The three recently recent album on our skirted Records were sent to Nick Bollinger of Radio NZ for potential review. And we were wonderfully surprised when this appeared. Thanks heaps for the positive clip.
Nick Bollinger discusses the rhythms, rants and recent releases of Wellington-based independent musician Mr Sterile.
Here’s an act that has travelled as far and wide and played to audiences as diverse as any band from this country ever has – though that hardly means Mr Sterile is a household name.
Mr Sterile is the performing alias of Kieran Monaghan: drummer, vocalist, occasional bassist, guitarist, and – for these particular recordings – virtually everything else as well.
Monaghan has been performing under the Mr Sterile banner since around the turn of this century, often in collaboration with his partner Chrissie Butler.
There’s a high level of theatricality about what they do. Their stage costumes are like some mash-up between Bride Of Frankenstein and early Split Enz. At times they incorporate other musicians as well. These larger aggregations are known as Mr Sterile Assembly. Otherwise it’s simply Mr Sterile, which is the case with two new releases, which are essentially Monaghan solo works – though that doesn’t mean they are not packed to the gunnels with sound.
The music might not conform to any old-school punk-rock rulebook, still there is a punk impulse behind it – perhaps politically even more than sonically. The lyrics are like wake-up calls; warnings of the various mechanisms and instruments of oppression that threaten our lives.
But there is a satirical as well as a sinister side to the Mr Sterile aesthetic, which you’ll find everywhere from the lyrics to the handmade packaging. Sacred cows and self-congratulation are prime targets. The first of these two recent releases is called The General Pathetic, with both its title and graphics parodying a well-known Kiwi rock classic.
Monaghan’s primary instrument is the drums and this music comes at you rhythm-first. Those rhythms can be layered and complex, as in the industrial waltz of ‘Cast Adrift’, or furious and combatant – try ‘Kraschenbanger’s Return’. At other times the effect is almost folky (‘Setting Fire To Bob’).
The General Pathetic was actually recorded about six years ago, though it has only just been mastered, and is the more lo-fi of the two new releases.
The other album – Haters, Wreckers and Other Friends – is a bit more sonically refined, though sheer ferociousness isn’t compromised. This is music with a lot of sharp edges that seems to combine the sonic force of Fugazi with the angular rhythms of Captain Beefheart. Chimes of gamelan deepen the textures. Tracks like ‘Would We Be Alive’ imply a spiky kind of funk.
A third new release, also from Mr Sterlie’s label Skirted Records, could be heard as the antidote to the other two. It certainly makes for a study in contrasts.
Two Hands Twice comes out under the name DSLB (that stands for Ditsy Squalls Lunch Box) the alias of Mr Sterile Assembly bassist Chrissie Butler, and consists simply of five instrumentals played on a wheezy old pump organ. These are minimal and meditative. Built around single note drones in no discernable tempo over which harmonies are very slowly added and subtracted, it is like music in slow motion. The song of a glacier, or an organic, handmade version of Eno’s ambient music.
After listening for a while my nervous system seemed to settle to where just the addition of a second note became a momentous event. But sometimes the organ is joined by unidentified rattles and bangs – it might be a washing machine in the next room – and something almost akin to a groove enlivens the drone.
With these three releases out in the world, Mr Sterile Assembly are heading back on the road soon, premiering some brand new material. In the past they have toured extensively through South East Asia and Eastern Europe, places few New Zealand bands have ever set foot. But this midwinter jaunt takes them to Christchurch, Dunedin an Invercargill.
Catch them if you can. There’s nothing else like it.
From the NZ Musician magazine, big thanks to Bing Turkby!
This impossibly tight ‘outsider punk’ duo (just drums and bass, with vocals by both performers) can always be counted on to deliver a blasting collection of thought-provoking songs. Recorded at Munki Studios, this release handily showcases the power of the band while keeping the vocals clear enough to be easily understood, which is a huge part of the Assembly experience. This is songwriting with a mission to change the world, commenting on injustice and pointing out the ludicrous. At the same time the songs are musically adventurous, with all the willful unconformity of Mike Watt’s Dos, but an extra tablespoonful of audacious creativity and sheer talent.
Odd time signatures are just normal for Mr Sterile Assembly. They deliver them naturally, rather than as an affected gimmick, because all of this would be irrelevant if it was approached as just a math exercise. The form follows the function of the song. Sometimes that manifests as an a capella section, other times it’s a flurry of distorted bass notes. A jolt of pure creative spirit married to social commentary, and it’s also damn good rocking fun! • Bing Turkby
RNR666, another great blog full of weird sounds from all over. Very happy to be included in this line up.
New Zealand, I like it. Home of some great artists like Axemen, Heart Attack Alley, Delaney Davidson, Stomping Nick, and mr sterile and his company, a bunch of various musicians who working together under the name of mr sterile Assembly from 2004. They have made their latest album as drum and bass duo, so the music is pretty minimal punk
which bring the very early NoMeansNo to my mind when it consisted of the two Wright brothers only. And also bring the Minutemen and English anarcho-punk group CRASS, not just because
“the title track to the album It’s All Over, an anthem to and for the protesters at the front-line of the climate crisis; for Black Lives Matter, for Refugees are Welcome, for No one is Illegal; for resistance, for persistence; for workers struggling to obtain a living wage, decent conditions, a dignified workplace; Occupy, Anonymous, BDS, frontline communities; the opposers of the corporate wars, the oil wars, the water wars, the cyber wars; those fighting for transparency, equity, liberation; old folk connecting with young folk in affinity; for those fighting for potential and hope in health, education, housing; for fighting for freedom of expression from medieval thinking; for the radicals, for the first-timers; for us, for It All, for Everywhere, for freedom, for life!” – said mr sterile.
On their previous album in 2011 there was a bigger assembly with a pretty eclectic music
There come the English avantgarde experimentalist Fred Frith, Dutch anarcho-punk-folk-jazz The Ex, Hungarian psych rock band Másfél and art punk Ápolók to my head. But I could say Captain Beefheart or the Bez Ladu a Skladu from Slovakia too. Or there is the Belgian Morzelpronk, but anyway “they have a distinctive, South Pacific sound based on unusual and urgent time signatures, repetitive heavy rhythms, and angular lyrics.” And it is highly entertaining.
Thank you Yeah I Know It Sucks for the review! YIKIS is a good blog with loads of interesting finds there, worth exploring.
Posted April 8, 2016
Finally I’m back to stay for good at YIKIS. After a hiatus because of house moving, cleaning up an old house, diverse other stuff, I’m ready to review again.
I’ll mainly focus myself on CD and cassette releases. I’ve got a good setup to listen and review your releases with full dedication (it bassicly means I can turn the volume up to 11).
First review is by the band Mr Sterile Assembly. They are a duo that make very very very bassheavy band music. A lot of the times the bass just overwhelms you in such a way that you’re almost hypnotized by it. Differianting between Ska rhythms and freejazz mumbojumbo it really lays the layer for most of the tracks.
The singing on the tracks reminds me of Anne Clark spoken word and Blondie tunes on the female vocal part. The male sings like a angry butcher that will come after you if you don’t do as he tells you. Overall teh singing floats between Atari Teenage Riot angst screaming and the spoken words of the audiobooks you find over at the LibriVox page.
Back to the other sounds. The drumming on this release is done with great precission and is coherent with the bass and the singing. What I’m trying to say is that a lot of practicing, recording, writing and other production values a very high standard.
You can listen to this album on bandcamp, buy it there in digital format, but I strongly recommend to buy it on CD. The package alone is worth the money. It’s very sturdy and comes with a lot of info. It even has the lyrics. And I bet they will put in a postcard with a personal ‘thank you!’ note in it.
Put the in your CD player at home, turn up the volume and let yourself be taken away by the music. You’ll probably find yourself building a private moshpit, like I did!
A bit behind the 8ball here, meant to post this a while ago but a bit distracted. This is a wonderful personal account of one persons experience of the TRANSIT exhibition in Dunedin for the recent Fringe Festival.
A massive thanks to Mark Tyler for the honest account
“This exhibition was held at the Glue Gallery as part of the Dunedin Fringe Festival. Mr Sterile Assembly were blown away to have recently received Creative NZ funding to record an album so decided they would send each song to various artists that would be interested in coming up with their visual interpretation of the song they received. This was the result.
The central theme was the way our culture has been moulded since 9/11, and the frightening extent to which the average citizen can now be spied upon. Our civil liberties have been eroded at an astonishing rate.
Each picture was spaced out around the walls and accompanied by the title and lyrics of the song it represented, carefully written in pencil. Mr Sterile then proceeded to discuss each one, lucidly explaining the depth of meaning behind the lyrics and a brief spiel about each artist. What started as a lively and informative performance for me soon gave way to the bleak and somewhat astounding personal revelation of how utterly coccooned i have become in my systemised way of thinking. Despite being aware of sweeping “big brother” reforms being passed almost weekly, i am happy to insouciantly accept each act with little more than a mild grumble in the work truck maybe. And it has nothing to do with paranoia or Orwellian hysteria, its just the most fundamental awareness of these changes, that stretches so much further than what is outlined and presented in the mainstream media. In short, this presentation shook me up like an educational earthquake. Rattled my brain a little. If performance art is supposed to provoke and stimulate, then Mr Sterile Assembly delivered in spades, taking each story so much further with humour, clarity and unswerving conviction, before playing us the music behind it. Skillful, original and slightly unsettling music that could loosely be tagged under the Punk Rock moniker, each song taking on a heightened significance when the lyrics were scrawled right in front of you.
Regretfully i couldn’t stay for the whole performance, justifying my early exit with having somewhere to be, i’d run myself out of time. But thats just a bullshit cop-out. I should have MADE the time available, just like i should take the time to delve a little deeper to increase my knowledge and understanding of the issues presented. At least make the effort instead of meekly pretending it doesn’t matter cos it won’t affect me all that much. It shook me up humans, shook me up.
Thankfully, i managed to obtain a copy of the CD which comes with two little booklets containing the lyrics of each song and their respective artworks, a permanent memoir of what i’d seen and heard, and more importantly, a personal little kick up the arse whenever i choose to slip back into the comfort and convenience of complacency. You could probably get yerself a copy by contacting: http://www.mrsterileassembly.com
The next day i got home and read in the paper that the new “Search and Surveillance Bill” had been narrowly passed in parliament by a majority vote of 61 – 57, opening the door for an unstoppable tsunami of control-driven “i spy with my little eye” type of activities. Jesus.
Footnote: great to see that Mr Sterile Assembly won the award for BEST VISUAL ART at the festival. Well deserved.”