15 Years Ago: ‘…and Close Your Eyes’ 2001

On 21 September 2001, Disjecta Membra released the rarely heard demo ‘…and Close Your Eyes’ on the Darkness Gathering 2001 sampler CD.  For the September instalment of our current series of digital media archives, we celebrate fifteen years of collaboration with pianist/keyboard player Russell Dench by making the song available again as a free download (below), along with photos, memorabilia and accompanying text from Michel. 

Darkness Gathering 2001 promo sampler disc (Mediatrix).  Photography and cover design by Melanie Tahata.

Darkness Gathering 2001 promo sampler disc (Mediatrix).  Photography and cover design by Melanie Tahata.

The Darkness Gathering was an annual dark music festival held in Wellington, New Zealand, between 2000 AD and 2006.  For five years, I ran the weekend-long event with help from veteran goth promoters Brendon Mably (DJ Nightmare 666) and Melanie Tahata (Maleficent), working under the umbrella of Mediatrix; a record label and artist collective that I co-founded in 1999 with Jason Just of Distorture (with Kane Davey), Shemsu Hor, Lightslastfading, and Burnt Weeping Eyes.

After winding the label down in 2004, the final festival was revamped and rebranded ‘Darkness 06’, with Mediatrix handing the reigns over to Craig Charles (R.I.P.) of Creepshow Productions.  Throughout this time, the Darkness Gathering was the largest dark music festival in the Southern Hemisphere; only more recently surpassed by Australia’s Fiend Fest in 2014.

Darkness Gathering 2001 poster, by Melanie Tahata.

Darkness Gathering 2001 poster, by Melanie Tahata.

The second annual Darkness Gathering ran from 21-23 September 2001, featuring around a dozen or so live bands along with performance artists, exhibitions, installations and other media.  Mediatrix released an accompanying sampler CD of the featured bands, given away in very small numbers to promote the festival.  Surviving copies are thus exceedingly rare. 

‘…and Close Your Eyes’ appeared on the disc under the abridged band-name of ‘Membra’, whereas the song had originally been written with Déonne Rowland in 1995, for a short-lived side-project titled Sympathy For Her Heroine.  Sympathy wrote and demoed perhaps half-a-dozen songs or more between late ’95 and early ’96, and began live rehearsals with bassist Michael Collins, but never found a vocalist to fit Déonne’s vision for the project.

L: Russell Dench, Auckland, 2000 AD; photo by Jason Pengelly (Interim_Inc).  R: Michel Rowland, Wellington, 2000 AD; photo by Melanie Tahata.

L: Russell Dench, Auckland, 2000 AD; photo by Jason Pengelly (Interim_Inc).  R: Michel Rowland, Wellington, 2000 AD; photo by Melanie Tahata.

Around the turn of the century, ‘…and Close Your Eyes’ had been resurrected with Disjecta Membra when I began collaborating with classical pianist-turned-electronic musician, Russell Dench.  Russell and I first met in Wellington in 1997, and had talked about working together since then, but it didn’t eventuate until we both found ourselves living in Auckland around the latter half of 2000.  He had been a member of improv-industrial-noise group Creassault, who played their first show opening for Disjecta Membra in Wellington in July ‘97, and he later formed Harlequin Squared with James Bennett c. 1999.  James and I had previously flatted together in Wellington, and he was briefly involved with Disjecta Membra as well.

Newly arrived in Auckland, having left our respective bandmates behind, Russell and I each found ourselves at something of a loose end.  He ultimately resumed his own electronic-based music as a solo effort under the name of The Harlequin Cube, while Disjecta Membra briefly became known as Membra.  Russell’s piano-based performance of ‘…and Close Your Eyes’ was key to defining the sound and direction of the track, which had previously revolved around a solitary acoustic guitar.  This demo version for the Darkness Gathering 2001 sampler was recorded one afternoon in Russell’s lounge; just him playing piano and keyboards and me singing.  The CD also featured The Harlequin Cube’s début outing, ‘Everybody’s Got a Problem’. 

As a live group, the Auckland-based incarnation of Disjecta Membra also included Louise Juventin on bass, guitar and vocals.  The three of us played our first show together on 30 March 2001, and took a decided step away from the generic ‘goth rock’ formula that the band had become known for.  Jael Edwards (who now writes for Heathen Harvest), reviewed one Wellington performance as “a sterling set of what is moving more and more into the folk-noir bracket.  Opener ‘Skin Charmer’ showed an eastern/dub influence, while their rendition of ‘Ace of Spades’ was performed in a warped Vegas lounge style, as befits a song about gambling.”  Alongside ‘…and Close Your Eyes’, other songs exemplifying the aforesaid ‘folk-noir’ and neoclassical leanings at the time included ‘Cernunnos’, and an adaptation of the Keats poem, ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’.  All three songs remain current in the band’s inventory.

The first show Russell Dench and Lou Juventin played as members of Disjecta Membra, alongside Jordan Reyne (Dr Kevorkian and the Suicide Machine) and Nothinghunger at Web Bar, Auckland, 30 March 2001.  Flyer by Mary MacGregor-Reid.

The first show Russell Dench and Lou Juventin played as members of Disjecta Membra, alongside Jordan Reyne (Dr Kevorkian and the Suicide Machine) and Nothinghunger at Web Bar, Auckland, 30 March 2001.  Flyer by Mary MacGregor-Reid.

It seems no live photos have survived capturing this line-up of the band.  Lou Juventin remained with us for only a few months, often being unavailable for shows outside Auckland, and presumably fed-up with my being… ‘difficult’.  Former (now current) bassist Jaz Murphy stood in live during August, while our appearance at the Darkness Gathering the following month featured Winterland bassist Robyn Sutherland.  I was playing guitar for Winterland at the time, whose début album Alone in a Fairground was released by Mediatrix, and who likewise came down from Auckland for the festival.  The Harlequin Cube also made its live début at the Darkness Gathering that year; Russell being joined live by Andrew Lyon from Creassault and N.U.T.E. 

Russell and I both hated living in Auckland, so around the time of the Darkness Gathering that year we both returned to live in Wellington.  From there, between 2001 and 2003, The Harlequin Cube evolved into a very good live band; veering towards trip-hop and ambient/downtempo electronica, with a strong emphasis on live improv.  Confining his ‘dark electro’ collaborations with Drew Lyon to occasional guest work for N.U.T.E., from late 2002, Russell was joined in TH3 by his brother Martyn Dench (DJ Martian) and multi-instrumentalist Andy Cummings (Hummel, Waka AteaCloudboy). 

For Disjecta Membra, the oft-noted revolving cast of personnel, coupled with Russell and I both being increasingly committed elsewhere, all became obstacles to keeping the project active in any real sense.  The band effectively ‘broke up’ for a while, although Russell and I carried on working together on various Mediatrix-related projects, and briefly resurrected Disjecta Membra for a couple of shows in 2003, along with Matthew Tāmati Scott on guitar.  Both Russell and Matthew remained intermittently involved with Disjecta Membra over the years; most notably in Russell’s case from 2007-09.

Disjecta Membra live, Auckland, December 2007.  L-R: Vivian Stewart (guitar), Nathan Bregmen (drums), Michel Rowland (guitar, vocals), Isobel Te Aho-White (bass), and Russell Dench (keys).  Photo: Melissa Van Berkel.

Disjecta Membra live, Auckland, December 2007.  L-R: Vivian Stewart (guitar), Nathan Bregmen (drums), Michel Rowland (guitar, vocals), Isobel Te Aho-White (bass), and Russell Dench (keys).  Photo: Melissa Van Berkel.

From 2009-2012 Russell traded piano and synths for guitar and vocals, starting up grungy-indie-garage rock band The Nouns, along with fellow Disjecta Membra casualties Matthew Scott (guitar, keys) and Vivian Stewart (bass).  Russell now lives in London, so hasn’t played live with Disjecta Membra for several years, but he continues to collaborate long-distance on various recordings.  Most recently, he recorded piano for a studio version of ‘…and Close Your Eyes’, which also features Jason Just on acoustic guitar.