We might just look back at 2018 as the year wider Australia learned how to correctly pronounce ‘Thebarton’. If so, we’ll have one band to thank as West Thebarton take the western suburbs to the world.
Buffered from residential areas by warehouses, commercial kitchens and a power substation, the industrialised soil of West Thebarton’s suburbia has proved fertile ground for a generation of Adelaide musicians.
“The majority of us live two minutes away, so it’s almost become a central hub for everyone and our mates,” guitarist Tom Gordon tells The Adelaide Review, ducking out of rehearsal in the same West Thebarton studio the band formed in. “The rent’s cheap, it’s close to the studio and the city…. it’s just a good place to be.
“It’s going on eight years since we first came here, I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking ‘what the fuck is this?,’” he says of space, a former radiator warehouse converted into a much-loved studio suite by engineer Matt Hills a decade ago. “It doesn’t even look like a studio from the outside, right next to a car wreckers with no signage.” Hills has long since moved on, but rehearsing wall-to-wall with both established and emerging local groups has been a formative melting pot for Gordon and his band mates.
“It’s the place we grew up,” he says.
The growth is real, first hinted at when the band dropped the sophomoric ‘Brothel Party’ from their name, then confirmed with a string of accomplished fist pumpers in Moving Out and Bible Camp. Now, it’s writ large on their debut long player Different Beings Being Different, which grafts scratchy, Eddie Current-style punk sensibilities and post-grunge noise onto the brawny power chords of 70s rock. It’s a four-guitar maelstrom only just tamed by the vocals of frontman ‘Reverend’ Ray Dalfsen, nicknamed for his pulpit-like stage presence — the City of Churches strikes again.
“We started the band to have fun and just get as many friends in as possible,” he explains. “People got off on the fact that we were just there to have fun. We still do, but we also take the band a lot more seriously and put a lot more of ourselves into the songwriting.”
“I know a lot of the time people say we’re ‘pub rock’… I wouldn’t even be able to say what genre we fit into,” Gordon says. “I think that’s the strength of the band as well. It’s a massive amalgamation of seven people’s tastes — not so far flung that it doesn’t work, but different enough to create something none of us would write ourselves.”
Uncomfortable as Gordon might be with the ‘pub rock’ label, it’s hard not to place them amongst a tradition of South Australia rock stretching back from Barnesy in Elizabeth to the 80s Greasy Pop era and beyond.
“Adelaide just has a far more inclusive and supportive scene between genres — that’s due mainly to the size,” Gordon says. “In Sydney punk bands only play with other punk bands, folk bands with folk bands, and there are set venues they’ll play. Adelaide’s not that big, so you can’t really do that. With West Theb we didn’t know each other to begin with, but we all became friends because we were playing in the same circles… our music wasn’t exactly the same. People just play what they want to play.”
In West Thebarton’s case this haphazardly formed extracurricular supergroup has now thoroughly eclipsed its members’ main gigs, with packed shows around the country including a sold out homecoming at The Governor Hindmarsh, a significant milestone for any Adelaide musician.
“I’ve been going to shows at The Gov since I was 16,” Gordon recalls. “I used to go see Children Collide with [fellow West Thebarton and Horror My Friend guitarist] Josh Battersby. And my dad, because we weren’t old enough to go and we weren’t cool enough to have fake IDs!”
Rounding out the year is an appearance at Splendour In The Grass, before slots at major UK festivals Leeds and Reading take the band far beyond their beloved 5031 postcode.
“It’s almost grown without us realising it has, and I think that’s probably the reason it has been a natural thing,” Gordon reflects. “We keep on doing it not because we’re trying to be a ‘big band’, but because we love it and we love hanging out with our friends — it’s an excuse to do it.
“If we can put our passion into that and hang out with our friends, it’s the dream.”
Different Beings Being Different is out now
Friday June 29 – The Zoo, Brisbane
Saturday June 30 – The Gov, Adelaide [SOLD OUT]
Friday 20 July – Sunday 22 July – Splendour In The Grass
Photography: Jack Fenby