Central Station: Fighting the Dance Wars

A new book documents the 40 year history of Central Station and how the men behind the brand changed Australia’s music industry.

In the late 1970s Giuseppe ‘Jo’ Palumbo bought a small record store in Melbourne, over the years it grew to be the independent chain Central Station. Working with his partner Morgan Williams, Jo built up the business. Alongside the store there was the record label of the same name, and his crew threw some massive parties bringing dance music to the mainstream.

The store was a hangout for people who liked all kinds of music, their first little store stocked an eclectic mix of artists.

“It was a real meeting place for people, we had people coming from all over the place, all over the planet. Melbourne’s always been a good place for nourishing friendships, we met upcoming DJs and producers.” Jo said when he called OUTInPerth for a chat.

“It was rock, heavy rock and then I had all these female artists like Barbra Streisand, Peggy Lee and Diana Ross. But people were asking for certain types of songs, bands like Mandolay, and Love Attack by Ferarra, and people were catching up with the clubs.” Jo said.

The store found a niche market with dance music, bringing in 12-inch dance mixes for DJs, and obscure records that the major labels weren’t releasing.

The company soon found themselves on the wrong side of those labels, who quickly took them to court for importing their products from overseas, even though the labels often wouldn’t release certain records in Australia.

Determined to bring their customers the music they wanted to hear, when they wanted to hear it, Central Station entered a series of epic court battles and lobbied politicians to have Australia’s restrictive copyright laws changed.

“The multi-national companies, and some local companies did not want us to import any music. That caused friction in the legal system, we got sued so many times.” Jo said. “It was a stupid law that someone put through the parliament.”

Jo said he decided to take on the David and Goliath battle because he had so much support from a wide range of people not just limited to music lovers, but also academics and business people.

While the company managed to get the laws changed, at the same time they introduced a wide range of new musical styles and artists to an eager audience, and a generation of Australian DJs built their careers on the music the store brought into Australia.

Jo and Morgan are insistent that the book is not a history of dance music in Australia, but the captivating read shares the stories of some of the biggest names in the industry, as well as the small players who sustain individual genres and scenes around the country.

Dance Wars: 40 Years of Central Station is out now, and a new 3 disc CD collection captures some of the banging club tunes the label has released.

Listen in to our whole conversation with Jo Palumbo below.

Graeme Watson

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