On it’s release in 1992 Romper Stomper created a wave of controversy with its bleak portrayal of Melbourne Neo-Nazi skinheads violently targeting the local Vietnamese community.
Starring a young Russell Crowe as the charismatic Hando, the leader of the shaved goons, the Geoffrey Wright film was inspired in part by Dane Sweetman, who shortly before the film's release was tried and convicted for murdering a fellow skinhead and cutting his off his legs.
Both pro and anti Nazi skinhead groups protested the films release at the time.
The award-winning soundtrack composed by John Clifford White contains orchestral tracks such as "Let's Break Some Fingers/Brawl Crawl," and "We Came to Wreck Everything" with full oi anthems sung by Peter Pales with a studio band. Though "Pulling on the Boots," "Fuehrer Fuehrer," and "The Smack Song," with lyrics "Smack him if he's yellow, smack him if he's black, smack him till he fucks off and doesn't come back", sound like authentic skinhead songs none of the session musicians were remotely punk let alone racist skinheads.
Though white power labels have bootlegged the tracks many times since the soundtrack's release, White at the time was working at Crawford Productions studios and formed the band out of necessity and convenience rather than any racial ideology.
Chris Pettifer who plays bass on the recording, continues to work in film and television producing the music track on Neighbours and composed the score for the The Secret Life Of Us. More than 20 years after Romper Stomper’s release we had a chat to Pettifer about the recording.
Noisey: How were you approached to work on the soundtrack?
Chris Pettifer: I was working with John at Crawford Productions. We got along really well, spending many working hours checking out oi vinyl John had imported for research. He knew I was a guitarist of sorts and got me involved.
What music experience had you had? Were you interested in punk or oi music?
I grew up loving late 60/early 70s guitar music, so early days jamming on that sort of thing, writing originals with our various garage bands and did some time doing covers for a living until getting into film music. At the time of the original punk explosion I wasn’t into it and didn’t know about oi until John started researching it in the 90s.
What was the recording session like?
They were great fun, long and exhausting sessions. All nighters or early weekdays whenever John could get some cheaper down time at Metropolis. The band was made up of guys like me who John knew already. John Hewett, the guitarist, had done some work with John before and the drummer was a good Melbourne session player.
We were all a bit too clean to start with on the first morning session and not getting the vibe. So John disappears and comes back with a bottle of Scotch and gets us all pissed.
Then [director] Geoffrey Wright plays us back the fight scenes that the songs were going over on a TV monitor in the room. The engineer roughly synced the vision to the tape so we could watch it while we played. Geoff was jumping around the room and bouncing into us, trying to drag some aggression out of us, as if the fight scene had spilled into the studio. By the end we got it right and we were buggered.
How did it feel performing and recording something like “Smack Song”?
Well, understanding the context of the Nazi and white power references and how they sat in the story, it made sense that these were the type of lyrics that would appropriate for Neo- Nazi skins to be singing. Also because I know the film actually demonstrates the danger and futility of extreme racism, contrary to what a lot of critics said about it being a pro Nazi film. It certainly didn’t make heroes out of any of the skinheads depicted in the film, quite the opposite.
Some are still listening to the record as a legitimate white power record. How do you feel about this?
I find that both a bit sad and disturbing. It’s only a movie. It’s also ironic as I believed we were always taking the piss so I guess the jokes on them. Someone should tell them to actually work out the moral of the story. The ‘band’ was just a bunch of middle class muso’s (probably all, like me, leaning more to the left) and the words were written by an inspired screen composer and Bill Murphy the movie editor.
It won Best Original Music Score at the Australian Film Institute Awards. Did you go to the ceremony?
No, I was in New York at the time. John called me at about 4am New York time yelling down the phone “we won we won!!’. He performed, with a small orchestra, the opening theme at the awards. The theme and the score was by far the better part of the music track in my opinion. Who could forget the music under the sex scene in Davey’s bungalow between Davey and Gabe? It was fuckin’ awesome!
The film was protested on release. Did you ever worry that your involvement may harm your career as a musician working in the film industry?
No, I never thought that would be a problem and it hasn’t been. You just do the gigs you get. Maybe, if I thought it actually glorified Neo-Nazism, I would have thought twice but it didn’t so I’m proud of my small contribution to the music track.