In many ways, original owners Giuseppe (Jo) Palumbo and Morgan Williams were unlikely entrepreneurs. Both from the wrong side of the tracks in their respective birthplaces (Italy and New Zealand), they were motivated more by the prospect of achievement, freedom and fun than by any hunger for money and status. Unfortunately for them, freedom and fun were hard to come by for many years, as they contended with legal threats, supply embargoes and intimidation tactics. Fortunately, though, dance music took off in a big way. Generations of DJs, clubbers, ravers and radio listeners supported their stores and tunes.
At a time when inclusiveness is under threat right around the world, this is a story that must be told.
The precursor to Central Station Records, JIST had a prime location, smack bang in the middle of Melbourne’s trendiest retail strip, Chapel Street in the inner-city suburb of Windsor, a short tram ride outside of the city centre.
“One day, I looked at the outside of the shop and I thought ‘I must change the name of this company'” Jo says, “I was underneath the city square. Station? Central Station?”
By the late seventies a new breed of songs started penetrating the US Top 40 – songs such as La Bamba by Antonio Rodriguez, Love Attack by Ferrara, Holy Ghost by The Bar-Keys and Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang.
Jo opens shop the ‘little shop’ at 15 Princes Gate Arcade, Flinders Street, near Princes Bridge station
Jo moves out of the little shop to another one at 4 Princes Bridge (above the ramp).
Lawyers acting for Festival Records open the battle between Central Station and the multinational recording companies over imports ‘Dancing is Dangerous’ (Noel) and ‘Sexy Cream’/‘The Whole World is Dancing’ (Slick)
Central Station Records establishes a presence in City Square, Melbourne.
It was around this point in 1982 that Jo met a New Zealander name Morgan Williams late one evening at a Melbourne nightclub. And it’s here that the story of Central Station transforms into the tale of 2 men.
The shops became general suppliers for Melbourne’s burgeoning DJ boom. Jo & Morgan started importing decks, mixers – anything a bedroom banger needed to get started. They also began producing their own CSR merchandise.
The Chapel Street, Windsor store moves to Shop 37 Prahran Central
Late in 1986, Jo & Morgan decided it was time to start producing their own records. Central Station Records, The Label was born. It was a tentative procedure, the label only releasing a handful of records in its first few years.
Central Station opens a store in Pitt Street, Sydney.
Morgan becomes business manager for Central Station and begins developing the recording labels.
A big underground hit for Central Station, which licensed the track by a Dutch DJ, producer and remixer from Next Plateau Records in 1988.
Some of its first self-produced 12-inches included local artists Short Cut (featuring singer Lisa Edwards) and Neighbours’ star Stefan Dennis.
The Jungle Brothers ‘Black is Black’ tour of Australia
By late ’89 there were new Central Station Records stores in Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane. With hip hop, house and acid house music now quickly rising out of the underground, demand for product from every corner of the globe was overwhelming.
“I remember watching The Jungle Brothers perform an impromptu deejay set at the Melbourne store. It was the first time I had seen three deejays do a follow-the-leader routine – Each DJ doing a backspin rotation and passing it to the next guy, adding a little body trick as they went. It blew my mind, and I’ve been chasing that energy in a deejay set ever since.”
– DJ Shan Frenzie
Central Station opens stores in Adelaide and Brisbane, while the Melbourne store moves to 334-340 Flinders Street.
Unfortunately, this initial Central Station label would eventually fail. The advent of the compact disc made it unprofitable for such a small company to manufacture their own music on three expensive formats – CD, vinyl and audio cassette.
Canberra store opens.
By 1992, the company was again healthy enough to look at manufacturing its own product. Nothing big this time, just the odd 12-inch.
Sydney store moves to 46 Oxford Street. Flipside starts operating.
“This Is It” by Ruth Campbell. By chance, Dannii Minogue decided to cover the song almost immediately. A national commercial television network picked it up as its summer theme song. Suddenly it was a track in hot demand.
Tony Caraccia voted Best Record Store-Adelaide in the second Australian Music Industry Awards (conducted by the Australasian Music Industry Directory)
Central and Shock’s next release was a dance remix of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ by British singer Nicki French. That got to number 2 on the mainstream charts, held out of the top spot by Here’s Johnny.
The first dance single to go number 1 without radio support in Australia. It stayed at the number one position for five weeks through to 1995. A huge moment in Australian music history.
The first of the now-infamous Skitzmix series hits the streets and today is still a best seller for Central Station. A top-selling single, ‘Excalibur’, confirms this year as a landmark for CSR’s Nick Skitz.
One of the most popular live rave acts that defined the genre. Going Top 40 in Australian Sales Charts & defining a generation with the MC’s cry: “Do you love hardcore?”
Central Station licensed the 1995 HiNRG remake of the original 1983 hit for release in Australia. It peaked at number two in the charts.
This was the defining record for the hip house genre, which was a fusion of house & hip hop. It was one of the biggest club tracks of its time.
One of the highest selling singles for Central Station, ‘Forever Young’ was a rave tune that crossed over & started a trend of cover versions.
“1996 was the year we introduced The SA Dance Music Awards and presented by Central Station Records. We showcased the talent we had in SA and awarded those that succeeded in their field. 20 plus awards were given out each year from most popular dj to best club best event and many more. The first awards in 96 were held at the JD Function Centre in Adelaide. These awards continued for another 10 years as a formal event with guests of 600 people in attendance each year.”
– Tony Garcia
Perth store opens
One of the most recognisable, train bell, chiming tunes of the 90’s. It crossed over & proved to be a radio favourite at a time when dance was beginning to boom.
Five sub-labels are created to deal with the various new genres: Tinted (House), Bang On! (Trance/Hard House), Dinky (NRG & all Australian artists), Central Cuts (Commercial Dance) and the Hardwax label (R&B-2-step).
Catchy, soulful & truly one of the italo-house genre’s best! Out of New York City, this single inspired clubbers & music fans for many years and is still getting radio airplay to this day.
The first Wild FM compilation CD released. And it was simply massive. By the end of the decade, the many volumes of the Wild compilations that followed sold over a million units. Volume 9 along, for instance, sold over 200,000 copies.
Barbara Tucker is a pioneer in the house scene. She is without a doubt one of the most outstanding vocalists in the dance world.
We Like To Party’ was the highest-selling single taken from the double platinum-selling album: ‘The Party Album’ that hit #1 for several weeks in ’98.
The Klubbheads have had several pumpin’ club hits around the world alongside their worldwide anthems: ‘Klubbhopping’, ‘Discohopping’ and ‘Kickin’ Hard’.
A second store opens in Adelaide, at Westfield Shopping Centre in Marion.
A massive hit in 1999 for Central Station, which licensed the Dutch Eurodance track from Breakin’ Records/Violent Music.
It was the biggest dance track of the year all over the world. It debuted at #1 in the UK Singles Chart and achieved the #1 position in every chart thrown at it.
‘Touch Me’ became one of the biggest crossover dance tunes of 2001. The song hit #1 in the UK and it was massive across Australian airwaves – #1 Dance & Club Chart for weeks.
Tim McGee leaves Central Station to head up Ministry of Sound’s new Australian operations. The record company side of Central Station is run by Scottish-born general manager, Jamie Raeburn, who’s worked at the company since 1997.
This was the first Bhangra single released on a mainstream label and was the first to achieve a place in the UK Top Ten, selling hundreds of thousands of copies globally.
The Central Station recording operations become part of the Homeleisure Group after Jo and Morgan sell their interest. By this time, all of the stores have been franchised out to former employees.
Central Station’s ultimate owner, Destra Corporation, goes into liquidation. Jo and Morgan form a joint venture with Jamie Raeburn and Tim McGee to resurrect the label.
Wild Energy ‘Gold edition’ Hits #1 on the Aria Charts.
Bombs Away sign to CSR with the runaway hit, ‘Big Booty Bitches’
After signing with Central Station for their highly regarded mix CDs, Above & Beyond release their second album ‘Group Therapy’
Qwote – Throw Your Hands Up (Dancar Kudro) feat Pitbull becomes a Platinum single
Starley signs to Central Station and releases the worldwide mega-smash, Call On Me. It goes triple platinum in Australia alone, picking up over half a billion plays in the process.
From humble beginnings, as a music retailer on Flinders Street in Melbourne, Central Station Records has stood the test of time, becoming the longest running independent dance label in Australia, synonymous with the rise of dance music and culture from the 70s, through to today. The store was the first of its kind to be importing the new wave of disco and hip hop slowly creeping into the mainstream throughout the late 70s - everything from Antiono Rogriguez's 'La Bamba', to one of the most iconic hip hop records of all time 'Rappers Delight' by The Sugarhill Gang.
By the mid-late 80s, a further 5 retail stores opened around the country, including the infamous shop in Pitt Street Mall. Central Station Records was responsible for discovering the best house, disco, tech and NRG records from US, UK, and Europe, and quickly became a dominant force in the industry. The various stores became a hub for every local DJ, producer, enthusiast to get their hands on the newest dance music from all corners of the globe. The iconic vinyl counter becoming home to many of Australia's leading DJs and music industry professionals.
In 1986, Jo Palumbo and Morgan Williams, expanded their budding empire - officially founding the record label of the same name. By 1988, Central Station had their first major underground hit with the release of Hithouse 'Jack to the Sound of the Underground', and shortly followed by their first commercial hit record from Australia's own soap star Stefan Denis with 'Don't It Make You Feel Good', which quickly soared to #16 on the UK singles chart.
With the label briefly folding in the early 90s, due to increased production costs, Central Station Records came back into the market just a few years later bigger and stronger than ever before. The label continued to take chances on obscure international records, and succeeding every step of the way. Releasing everything from high energy to the popular gay anthems, it was youthful, exciting, and a game-changer for the Australian industry, having never seen a small indie label being able to compete on such a level. From there, the commercial hits continued to impress, starting with Danni Minogues '93 hit 'This Is It', followed by a dance remix of Nikki French's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' reaching #2 on the mainstream charts, succeeded only by the happy hardcore record from Dutch group Hocus Pocus 'Here's Johnny' - becoming the first dance single to hit #1 in Australia, and holding the spot for 5 weeks. A huge moment for the label and for the burgeoning dance music scene at the time.
It soon became apparent that the brand was ready to branch out once more, launching a series of sub-labels including Tinted Records, Dinky, Hardwax, and Bang On, each becoming an integral part of the local music culture in their own right. Tim McGee, now CEO of TMRW Music, launched Tinted Records as an outlet for the latest house music that was becoming more and more prominent, with the popularity of club nights such as Stateside. With its first release in '97 with Byron Stingily's 'Get Up Everybody', the label would go on to be one of the most respected house labels in the country, and in just a few short years releasing one of the most iconic dance records of the late '90s, Armand Van Heldon's 'You Don't Know Me', a global hit, reaching #15 on the ARIA singles chart, and #1 on the UK singles chart.
By the late 90s, the label had two very clear personas, the underground tastemaker being worked through the sub-label eco-system, and the commercial side driven by the close relationship with local dance station Wild FM - teaming up to release what would become one of the most successful compilations series throughout Australia. With the two forces combined, the businesses were able to make hits out of records that weren't hits anywhere else in the world, selling over 250,000 units at the height of its success, with more than half sold in Sydney alone.
With a long history of licensing a diverse catalogue of dance music, Central Station Records became home to the Dutch supergroup of the late '90s, the Vengaboys. A law unto themselves, the Vengaboys are the most successful pop act to come out of the Netherlands - releasing their ARIA accredited double-platinum LP 'The Party Album' in '99, featuring platinum singles 'We Like to Party' and 'Boom Boom Boom Boom' - all of which still wildly popular today.
The turn of the millennia marked a new era for the label once more, with Tim McGee leaving the business to start Ministry of Sound Australia, leaving the charismatic Scotsman Jamie Raeburn to lead the charge. With experience in the industry spanning 30 years, Jamie worked across media, brand & artist development, publishing, and record label management, and once again saw Central Station Records hold its own amongst the majors.
With a brief hiatus, following the liquidation of parent company Dax Music, Jamie was tasked with re-invigorating the business once more. Fast forward to the 2010s, and the label is continuing to solidify its status as an international player. Working with some of the biggest names in dance music such as Above & Beyond, to producing some of the biggest talent from Australia, including Bombs Away (achieving multiple platinum and gold records), and Brisbane producer Odd Mob, with his instant classic 'Is It A Banger?' hitting triple j's famed Hottest 100. Releasing Starley's debut single 'Call On Me' shortly followed by a remix courtesy of fellow Australian Ryan Riback, hitting 1 billion streams across platforms - one of few Australian artists to reach this milestone, with the record further certified 4x platinum in Australia, and platinum across North America, UK, and Germany.
Now home to a variety of imprints, including the refreshed Tinted Records, October Records, Dinky, and artist-run labels including Bombsquad and Suck Music, Central Station Records has continued to diversify, allowing artists from all different backgrounds and musical persuasions to find a home at the label. From fostering and developing local talent to competing for commercial hits on a global scale, Central Station Records is looking forward to celebrating another 40 years.
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