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.
Well, the world hasn’t ended, again. Better luck next time Apocalypse! However, there was a small suggestion that perhaps this time round it was more likely a homeopathic catastrophe, that is that the more dilute and insipid the event, the greater the final cataclysm. The date of departure though, that’s another matter…
The year is ending however. And in some ways it has been a quiet one for us. A few shows earlier in the year, and a couple to close 2012. And though it may have seemed like a bit of a public void in the middle, I can vouch that we haven’t been slack. This year we journeyed from Invercargill to Auckland for a few shows, released a solo mr sterile album, and took our Transit exhibition to Dunedin and won an award at the finge festival. But essentially we have been spending a great deal of time working on new tunes, along with some close personal evaluation.
The Transit album/exhibition/project has been a success well beyond any initial intention. It has taken us to venues we wouldn’t have imagined, opened doors, conversations, and opportunities for experiences far exceeding the act of playing a simple tune or two. And along the way we collected some sterling reviews.
But it is time to move on, and for the most of this year we have been focusing on the ‘what next?’. Song writing basically, of which we now have a bunch of new songs in our repertoire, and a few more in the wings. It always takes a lot longer than personal impatience demands to finish these things. The research can take ages, then the banging and hammering required to transform ideas to music. It’s been a bit of a struggle at times, but a struggle of the good variety.
And a new transitional costume, beautifully photographed by Roger Grauwmeijer.
So far the plan is that by the end of 2013 we will have written, worked, and developed enough material for a new album.
So now it’s time to start planning for next year.
There is one last act for Transit. On Wednesday January 23 we are presenting at ICOT, the International Conference on Thinking[1.45 – 3pm]. Essentially we are going to “…provide insight into the creation of the collaborative work “Transit” as an example of what is possible when you rethink the paramaters of a familiar activity – the production of an album of music. In [our] unique style [we] will tell stories about Transit’s connection and continuing impact on a small community in south east Java, the creation of the 11 related art works by prominent contemporary NZ artists, the touring exhibition and the glitch music video project.”
Next, we are playing at the Wine Cellar in Auckland February 2, CANCELLED. We are planning to play more in 2013, if you are interested in discussing with us the possibility of coming to play where you are, then please get in contact and we can negotiate from there. Discussions of touring further afield are back on the table too…but where?
Our glitch video project is also back on the boil. So all those that sent in contributions to the video, your work has not been forgotten, and hopefully we will be able to present something that may make you go OMG!
And finally, we plan to announce SOON the release of Chrissie’s DSLB solo album, a spectacular way to close the year.
Happy new year all.
Here we are in June. The time is spinning toward our departure for Malaysia, Java, & Singapore. There is still bit of work to do, a few shows to be confirmed, but one thing is certain, the tour will be a blast.
We were very pleased to have the opportunity to present our story of The making of Transit on the recent national radio program Music101, you can go HERE and listen to the interview. Thanks a lot Emma for the fine work.
mr sterile, the solo project, has recent added three songs to a new Root Don Lonie for Cash split 8″ acetate release. Click HERE to go to the RDLFC website. The other artist is the fantastic Biff Bangle Experience, a Link Wray/Bill Sevesi surf offering of divine proportions, check it out.
It’s confirmed, mr sterile is to be the featured drummer in the next NZMusician magazine. It may be out June?July? Who knows…
The Steve Ignorant show happens on June 18, a very exciting opportunity. Please see previous post for links to find out more about this bloke’s involvement in the very influential and inspiring UK group, Crass.
We are also presently in negotiation to bring the Transit exhibition to the city of Hamilton, more about that later.