21 Years Ago Today: Disjecta Membra's first gig

Twenty-one years ago - on 26 August 1995, Disjecta Membra played our first gig at a flatwarming party in Hamilton East, New Zealand.  Today we mark the occasion with the first in a twelve-month series of digital media archives, chronicling key dates and events in Disjecta Membra’s history.  This first installment contains streaming audio, photos by Kristi Kennedy, and text by Michel.

Ben Cauchi, Michel Rowland and Paul Kennedy.  First band photo, pre-gig, 26 August 1995.  Photo by Kristi Kennedy.

Ben Cauchi, Michel Rowland and Paul Kennedy.  First band photo, pre-gig, 26 August 1995.  Photo by Kristi Kennedy.

In essence, Disjecta Membra had actually begun life almost two years earlier, in a garage in Hamilton in December of 1993.  I was aided and abetted by my friend and neighbour Dave Jones, who was then bassist and frontman with a local rock band called Waters.  I knew Dave through one of Waters’ two guitarists, Mathew Nicholls; Mathew and I had started our first highschool/garage band together in 1988.

Disjecta Membra’s first few jam sessions in Dave’s garage also involved Derek Shaw, the other guitarist in Waters.  By early ’94, however, Derek had lost interest, and between April and May, Dave and I began recording the first few Disjecta Membra demos as a duo.  

More about that another time...

Buoyed by hearing our demos on the local student radio station, Contact 89 FM, and encouraged by Dave to take the project further, in March of 1995 we began rehearsing a live set at my mum’s, and placed an ad on Contact for a third live member to play keyboard and second guitar.  Paul Kennedy - a DJ on Contact; Media Studies undergrad at the University of Waikato; and a fan of The Cure, Joy Division and The Smiths - filled the position in June.  

Dave’s prior commitments to family, work and to his other band prevented his becoming a permanent fixture.  But having made it his personal mission to see the band up and running, Dave kindly stood in on bass until a fulltime replacement could be found.

Meanwhile, I’d started going out with Déonne Rowland, whom I’d met on 30 April 1995 at a Samhain (S. Hemisphere) get-together, just a few hours before we ended up at a Jesus and Mary Chain concert together at The Powerstation in Auckland.  She too was a DJ on Contact, a 4AD enthusiast, and was studying English Literature and Film at Waikato.  Déonne began contributing to Disjecta Membra’s lyrics and imagery, and it was she from whom I later took my surname.  Before that, I was just Michel – like Madonna.

Michel and Déonne Rowland, 7 October 1995.  Photo: Ben Cauchi.

Michel and Déonne Rowland, 7 October 1995.  Photo: Ben Cauchi.

At Déonne’s behest, one Benjamin Thomas Cauchi was invited to fill Dave’s shoes on bass.  Neither Déonne nor I had previously met Ben, nor had we any idea whether he could actually play an instrument.  But having seen him around campus, Déonne reasoned that he should be in the band because he looked a bit like Rowland S. Howard.  And she was right, too; he did look a bit like Rowland S. Howard.

On 8 July 1995, I approached Ben at the student bar with this proposal, culminating in a raucous, staggering-drunk shambles of a jam session back at my mum’s house later that night.  Establishing something of a precedent, the next two months of band-related activities would involve considerably more drinking than any actual music.  

Ben was a Sisters of Mercy fan, and worked on campus at the Teaching Technology Group.  His parents were both part of the faculty, having transferred to Waikato from Victoria University in Wellington for some reason.  And as luck would have it, Ben had previously played bass with Wellington indie band SKWISH, and was briefly a member of Exquisite Corpse; a goth outfit from Palmerston North led by a Tim Simpson, and whose past members also included Dave White, of Lung, C.U.N.T. and The Stomach infamy.

Supposedly, I was studying English Literature at the time, but dropped in and out of varsity several times over the next few years.  The trouble with Waikato Uni was that the campus bar, The Wailing Bongo, was fairly central to just about everywhere I needed to be.  I’d walk in with the intention of cutting through to the other side of campus, or perhaps just to stop in for some nachos and a handle of cider between lectures.  But therein I would discover several other hapless souls who had entered for much the same purpose, and there we would find ourselves stuck fast until the early hours of the following morning.  It wasn’t long before the bar became the only facility on campus that I attended.

The Wailing Bongo circle to which Ben and I belonged also included Dillon Burke and Carl de Visser, a couple of chaps from Christchurch who had transferred to Waikato for post-grad papers not offered elsewhere.  Seemingly unaware that no actual rehearsals had yet taken place, Dillon and Carl invited our so-called “band” to play at Carl’s flatwarming party with about a fortnight’s notice.  A cheap-as-chips Kawai R-50 drum machine was hastily acquired a few days later, whereupon it was taken back to the pub to be christened ‘Deus ex Machina’, by Dillon.

Deus ex Machina (Mk I): Live at Jellicoe Drive.

Deus ex Machina (Mk I): Live at Jellicoe Drive.

And so the newly formed live trio of Ben Cauchi, Paul Kennedy and I had our first actual practice together on 20 August 1995, before playing Disjecta Membra’s first gig in a bedroom on Jellicoe Drive in Hamilton East less than a week later.

The set comprised six originals and four covers, followed by an ‘encore’ that was in fact completely uncalled for, and required us to play three of the four covers over again, before ending with an instrumental fuck-about from practices, which had been dubbed ‘Celia’ after Celia Mancini; another acquaintance from the pub.  We thought it sounded a bit like King Loser.  It didn't.  

I still have the tape, and can thereby confirm that we were absolutely fucking atrocious.  But why take my word for it?

Paul Kennedy left the band a few months later to pursue a career in media and broadcasting, going on to establish music and broadcasting industry magazine Median Strip, and later, the official New Zealand music chart agent, RadioScope & Media Sauce Ltd. 

Ben Cauchi remained with the band until January 1997, and on leaving Disjecta Membra found his true calling as a photographer.  Specialising in mid nineteenth century processes, he is widely acclaimed for his surreal, otherworldly work, and now lives and works in Berlin.  See www.bencauchi.com