Legendary Melbourne Zero Tolerance Record Label Keeps Representing
Studio Equator had the honour of designing the visual identity for one of the most important & influential Melbourne based record label known for deep & dark progressive sounds. Check out some of the most recent applications out there to promote their ongoing music catalogue and events. Thank you to Stuart DMC Records Owner who appointed us to design then ow famous ZT ID and for believing & Investing in the brand & Special Tribute to the infamous Phil K, he was incredibly talented and an amazing human being. R.I.P.
The History Of Zero Tolerance
“You just had to be there” is an often repeated refrain whenever the “Melbourne sound” – the dark, stripped-down, and gritty progressive house and breakbeat that dominated the city’s dancefloors in the early 2000's – comes up in conversation.
DJs, producers, and live acts like the late Phil K, Andy Page, Gab Olivier, Ivan Gough, NuBreed, Luke Chable, CJ Dolan, Jayson Digby, and Kaybee created and nurtured a sound that eschewed the big, bold, and brash sounds of the late 90’s in favour of a deeper, darker, and more hypnotic aesthetic, in the process shaping an entire movement that cemented Australia as a creative force in the global dance music scene and led to the rapid maturity of progressive house and breakbeat.
The legendary party Sunny was the key Melbourne monthly event where punters could regularly hear these new sounds, thanks to the resident DJs being given free rein to experiment musically and the party having a strong emphasis on going against the grain. Without question, the driving force behind the uncompromisingly deep and dark focus of the event was Gab Oliver: “Road testing our tunes at Sunny was the biggest gift of all. That’s all that really mattered, people going off to our music – that was fucking amazing.”
Ozzie L.A. was also central to Sunny's success and inspiration on a generation of punters. A DJ with many years of experience who worked quietly away at his craft, yet kept a very low profile. To those who attended Sunny, he was a figurehead who simply understood the unique vibe like no other.
Phil K's morning sets were the stuff of legends, and time and time again punters would hang for 5am to hit, where they would be given the gift of Phil's musical brilliance. This was his playground where he introduced the Progressive Breaks sound and often road-tested Zero Tolerance records long before they were released.
During daylight hours, punters and DJs alike would congregate at DMC records, with staff like Phil K and Gab pushing the most upfront, challenging music they could find to shoppers. A mutual love of dark, twisted sounds led to Phil and Gab bonding, and after a number of labels rejected demos of Gab’s original music for being “too deep and dark,” the pair decided the most effective way to release the music they and similar artists were making was to start their own label.
DMC owner Stewart Hanna saw the potential in the idea, and with his financial aid, Zero Tolerance was born. Gab is always ready to note Stewart’s key role in the formation of the label:
Stewart was really the one who put his balls on the line with the label. My music kept getting knocked back by big progressive house labels for being too deep and dark, but thanks to Stewart we put out our first release as Narcotik, which was myself and CJ Dolan. DJs like Sasha immediately loved the record, and Sasha even put it on his Global Underground San Francisco compilation. If it hadn’t been for all those knock-backs and Stewart’s vision, we wouldn’t have started Zero Tolerance.
Although Zero Tolerance started as an outlet for the founders’ music that was not being picked up by other labels, Gab, Phil, and Stewart passionately believed in supporting anyone who was making music that was dark, deep, hypnotic, and rewarded patient listening.
Over time, the roster expanded to include artists that became household names in Australian music such as Ivan Gough, Jayson Digby, Andy Page, Luke Chable, Kaybee, and NuBreed, all of whom received global success and recognition thanks to releases on Zero Tolerance. Tracks from the label were licensed to compilations from the likes of Renaissance, Global Underground, Bedrock, and Ministry of Sound, and hits such as “Subritual” by Deep Funk Project vs Austin Leeds and Luke Chable’s “Sealer’s Cove” became must-haves for just about every international progressive house DJ.
NuBreed’s Danny Bonnici credits the label’s sense of community as a primary reason for its success, noting that many of the artists who released on Zero Tolerance were also real-life friends who simply shared a passion for the music they were making.
It really was a unique time in history when musical tastes aligned and friendships forged together through that alignment unleashed an unbeatable force on the world
Bonnici, who has a particularly special place in his heart for Dark Alley’s (Ivan Gough, Phil K, & Luke Chable) remix of “Food For Thought” which encapsulated everything about Zero Tolerance and Sunny at the time.
The label’s influence was so great that it is widely credited as one of the key players in the formation and proliferation of the “Melbourne Sound”, a distinctly darker, moodier take on progressive house and breakbeat. Its artists were part of a core group of individuals that shifted the two genres toward murkier, headier territory in the early 2000s, influencing the global scene (including labels such as John Digweed’s Bedrock) to explore this often-overlooked side of the music.
Ivan Gough (Deep Funk Project/Dark Alley/Digital Mind Control) fondly recalls the creative freedom afforded artists by the label thanks to its focus on music that wasn’t chasing trends:
Zero Tolerance really let us explore new things. The records we made didn’t need to be huge to work in a club, which meant we could focus on creating layers of deeper elements that flowed into each other, use cool pitched down sounds, and really let tracks breathe. It also encouraged us to look for alternative ways to lift a tune, like the chords in the Deep Funk Project track “2 Heavy”, or the constantly building drums used on my and Phil K’s “Food For Thought” remix.
Find out more about the history of the label and support: https://zerotolerance.com.au
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