Review Scene: Music Wars, the sound of the underground: the untold story of Central Station Records, by Rell Hannah and Peter Coombes July 3rd 2017

It seems to be the right time to be reading and writing about ‘Music Wars, the sound of the underground: the untold story of Central Station Records’ by Rell Hannah and Peter Coombes, seeing as Sony has announced that it will begin to produce vinyl again. In times past, the only time you would mention the big music production houses in the same sentence as Central Station Records was because there was yet another court case or threat of litigation.

The business side of today’s music marketing, production and distribution has opened up a lot, largely due to the efforts of Guiseppe (Jo) Pallumbo and Morgan Williams. It was Jo who opened Central Station’s first store, in a small, but well positioned location, near Flinders Street station in Melbourne. It wasn’t long before Central Station outgrew its humble beginnings and had to take over larger premises…and so the legend began.

Bigger than the store itself, Jo’s enthusiasm for dance music, and the expertise of the people he employed, infused a passion for the genre into almost everyone who walked into the shop. If you wanted a spot-on recommendation or to know who would be ‘the next big thing’ in the niche market, Jo could tell you. He had his finger on the pulse, liaising with DJ’s and people in the know rather than just being an ignorant money-hungry businessman. Here lie the seeds for Central Station’s success.

As we all know, when the ‘little guy’ finds success and impinges on the bigger guy’s turf, trouble brews. Years of legal battles with one big company and another threatened the viability of Central Station Records and wore Jo down to the point where he almost gave up on everything.

The ‘Music Wars’ book is far from being an easy or comfortable read, simply because there are so many facets to the story and so many contributors who have all been involved with Central Station in some capacity. Familiar names are outed as being more about the mighty dollar than about principle.

The beginning of the book is as staccato as a badly mixed dance track, but really the task of organising this high-energy epic tale was almost impossible. It does read more fluidly through the middle and end, with chapters organised according to major events and then around big names in the dance music industry. The number of people willing to step up to support, validate and give testimony to Jo and Morgan is reward for two people who fought for what was right above all else.

The music industry wouldn’t be what it is without Morgan and Jo (and Central Station Records). Legally these two and the hard fight that went all the way to the top of the political hierarchy were game changers. Musically the crew at Central Station had almost, if not more, influence on what we hear today. Careers in all aspects of the music industry were inspired, encouraged and supported by Central Station people.

‘Music Wars’ testifies to the role Central Station Records played in today’s wider culture. We usually mention food when we think of what our multicultural experience has brought to us, but music has been equally important in our understanding and acceptance of those from other places who contribute to our wonderful country. The book opens our eyes to just how important the music wars were for everyone who has a passion for music, no matter what genre. ‘Music Wars’ fills a gap in Australia’s arts history. Who would have thought this would have all begun with a young Italian immigrant?

About Sharon Brookes 67 Articles
Sharon is a freelance music journalist with 20 years experience writing for street press, web publications and blogs. She specialises in reviewing gigs, books, CD’s, and theatre productions.