For Good Music Month, CityMag caught up with Exploding White Mice to chat about the golden age of Adelaide’s live music scene and how it’s been cemented (literally) in the city.
‘Fear’ etched into the East End
The streetscape of Paxton’s Walk – the trail connecting North Terrace to Vaughan Place – is often filled with people flitting from one side of the city to the other, but if you look closely there’s a subtle piece of music history running through it.
‘Fear’ at Paxton’s Walk
A soundwave from Adelaide band Exploding White Mice’s 1988 single ‘Fear (Late At Night)’ has been interpreted by artist Gregg Mitchell into a piece of street art as part of the city council’s streetlight revitalisation project.
“Back in the day I reckon there used to be a multi-storey carpark [near Paxtons Walk] and you were taking your life in your hands walking down here as I recall,” says Exploding White Mice drummer David Bunney.
“Which is why we chose the song ‘Fear’,” Gregg jokes.
Gregg was originally asked to create a work to celebrate Adelaide being a UNESCO City of Music and the concept was to design a hat tip to our music scene.
The artwork is a graphic interpretation of a soundwave that’s been sandblasted into the concrete bleachers and etched into the paving along Paxton’s Walk.
The soundwave itself is generated from the original analogue recording of ‘Fear’ transformed into a digital sampling and then reverted back into an analogue form.
“There are little glitches and things that break up the rhythm and the symmetry of the lines and that was the hark back to the nature of rock and roll and punk,” Gregg says.
He initially designed the artwork in 2018 while working with Groundplay, and its original destination was Union Street. But after the council consulted with local businesses the plan was parked.
‘Fear’ at last found its home on Paxton Walk in February.
Knowing it was going to be in the East End, Gregg wanted to capture the sounds of that part of the city and specifically the genre he grew up with.
Gregg was a serial offender when it came to seeing pub bands at the thriving live venues of the 80s, namely the Tivoli, Crown & Anchor, the Exeter and the Producers Hotel – all “within staggering distance” of one another.
But Exploding White Mice weren’t just another pub band, they say they were the rock and roll band that kicked off live music at the Exeter, being the first to gig there.
“That period of punk music, which was a whole new kind of genre, that really excited me as going to see bands, it was the energy behind it and that DIY approach,” Gregg says.
“You didn’t have to be a great musician and if you gelled and the sound was good it seemed to be all that mattered really.
“To me it was a period in contemporary music that was quite significant.”
The band agree it was an important era in Adelaide’s music history, and one that couldn’t happen in the same way again.
Exploding White Mice guitarist Jeff Stephens says the live music scene in Adelaide isn’t what it used to be.
“I think pokies really killed off a lot of the live music scene,” Jeff says.
“It was a lot better back then and that’s not just being nostalgic, there actually were lots of really good venues and really good bands.”
The band agree they never could have imagined this installation at the time that they were writing the song.
“You don’t think about things like that, if they happen that’s great and this is great but you’re just trying to do a good song really, play it properly and move on,” Jeff says.
Paul Gilchrist, vocalist and lyricist of ‘Fear’, says he doesn’t quite remember what was going through his head the night he wrote it, but CityMag thinks he was clearly firing on all cylinders.
“I think it was the right time for us and we were helped a great deal by Greasy Pop Records who helped a lot of bands in Adelaide and that’s not available anymore, so it’s much harder,” Paul says.
“It was pretty good in the 80s – there was a vibrant music scene and it’s nice to see it acknowledged.”
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Greasy Pop Records was established in 1980 by Doug Thomas, a musician with The Spikes and The Dagoes, and represented Exploding White Mice along with Iron Sheiks, Lizard Train, the Garden Path and plenty more.
Jeff describes them as the “nucleus” for a lot of bands and crucial to developing Adelaide’s music scene.
“Greasy Pop’s eventual demise coincided with the downturn of live music in Adelaide, I don’t know that it’s a huge coincidence,” Jeff says.
Through installations like this, the Adelaide City Council aim to maintain Adelaide’s music heritage and lead more people to pubs and live music venues to keep the scene thriving.
Another way they’re doing this is through the Adelaide City of Music Laneways initiative to celebrate artists including Sia, No Fixed Address, Cold Chisel and Paul Kelly.
The latest additions to be announced as part of the laneways project is Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach AM.