiration from the last couple of years and beyond.
How do you feel about music that's being made at the moment?
I'm having a good run at the moment, I really am. I'm finding a lot of fresh stuff I'm really into and it's been like that for a good six months.
Konrad Ritter & NEPH - Bring It Home (Dave DK Remix) (2023) [listen]
This isn’t a ground-breaking track. It's not recreating the wheel by any means, but it's just a fresh, modern-day take on deep house that is really nice to play. It has a nice feel about it and I'm playing it a lot and a good reflection of what my sound is at the moment.
How do you plan for a long set like the one you have coming up this weekend?
I’ll have a few playlists ready, like some favourites and some new music. I like to be prepared musically and then on the night I just focus on feeling the vibe and getting a good groove going. You can never really plan too much for these things. If you plan too much then things won’t go to plan! And the most important thing is to have fun.
Is there anything you’d still like to accomplish?
I’m always going to be DJing, that’s a given. I love it. I’m just going to stick to the path I’m on and that’s enjoying playing music that I love. I’ve never been too ambitious with DJ’ing and most of the time just take it as it comes. 30 years later I’m still spinning tunes.
Robbie Lowe celebrates 30 years of DJing with a special set at Club 77 this Saturday 15 July with Garth Linton in support. Doors open at 6pm. More info HERE.