Acclaim is pouring in for Andrew Penhallow, a dance music visionary who has created dual platforms for the genre, exposing millions of young Australians to DJ culture and electronic melodies with his Volition Records label, and in live with Big Day Out’s Boiler Room.
Born in the United Kingdom, Penhallow began his career in the 1980s when he and business partner Paul Gardiner raised $30,000 and created Gardiner and Penhallow, otherwise known as GAP.
“Paul got $10,000, and I got $10,000 from my mother-in-law at the time. Then Paul got another $10,000 from his wife’s ex-husband who was a brain surgeon,” he told the Scream City fanzine.
Through GAP, Penhallow and Gardiner secured a licensing deal for Factory Records, the label run by the late Manchester scene-maker Tony Wilson. Factory Australasia will act as an extension of that great British label, unleashing its roster of alternative rock and indie gems into the Australian market, from Joy Division and New Order, to Happy Mondays and more.
Penhallow learned the business, made contacts and embarked on a path that elevated dance music from the underground into the spotlight.
With the formation of Volition Records in the late 1980s, Penhallow has assembled some of this country’s best electronic acts, from Severed Heads to Boxcar, Itch-E, Scratch-E, Single Gun Theory, FSOM, Southend, Vision Four 5 and Sexing Cherry.
Successes would accrue, thanks in part to the expansion of BDO and the national rollout of the triple j radio network, which pinned the Severed Heads’ remixes of “Dead Eyes Open” and “The Winner Is…” by Southend, Itch-E and Scratch-E’s Sweetness and Light, winner of the ARIA Award for Best Dance Release.
Volition’s acts were at home in the rave and hardcore club scene of the ’90s, but as Penhallow’s main hit, they’ve found a new audience with their Big Day Out traveler, The Boiler Room, a specialty dance music space within a broader-day riot of rock and alternative.
Penhallow’s signatures, and other major electronic music stars, from Prodigy to Fatboy Slim and Aphex Twin, would pack a Boiler Room, which he co-produced (the Gold Coast Parklands leg was, appropriately, an on-site storage room that could reach boiling point in late in the day).
At its peak, Big Day Out, co-founded by the late Ken West and Viv Lees, would sell 330,000 tickets on a single round trip. Many had their first exposure to DJ and PA culture by visiting the Boiler Room, a space that has “influenced the electronic live music space in Australia forever”, reading a letter from the producers of the Electronic Music Conference in Sydney. “Thank you for your wonderful contribution, and thank you for the music, Mr. Pinhallow.”
Penhallow even had a hand in OMC’s breakthrough hit “How Bizarre”, by inviting the NZ group on the 1997 BDO tour.
Will would come to an end in the late 1990s, and Penhallow eventually handed over boiler room duties to the next generation. But his legacy is remembered by those who worked with him.
“We will miss you so much AP,” reads a social post from Boxcar. Australian music has changed us forever, from Severed Heads to Falling Joys, Vision Four Five, Itch-E & Scratch-E, Single Gun Theory, Sexing the Cherry, FSOM, Sisters Underground, Southend and Scattered Order, and Ups & Downs… Sexy Robert Rasik and Factory Music BEFORE IT! AP WAS TRAILBLAZER”.
A post from Vision Four 5 reads: “Definitely way too early for a guy with such drive, passion, energy and damn artwork – always. Andy will miss you – you changed so many lives for the better.”
Details of Penhallow’s death were not clear at the time of writing. He is survived by his partner, Virginia, and his brother, John.