With its major role in launching the careers of Garbage, Muse, Coldplay, Zero 7 and Ash, the Mushroom/ Infectious label scored multiple No. 1s and sold millions of albums in its 10-year existence. But while many of the Australian-British record company’s artists went on to rule the charts, its true impact can be seen in the executives whose careers flourished at the freewheeling company, many of whom are now giants of the modern music industry.
“If you look at what the acts have grossed over their careers, there’s been hundreds of millions of dollars in income from our people,” says Korda Marshall, the Infectious founder and former Mushroom managing director who went on to senior roles at Atlantic, Warner Bros. and BMG. “Whether it’s Stuart Camp managing Ed Sheeran, Max Lousada running Warner Music Group or the cultural difference David Mogendorff has made at YouTube and TikTok, I’m really proud of the legacy.”
That rich heritage did not seem to be in the cards when Marshall founded Infectious Records in 1993. After being “unceremoniously thrown out” of his role as head of A&R at RCA U.K., he spent a few months failing to get a new job before deciding to strike out on his own. He recruited Pat Carr as general manager and emptied his bank account in order to pay one of his old RCA acts, rock-rappers Pop Will Eat Itself, a £12,000 advance.
While trying to license PWEI overseas he met Gary Ashley, who had just set up the U.K. division of Australia’s Mushroom Records, which was funded by legendary Mushroom boss Michael Gudinski selling 50% of the company to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. A joint venture was quickly formed between the two companies, and Marshall and Carr moved into Mushroom’s West London offices, bringing their roster of buzzy alternative bands — most notably Northern Irish pop-punks Ash — just in time for the mid-1990s Britpop explosion.
“Mushroom had a lot of dodgy Australian stuff, so it was hard work,” says Ian ‘Wez’ Westley, former Mushroom GM, now co-founder of influential indie label Full Time Hobby with ex-Infectious product manager Nigel Adams. “But within a year, Ash started to come through, and within two it was going really well. And then there was Peter Andre…”
Andre was no buzzy alternative act: He was a musclebound Aussie with a penchant for reggae-tinged pop and removing his shirt.
“There was this TV channel called The Box, where kids used to phone up to vote for their favorite videos,” remembers Westley. “We weren’t getting interest anywhere else, but on that channel we were No.1 by a fucking mile, because all these kids were phoning in to see Peter’s torso.” Andre’s “Mysterious Girl” eventually hit No.2 in the U.K., his 1996 long-player “Natural” topped the albums chart, and suddenly Mushroom/ Infectious had some much-needed cashflow.
“There was a big picture of Peter in the boardroom and the bands we’d sign would be like, ‘Oh dear,’” says Carr, who now runs marketing consultancy Remote Control. “But we’d say, ‘You know that advance we gave you? Where do you think it came from?’”
Ashley — who passed away in 2017 — also signed Garbage before leaving for America. Marshall became Mushroom MD, bringing the two labels closer together and kicking off a golden era.
Staffing was haphazard but effective — David Mogendorff applied for a completely different role before becoming international marketing assistant, claiming, “I’d never heard of Mushroom before my interview” — and executives were empowered to branch out. Advancement could be swift: Stuart Camp started out covering reception and making tea, while Alex Wall — now part of Muse’s management team at Q Prime — went from the stock room to head of international in three years.
“Now I run a business, to look back at how Mushroom put such trust in young staff is a remarkable thing,” says Ashley Page, then international promotions manager, now owner of Page 1 Management, home of New Zealand artist-producer Jawsh 685 and hit songwriter Joel Little.
Mirelle Davis — then head of international, later of Silva Artist Management and Domino, and now OMD’s manager — recalls, “Both Korda and Michael were very supportive of women.”
The company’s meetings were equally unconventional. “We’d go to the pub on Friday, talk about an artist project, and no idea was off the table,” recalls Page. “People would have another drink and throw the most ridiculous ideas out. You’d get 40 to 50 insane ones on a piece of paper, but by Monday morning one would be an absolute gem.”
This anarchic approach met with the approval of Gudinski, who made his presence felt, even if he was usually on the other side of the planet. “He would come in, this loud firebrand of a man, and it felt like he was 100 feet tall,” laughs Camp, while Westley hails him as “a real maverick” that “helped mold the label’s spirit.”
The label continued to scale new heights — Garbage’s first two albums both sold over four million copies globally — and News Corp moved to buy the other half of the business. Marshall recalls meeting Lachlan Murdoch for a 6:30 a.m. breakfast to discuss the deal.
“Michael and I had been out all night, in the casino and clubbing,” Marshall recalls. “Lachlan already had run five miles, read all the papers and was ready to negotiate. He clearly wasn’t the right kind of person to be on the board of a record label.”
Luckily, his younger brother was. James Murdoch had co-founded the influential hip-hop label Rawkus Records (Mos Def, Talib Kweli) with Jarret Myer and Brian Brater and, after a rather more rock ’n’ roll meeting with Marshall and Gudinski, he was in.
News Corp’s involvement brought some unconventional business ideas. Carr recalls, “When News Corp were doing the due diligence, they were like, ‘Every time you put out a single, you lose money — but every time you put out an album, you make money. So let’s not put out any singles!’ I remember [CFO] Rob Feldmann looking at me going, ‘This is going to be a long meeting…’”
Nonetheless, Marshall praises Murdoch as “great to work with,” and the deal did bring Rawkus into the Mushroom group, along with its then-European MD, Max Lousada, and his Ultimate Dilemma label.
“There was resistance from Jarret and Brian like, ‘Are we getting too close?’” says Lousada. “But it became clear Mushroom had the infrastructure we needed. If we wanted to continue to grow, this could be an opportunity.” So Rawkus moved in and Lousada immediately hit paydirt, signing Zero 7.
“I’d do the figures with Rob, like, ‘How many do you think this album is going to sell?,’” remembers Davis. “With a new artist, I would always say zero, because how do you know? We were bullshitting and he put in 200,000 for Zero 7. I was like, ‘We can’t do that!’ But it did the 200,000 and then some.”
Marshall made Lousada head of A&R and the pair became a force to be reckoned with when it came to signings. “We closed acts very much together,” says Lousada. “I’d be on one sofa, smoking cigarettes, he’d be on another, smoking cigarettes, and we would pitch. Actually, we were a very compelling double-act.”
Deals with Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto Records and Simon Williams’ Fierce Panda followed and, flush with Murdoch money, Mushroom/ Infectious began to take on the majors.
Westley and Adams recall the battle to get Ash’s third album, “Free All Angels,” to No. 1 in the U.K. in 2001, against heavyweight opposition from Janet Jackson’s “All for You.”
“Virgin called and said, ‘Why don’t you move [your release date], we’re going to beat you,’” says Westley. “We were like, ‘Nah’ — and we beat them!”
Adds Adams: “People didn’t think we could do it, so it was amazing. Mushroom had independent spirit, but it also had deep pockets so there was flexibility to try new things and put muscle behind it.”
As well as selling records like a major, Mushroom spent money like one: Its parties became legendary. Visitors would find staff members asleep in reception while a backstage hospitality tent at Reading Festival racked up a rumored £27,000 bar bill.
“We went to Reading the weekend before, driving round charity shops picking up sofas for the tent, because all the money went on ‘consumables,’” laughs Camp. “It was that old cliché: work hard, party hard…”
“I knew if I had to do anything that afternoon, don’t go to the pub at lunchtime,” chuckles Paul Oakenfold. “Because you’re going to have one drink too many and be cancelling meetings! But I liked Mushroom’s approach, it was more edgy than a major. It was a creative space with like-minded people, and that appealed to me.”
In 1999, Fierce Panda released Coldplay’s debut single, “Brothers & Sisters,” while under Mushroom’s umbrella, and came close to signing the band long-term.
“In the end, they signed to Parlophone [now owned by Warner Music, where Lousada is now CEO of recorded music],” Williams sighs. “And, to be fair, in 1999, I’d have signed to Parlophone. But Korda got Muse — at least he got one band capable of selling out Wembley Stadium.”
“I wouldn’t offer more than £75,000 [for Coldplay], which at the time seemed like a lot of money, but they got more than double that from EMI,” groans Marshall. “But I don’t regret anything.”
Eventually, Murdoch moved on and the label was put up for sale in late 2002, inadvertently derailing Lousada’s bid to sign Amy Winehouse.
“I got on a plane to America, thinking the deal was good,” says Lousada. “But by the time I was at the hotel, the deal was slipping away. If we’d had more stability, it might have played out a different way.”
Muses Camp: “It surely would have delayed [the sale] by a few years if Coldplay had come our way. But then again, if Mushroom had been that successful, would it have been the same? There’s probably an alternate timeline where we’re all wearing suits and being mean to people.”
Marshall and Lousada attempted an MBO, but failed to raise enough cash and Warner acquired Mushroom/ Infectious in 2003. As part of the deal, Marshall, Lousada, Camp and others went to subsidiary EastWest, rebranding it as Atlantic and finding enormous success with the Darkness (a deal first mooted at Mushroom by A&R Joel De’Ath) and James Blunt.
Others baulked at working for a major and scattered across the industry, seeding a “Mushroom mafia” that still brings hits today.
“When Max and I talk, it’s exactly the same as it always was,” says Wall, who works closely with Lousada on Muse. “There are no airs, and that’s really healthy. And Mushroom was like that — I was arguably in the lowest position in the building, but they were happy to have me in artist development meetings.”
“It remains a really good network,” adds Mogendorff, now head of music operations at TikTok U.K., after high-profile roles at MTV and YouTube. “We’ve done a lot with Stuart and Ed [Sheeran], and Stuart is the same guy he was in that office. Everyone’s the same — just a lot older!”
Meanwhile, Marshall is now back at Mushroom as international director. Michael Gudinski died in 2021, but his son Matt is CEO, with the label now in a global partnership with Universal’s Virgin Music.
“There are artists everywhere and great music is being made,” Marshall says of the new set-up. “As long as we get that right, the rest should fall into place.”
Whether the company can match the success of the glory years remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the Mushroom/ Infectious O.G.s treasure the company’s legacy.
“It was the first place I worked where people actually cared about artists,” says James Pitt, once a box-packer in Mushroom’s stockroom, now director of global promotions company Your Army. “We were fighting against the bigger guys but started to win, so that was really inspiring.”
Offers Westley: “We were all in our 20s, doing what we loved the most: working with music and having success. It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?”