Modular founder Steve Pavlovic opens his archive for new exhibit on ‘90s alt-rock

The exhibit, ‘Unpopular’, will open at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum in October

Legendary music mogul Steve ‘Pav’ Pavlovic – best known as the founder of Modular Recordings and the man who first brought acts like Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Pavement to Australia – has contributed more than 200 pieces of iconic rock memorabilia to Unpopular, a new exhibit opening in Sydney this year.

It’ll be the first time that Pav’s generation-spanning archive will be open to the public, with Unpopular set to open at the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo on October 27. In addition to physical memorabilia – including posters, artworks, letters and postcards personally handwritten by artists, fanzines, tour itineraries and setlists – Unpopular will feature previously unseen video footage, music demos, live recordings and photos.

For the exhibit, Pav conducted new interviews with some of the iconic acts he helped to break into the Australian music scene. These include 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. Also featured will be stories from members of The Lemonheads, Mudhoney, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Helmet.

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Pav acted as the creative director for Unpopular, working with designer Alice Babidge and the Powerhouse’s own crew of curators. The exhibit itself will be free to view, however special events – such as a music photography masterclass hosted by Sophie Howarth, analogue art workshops by designers Ben Brown and Paul Curtis, and a music documentary film program – will be held alongside it.

Details on those events are yet to be announced, but when they are, more information will be available on the Powerhouse website. See a teaser for Unpopular below:

One of the exhibit’s most impressive items of memorabilia will be the famed acoustic guitar that Kurt Cobain played for Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged set – an incredibly rare 1959 Martin D-18E. That comes on loan from RØDE Microphones founder Peter Freedman, who purchased the guitar for $6million US in 2020.

Speaking to The Music Network, Pav said of the cornerstone item: “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. 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.”

The publication also shared a quote from Pav’s interview with Grohl, where the Foo Fighters icon spoke about his Australian debut (which Pav facilitated): “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.

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“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.”

Pav was aged 25 when he brought Nirvana to Australia in 1992, touring them during the same week that ‘Nevermind’ hit Number One on the US’ Billboard 200 chart. Some of his other notable tours from that period include runs from The Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day and The Offspring, as well as the Summersault festival in 1995.

He launched Modular Recordings in 1998, with some of his earliest successes with the label including The Living End’s eponymous debut and Ben Lee’s ‘Breathing Tornados’ – both released that year – as well as The Avalanches’ 2000 debut ‘Since I Left You’.

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