Tributes are flowing for Andrew Penhallow, the dance music visionary who created twin platforms for the genre, exposing millions of young Australians to DJ culture and electronic tunes through his Volition Records label, and in a live setting with Big Day Out’s Boiler Room.
U.K.-born Penhallow got his career underway in the 1980s when he and business partner Paul Gardiner pooled together $30,000 and set up Gardiner and Penhallow company, otherwise known as GAP.
“Paul got $10,000, I got $10,000 from my then mother-in-law. Then Paul got another $10,000 from his wife’s ex-husband who was a brain surgeon,” he recounted to Scream City fanzine.
Through GAP, Penhallow and Gardiner landed a licensing deal for Factory Records, the label helmed by the late Manchester scene-builder Tony Wilson. Factory Australasia would operate as an extension of that great British label, unleashing its roster of alternative rock and indie gems onto the Aussie market, from Joy Division and New Order, to Happy Mondays and others.
Penhallow learned the business, formed contacts and embarked on a path that would lift dance music from the underground and into the spotlight.
With the formation of Volition Records in the late 1980s, Penhallow assembled a stable of this country’s finest electronic acts, from Severed Heads to Boxcar, Itch-E and Scratch-E, Single Gun Theory, FSOM, Southend, Vision Four 5, and Sexing The Cherry.
The hits would come, thanks in part to the expansion of the BDO and the national rollout of the triple j radio network, which latched onto Severed Heads’ remix of “Dead Eyes Opened,” Southend’s “The Winner Is…” and Itch-E and Scratch-E’s “Sweetness and Light,” an ARIA Award winner for best dance release.
Volition’s acts were at home in the buzzing rave and club scene of the 1990s, but with a Penhallow masterstroke, found a fresh new audience with the traveling Big Day Out, and its Boiler Room, a specialist dance-music space within a wider one-day riot of rock and alternative.
Penhallow’s signings, and other major stars of electronic music, from the Prodigy to Fatboy Slim and Aphex Twin, would pack out the Boiler Room, which he co-produced (the Gold Coast Parklands leg was, appropriately, a site storage room which would reach boiling point late in the day).
At its peak, the Big Day Out, co-founded by the late Ken West and Viv Lees, would sell 330,000 tickets in one round trip. Many would have been exposed to DJ and PA culture for the first time by paying a visit to the Boiler Room, a space that “impacted the electronic live music space in Australia for eternity,” reads a message from the producers of Sydney’s Electronic Music Conference. “Thank you for your incredible contribution, and thank you for the music, Mr. Penhallow.”
Penhallow even had a hand in the breakthrough of OMC and their hit “How Bizarre,” by inviting the NZ group on the 1997 BDO tour.
Volition would reach its end in the late ‘90s, and Penhallow ultimately handed his Boiler Room duties to the next generation. But his legacy is being remember by those who worked with him.
“We’ll miss you so much AP,” reads a social post from Boxcar. “You changed us and Australian music forever, from Severed Heads to Falling Joys, Vision Four Five, Itch-E & Scratch-E, Single Gun Theory, Sexing the Cherry, FSOM, Sisters Underground, Southend, Scattered Order, Ups & Downs…the sensational Robert Racic and Factory Music before that! A.P was a TRAILBLAZER”.
A post from Vision Four 5’s reads: “Definitely way too soon for a man with such drive, passion, energy and damn good artwork – ALWAYS. You’ll be missed Andy – you changed many many people’s lives for the better.”
Details on Penhallow’s death were unclear at the time of writing. He’s survived by his partner Virginia and brother John.