non-fiction rock from Aotearoa New Zealand


Beating jet lag to a 5/4 beat

For your audio pleasure.

One of the most brilliant things about the Internet is the global access to media that would have either taken months to get your paws on twenty or so years ago, or would have been impossible to access.

One of these now achievable gems is Marina Organ’s weekly The Other Rock Show hosted on Resonance FM in London. This has been a regular source for interesting sounds, focusing specifically on rock music outside the 4/4 mainstream.

I had the esteemed pleasure to be a guest on the show less than 24 hours after the 29 hour haul from Aotearoa NZ to the UK. It was a race between eloquence and racing a brain towards jetlagdom, attempting to avoid the inevitable embarrassment that could ensue. Fortunately, it all turned out for the best.

Follow THIS LINK to the page for the audio. And I recommend checking in often to explore the new tunes spun over the airways.

Review of TRANSIT, in NZ Musician

A new review of the album TRANSIT as posted in the April/May edition of NZ Musician
Original link HERE

Transit album cover“MR STERILE ASSEMBLY : Transit
By Steph Gray
They’ve said it themselves: this is not lounge music. But if you like the idea of ‘outsider punk’, appreciate jazz, poetry and math rock precision, ‘Transit’ is for you. The fifth release by the Mr Sterile Assembly, it is both an album and an exhibition of artworks. Charismatically assertive two-piece Chrissie Butler and Mr Sterile secured the talents of Dean Hapeta (aka Te Kupu), Jeff Henderson and Maria McMillian among other collaborators for this production. The result is a literate, rich and engaging double album. Each song is accompanied by an art-piece. My favourite is Pop Sickle – dedicated to the Waihope 3 – and matched by Stefan Neville’s eponymous etching. And if you like information with your art and music, the Assembly have added a third layer by published hyperlinked lyrics on their website. As sources of allusion and inspiration, the links are a mad romp around the Assembly’s creative process, taking you to Hone Tuwhare’s poems, NZ nuclear-free legislation, and an image search for ‘Israeli wall’. The Assembly are celebrating this release, and their tenth birthday, with a national and international tour to Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. ‘Transit’ was mostly recorded with Mike Gibson at Inca Studios and released by Skirted Records and Tenzenmen.”

Interview in Southland Times, Invercargill newspaper.

Chris Chilton, journalist for the Southland Times, a daily newspaper in the most southern New Zealand city of Invercargill recently interviewed mr sterile. 17/04/2011

Original link HERE

Text in full:

Chrissie Butler with inedible sign, photo by B.T Ardell

Photo by B.T Ardell

From the netherworld of New Zealand art, ex-Invercargill punk Kieran Monaghan is staring you down. CHRIS CHILTON engages.

Call Kieran Monaghan a talentless wanker and he’ll have done his job. Confrontation is central to his art.

Positive reaction or hostile, the Wellington punk musician-poet-performance artist is out to engage you and provoke a response. An apathetic audience represents failure to engage. He won’t allow that.

Back in the late 1980s-early 90s Kieran Monaghan was the skinny mohawked kid behind the drumkit of Invercargill hardcore punk band Moral Fibre, and its offshoot Loosehead. His frantically fast stickwork propelled a band that railed against consumerism and state control.

Fast forward 20-odd years. Kieran Monaghan is in Wellington, sitting behind the drumkit, propelling his own punk band-performance art group mr sterile Assembly, railing against consumerism and state control.

So you think nothing’s changed, then? Wrong.

You can hear a little bit of the young Kieran in his drumming, that very specific splash cymbal accent he always used, but Monaghan’s artistry has evolved beyond recognition. The angry roar of the young punk has been replaced by the savage wit of an intelligent poet operating on the periphery of the New Zealand underground. Clever enough to engage, even from the outside.

During the day Monaghan also engages people, working as a nurse at Newtown Union Health Service, a health clinic for people on the community card. It’s a logical progression for him. He’s helping people who might otherwise fall through the cracks, championing the underdog.

By night, Monaghan and his wife, musical collaborator Chrissie Butler, are the intellectual core of mr sterile Assembly, an accomplished and well-travelled performance art-punk band with a revolving-door lineup.

They have children. The couple rehearse at home and fit in touring and travel between work and school holidays.

Kiwi blogger Nick Fulton, of Einstein Music Journal, describes mr sterile Assembly as “a band of weirdoes that has never been a part of any scene or movement.

“So many bands claim to be DIY, bragging about it like it is a cool thing, but mr sterile Assembly is far and beyond the most DIY band around – DIY to the point where the majority of young Wellington music fans have never heard of them,” Fulton writes.

mr sterile aboveThe Assembly’s music is anarchic and free, a challenging mix of punk rock, chant vocals and jazz. It may appear chaotic, but it takes a lot of technical discipline to appear this chaotic.

The two bass guitars of Butler and Aaron Lloydd are the dominant melodic devices on their recent album, Transit. Running aggressively in counterpoint they evoke a sense of displacement and uncertainty, punctuated by Monaghan’s staccato drumming, while the semi-spoken lyrics of Monaghan and Butler condemn militarism and shallow consumerism.

During performances Assembly members dress up in outlandish costumes and wear garish facepaint. Their appearance can be unnerving. Kieran Monaghan will no doubt be pleased by this.

In the 10 years since he started mr sterile Assembly there has always been a theatrical component to the music. The stage personas were a reaction, Monaghan says, to the fact that music then was “all pretty boring”.

“There was no live music in theatre in Wellington at the time. There was also no live theatre in music … There was no effort made to engage with the audience. It was really a them-and-us kind of thing.

“After a decade of DJs, audiences had forgotten how to be an audience, how to respond.”

Monaghan says his objective is to provoke a reaction, good or bad, because mediocre music induces apathy in audiences. “I would much prefer you walked out, calling me a f…ing terrible-sounding wanker, if I turned your head from the bar and managed to break some of that indifference for a while.”

Despite being virtually unknown in their homeland, mr sterile Assembly have an impressive international touring record. They’ve performed in Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Eastern Europe.

They’re back in Australia now for six dates, then return to South-East Asia in July.

The Assembly are a popular attraction in the villages of Malaysia and Indonesia, where they toured in 2006. They’ve been invited back by Malaysian punk band Carburettor Dung to tour with them in Sarawak, the largest Malaysian state on the island of Borneo.

Monaghan says they like to get “completely off the beaten track”, among the villages and real people.

He admits the locals haven’t seen anything like the Assembly’s theatrical hardcore act before, but then “nobody ever travels there anyway … so getting a bunch of people like us coming from New Zealand to play a punk rock show, in eastern Java, in a dusty paddock on a bamboo stage was a rare event”.

About 1200 villagers turned out to watch. “There’s a huge kind of punk rock movement there. It’s phenomenal.”

mr sterile Assembly will mark 10 years’ existence in May.

Monaghan with his mohawk, tartan pants and safety pins was never going to be contained in Invercargill. He and Moral Fibre/Loosehead bass player Grant Sutherland moved to Wellington in the early 90s, continuing the band name for another decade.

Both were involved in Alan Brunton’s cutting-edge Red Mole fringe theatre-music troupe, Monaghan for about eight years, while he also organised a vegetarian takeoff of the Sweetwaters festival, entitled Meatwaters.

Before Loosehead called it a day in 2001, Monaghan was already working on a solo music project under the stage name mr sterile.

“At the time I thought it was kind of a one-off performance, but Sterile just grew.”

The assembly was based on the Red Mole model, “an open, collective workshop” where anyone who wanted to take part was welcome.

The beauty of the arrangement, Monaghan says, was that if somebody couldn’t make it to a show, the show still went on, albeit slightly different than it would have been.

“If you’re in a band and somebody says `I can’t do it, I have to stay home’, then everybody has to stay home. But we’re like, `well, actually we still want to do it, it’ll just be different’.”

In its biggest incarnation the Assembly included seven people, with cellos, clarinets and trombones. It was like “community development”, he says.

“We would just bring people in. It didn’t really matter whether they were very technically proficient, but what mattered was that they were willing and motivated to learn and develop from there.”

mr sterile Assembly have continued in that vein, ringing the changes through a fluid, fluctuating lineup.

On Transit, fittingly but quite coincidentally recorded at Inca Studios, in the building that formerly housed the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, Monaghan formed an ensemble of about 20 musicians, poets and artists to combine music with 11 original artworks. You could scarcely describe it as a breakout commercial album, but its production values are higher than before and no expense has been spared on the design and packaging.

“Certainly now an amount of proficiency is required with some of the complexity of the stuff but back then it didn’t matter,” Monaghan says.

When they perform the songs off the album live, though, on a planned visit to his hometown Invercargill later this year, it will be just the two of them: Monaghan on drums and vocals and Chrissie Butler on bass and vocals.

It takes a lot of rehearsal to render such complex music in a two-piece format, but Monaghan reiterates that’s the whole point of the Assembly.

“I had no intention of reproducing the CD live. It is purely a version of the band in its own right. We do the songs, and they certainly don’t lack any energy or assertiveness … it’s just me and Chrissie and it’s fine. It becomes what it is.

“If anybody knows anything about us they know that they can always depend on us never being the same.”Transit, by mr sterile Assembly, is available online at:

– The Southland Times

Transit, the album

Transit album cover

Transit album cover

Here is the story of Transit, the fifth album by mr sterile Assembly. There are links to individual pages with interactive lyrics. The story of how the album came into being, plus reviews, images, and any additional detritus associated with this release. cheers

01. Hibakusha
02. Jesus heals the Blind
03. I Robert
04. Whyt
05. Pop Sickle
06. March of the Fulfillmen
07. Bug my Ride (revisited)
08. Stella
09. Drought
10. Axe and the Olive Tree
11. Transit

Reviews: NZ Musician, Southland Times Invercargill, Seagull Chainsaw (AUS), Ghetto Punk Rocker(USA), Sea of Tranquility (USA), (NZ), LioncityDIY (SG), The Organ (UK)

mr sterile Assembly album Launch, at The Russian Frost Farmers Gallery. Photo by Karen Melhuish

mr sterile Assembly album Launch, at The Russian Frost Farmers Gallery. Photo by Karen Melhuish

An introduction.

Transit, the fifth album by mr sterile Assembly was released March 25 2011. The album took just over one year to complete from its inception point in late December 2009. The Assembly had recently complete a small Aotearoa NZ tour with the Czech group Uz Jsme Doma, in which an offer to the Assembly was made to tour Europe sometime in mid-2010.  Offers like this spawn plans, and one of these was a recording project.

Two surprises in one day: dollars and departure.

An application was made with CNZ for a recording grant, the idea to record the duo bass and drums unit, in preparation for the tour. However, and much to our surprise, the day the letter of astounding confirmation  of $$ came on the same day Sarsha Doulas decided to quit. The tour almost happened but due to personal reasons had to be abandoned at the eleventh hour.

From band reproduction to project.

This caused some serious rethinking on how to approach the project. What developed over the coming months was a growing project of fantastic proportions. We wanted to maintain the energy and feel of the twin bassists so we approach a sterile member from previous times, Aaron Lloydd, to plunk the strings. We knew he had a solid and creative understanding to our approach. Next we contacted another sterilite, Jeff Henderson, to add saxophone on a number of tracks, and Nell Thomas to add special tonal colour on a couple of tracks. Nell plays a a Javanese instrument called a Gender, and we felt this was a perfect instrument to add depth to a particular song, Stella, based on an story of some dear friends in that country.

Mike Gibson was enlisted early on to the initial recording of primary bass, bass, drums track, and to mix and master the final collection of songs. Dean Hapeta aka Te Kupu became deeply woven into the development of the album. He offer Matakahi Studio to us so we could add all lyrics, additional sounds, and the sax tracks. During a number of conversations, we also came to the conclusion that there were spaces available that called out for extra words. Dean listened intently over months to lets the ideas grow, and his response to the challenge  of these four songs is spectacular.

Inca studios and the NZSIS

Working with Mike at Inca studios also took on a particularly delicious an ironic feel. When I first met Mike to discuss the project, he almost incidentally commented that the studio use to be the home of the NZSIS, the government security intelligence service. The main record room that we were situated in was the old safe, the home of all those secret files from years gone past of union activist, conscientious objectors from previous international armed conflicted, and any other ‘radical’ who opposed the government of the day. That we should find ourselves in this space, performing our songs about the governments attempts to survey citizens, of this countries role in international spy rings, and the police’s employment of a particular individual as a failed covert spy to protest activity couldn’t be more perfect. (note:the SIS still is a functioning arm of the NZ govt, it simply relocated to a different building)

Collaborative lyrics

As well as having Te Kupu’s text in the songs, mr sterile collaborated over several months with Wellington poet Maria McMillian on the song Drought. Maria was invited to this collaboration as not only do we consider her a poet of fine standing, but the commitment to her political activity of opposing the privatisation for water would inform the similar content of the song further. The word’s were ferried back and forth over months, being stretched and teased into existence, then edited down into the form on the album. This reworking process continued up until moments before the words were committed to the recording.

Once the mix, which took several weeks, the mastering, and completing of art design, all the finished work was sent to Dualplover in Australia for the final stage of making the actual product. We were in the very capable hands of Swerve, who helped soothe the anxiety around the possible design slips that could happen as we were including two booklets into the final complete package. Additional support and help with the OZ release is from Tenzenmen, a specialist in d.i.y releases from Australia, Asia, and now us.

The evolution of the art work

Running alongside the audio process, the task of conceptualising, compiling artwork, and designing the artwork and packaging was explored. In an organic fashion, similar to the way many things evolve in sterile, the final design took many months, multiple edits, and a massive effort to execute what ultimately because a stunning and beautiful package.

After some initial abandoned design ideas, the concept to approach individual artists to illustrate the  songs was almost accidentally stumbled upon. We looked through our contacts, aware of the vast array of talented friends, and matched songs with artists whom we thought could respond sympathetically to the intent and meaning of the words. And we were astounded and humbly impressed at how much they stood up to the mark, the quality of the art work, and the enthusiasm we received from each artist was incredible.

Building an exhibition.

While the art was coming in, the idea sprung into life that this part of the album deserves more that to be rendered into cd booklet size and never seen in its true form. The idea for the exhibition was born.  A close friend, James Kirk, was approached to frame the work over a number of months, not all of it easy, but the quality of displayed art work was astounding,  James also facilitated the contact with a photography who would take the highest quality photos for our reproduction in the books.

We’d like to say thank you

The craftsmanship executed from musicians, the sound engineers, artist, and the framing easily lived up to, and surpassed our Everest like expectations. the creating of this album was one stunning experience after another, not always easy, but ultimately extraordinarily rewarding.

We are incredibly grateful to all the amazing people who have participated in this project.

We thank you all individually:

  • Aaron Lloydd
  • Andrew Ross
  • Campbell Kneale
  • Dean Hapeta aka Te Kupu
  • Deborah Barton
  • Garage Collective
  • Kate Whitley
  • Kerry-Ann Lee
  • James Kirk
  • James Robinson
  • Jeff Henderson
  • Maria McMillian
  • Mike Gibson
  • Nell Thomas
  • Roger Morris
  • Stefan Neville
  • Tao Wells

Ongoing Developments:

The Launch:

The album was launched at the Wellington Gallery, The Russian Frost Farmers on March 25 2011


We toured the album extensive within Aotearoa, we also took Transit to Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and returned to Java Indonesia. While in the township of Blitar, south east Java, a music video was made for the song Stella. The story of a young women from Blitar having a baby, moving to Singapore to get work as a transient migrant worker, while leaving baby back at home. A reflection on the globalised process of cheap labour for wealthy countries, everybody through travels with a very real human story.

The Exhibitions:

After the launch we presented to firstly the Hamilton, and then latterly  the Dunedin Fringe Festivals. The art work was couriered and installed with help from local to write the text around the art works. We then arrived to deliver a seminar discussing the process of developing this project, the content of the songs, and to play a few tunes.

Our show won two awards in Dunedin, and one award at the Hamilton Fringe. Below is a clip made by a Hamiltonian (thanks) from the Saturday afternoon discussion.

ICOT Presentation

ICOT13 – The International Conference on Thinking

In January 2013, the International Conference on Thinking was held in Wellington. We submitted an abstract, which was accepted, to present our thinking around the processes involved in this Transit project.It was a 75 minute break-out session that was well received.

The Video

A video for the song Transit, made by Wellington photographer and film maker John Lake. This clip includes a crowd fund choir from across the world. Click this link for more information