New Exhibition Looks Inside the Mind of Modular’s Steve Pav

Sydney-based global music entrepreneur Steve ‘Pav’ Pavlovic had by his mid-teens enjoyed a reputation as someone who caught trends long before they washed up on shore.

Nirvana, Ben Lee, Avalanches, Wolfmother, Jack Johnson, Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth, Cut Copy, Beck, Daft Punk, The Living End, Foo Fighters, Fugazi, Bikini Kill and the Presets.

These were some of the names he propelled into the big time either as a promoter or as record label chief of Fellaheen and Modular.

He was enigmatic, meditated every day, made enemies, and curated Vivid Live in 2011.

Shaping Modular around ‘90s lifestyle chic, he made it one of the coolest of labels, throwing parties from New York to Paris to Rome to Moscow.

More about art than profit, both Modular and his Summersault festival went belly-up financially.

He famously shrugged, “I sleep peacefully.”

This morning, the Powerhouse launched “Unpopular”, an exhibition of his contribution to pop culture through 200 pieces of items from his personal collection.

Pavlovic served as its creative director, working with Powerhouse curators and renowned designer Alice Babidge.

The story is told via photos, posters, graphic art, fanzines, tour itineraries, setlists, personal handwritten letters and postcards, unseen video footage, demos and live audio recordings.

A segment on Nirvana features footage of their first Australian performance at the Phoenician Club in Sydney in 1992.

Kurt Cobain’s ultra-rare 1959 Martin D-18E guitar, which he played at the iconic 1993 MTV “Unplugged” performance in New York, is on display.

It was bought for US$6 million a few years ago by Peter Freedman, founder of Australia’s RØDE Microphones, who loaned it to “Unpopular”.

“Nirvana were only just pricking the ears of people who could sense this young, largely unknown act could set the table of rock music culture for the next decade,” recalls Pavlovic.

“When Dan Peters from Mudhoney suggested I get in touch with Kurt and Krist, I didn’t think that 30 years later I’d have to be wearing white gloves to handle a concert ledger, to hang in the Powerhouse.”

There are stories and oral histories from Fugazi, Hole, The Lemonheads, Mudhoney, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Helmet.

Pavlovic interviews Dave Grohl, Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, Mike D and Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys, Melissa Auf Der Maur of Hole and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth on their Australian tours.

Grohl relates what a major step it was to play this part of the world.

“We came down here because the opportunity was beyond imaginable in a way… it was, oh my god, now we’re gonna go to the other side of the hemisphere to play music.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that would be possible. […] this place was a mystery to us. We had no idea what to expect.

“We did love bands from Australia and there was some sort of Seattle-Australia connection.”

Visuals were as much part of Pav’s thinking outside the box.

Summersault complemented the bands with the “Culture is Our Business” exhibition curated by Aaron Rose of New York’s Alleged Gallery and highlighted emerging artists such as Spike Jonze, Mike Mills and Rita Ackermann.

In 2004, Pav and his sister toured English visual artist Jake Chapman.

“Summersault brought a complete lifestyle to accompany the music,” Pav explains.

“There was art for your eyes, streetwear for your back. A club night party or mega-festival performance.

“There was no music-genre tribalism. It was just either cool or not.

“Many of the artists were at the peak of their powers, little did we know that it was the beginning of the end of what was an exceptional period in music.”

“Unpopular” includes works by graphic designers Ben Brown, Cathie Glasby, Paul McNeil and Paul Curtis and photographers Sophie Howarth, Neil Wallace and Piet Weinman.

Artist Lillian O’Neil and artist and filmmaker Julian Klincewicz re-interpret archival material to create new works for the exhibition.

To accompany the show, the Powerhouse will be releasing the “Unpopular” book, written by Pav and recounting via anecdotes how the alternative became the mainstream.

The Powerhouse will present a series of programs including “Unfocussed”, a music photography masterclass with Sophie Howarth; film program “Uncensored” with a series of documentaries; and “Unproductive”, analogue art workshops with Ben Brown and Paul Curtis.

“Unpopular” is the first of a series of projects from Pavlovic.

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