Part II: Deconstruction


With Disjecta Membra on ice, Michel focused on running Mediatrix; a ‘dark end’ New Zealand music label co-founded in 1999 with Jason Just, formerly of post-punk/goth band Burnt Weeping Eyes (1993-98).  From 2000-04, Mediatrix became home to releases from The Mercy CageJordan Reyne/Dr Kevorkian, Winterland and Just’s own projects, Shemsu Hor and Lightslastfading, among others.  Over the same period, the annual Darkness Gathering weekend was managed and promoted under the Mediatrix banner. 

Michel was the regular guitarist for Winterland from 2000-2002; recorded spoken word for dark-ambient project Torture by Roses (whose album ‘Sebastian: Salome’ was issued by Mediatrix in 2001); stood in on live guitar for ‘hate noise’ outfit Gugonix in 2002; and from 2002-03 contributed to studio work with N.U.T.E., The Harlequin Cube and expatriated US industrial rock act Vein Cage.  During 2004, he was the live bassist with Hamilton glam/goth/punk/rock band Rose Petals and Confetti; recorded a duet with Justine Sharp of Pulchritude; and was one third of experimental Auckland-based spinoff project, Black Virgin Milk.

Russell Dench (The Harlequin Cube, Disjecta Membra), c.2000 AD.  Photo: Jason Pengelly. 

Russell Dench (The Harlequin Cube, Disjecta Membra), c.2000 AD.  Photo: Jason Pengelly. 

Ostensibly still on the backburner, from time-to-time the Disjecta Membra moniker was resurrected for a smattering of performances.  Michel was joined by classical pianist and electronic musician Russell Dench of The Harlequin Cube, forming the heart of the project from 2001-03.  Additional collaborators and/or live players over this period also included Louise ‘Lou’ Juventin (bass, vocals, guitar, piano), Jaz Murphy (bass), Robyn Sutherland (bass), Anna Roxburgh (vocals, guitar) and Matthew Tāmati Scott (guitar). 

Darkness Gathering 2001  promo sampler CD (Mediatrix).

Darkness Gathering 2001 promo sampler CD (Mediatrix).

New material began displaying folk, ethereal and classical influences, exemplified in songs like ‘Cernunnos’, ‘…and Close Your Eyes’, and an adaptation of the John Keats poem ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’.  Russell and Michel recorded a rudimentary sketch of ‘…and Close Your Eyes’ for the promo sampler disc ‘Darkness Gathering 2001’, given away by Mediatrix for the second annual dark music festival.  A cover of Motörhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’ became a live favourite, rambling its way through swampy blues, country and casino lounge territories. 

Disjecta Membra performed 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.” 

– Jael Edwards (G.U.N.Z, New Zealand)

In 2003, Russell and Michel were joined by textural guitarist Matthew Tāmati Scott, previously of Betashine, Gugonix, N.U.T.E. and others.  This trio played only twice; one show with Flesh D-ViceMalevolence and The GMC, and another with Hog Haul Valentine and The Drawing Room.  Recorded output was nil, but Matthew, Russell and Michel all appeared on N.U.T.E.’s ‘Drone Function’ EP, while Russell and Michel provided the ‘H3 Remix’ of the follow-up single, ‘Drill’; both released on Mediatrix in 2003. 

The following year, Paul Blanchard (Hog Haul Valentine, Canis, Hieronymus Bosch), Justine Sharp (Pulchritude, DiS, Flinch) and Michel created a series of experimental and largely improvised recordings, nominally as Black Virgin Milk.  ‘Te Whakakitenga Pō’, the threesome’s companion piece to an exhibition of the same name, cross-fed into ongoing Disjecta Membra efforts to combine noise, drone and ambient textures with Māori language and traditional song-forms.  Parallels within Disjecta Membra included ‘Aue noa mātou’, an improv drone/chant/noise piece occasionally used as a live intro since 2001; and the gargantuan ‘Te Irirangi’, elements of which had been sampled and re-purposed for ‘Te Whakakitenga Pō’. 

Work with Blanchard and Sharp also inspired the direction of several ‘no wave’/swamprock blues-driven songs for Disjecta Membra, including ‘Gael’ and ‘The Infancy Gospels’.  Both were first performed as Disjecta Membra with a Hamilton-based unit, assembled for a couple of gigs in 2005 and comprising local stalwarts Stan Jagger (guitar), Paul Oakley (bass) and Paul Tregilgas (drums). 

While each of these post-millennial incarnations of Disjecta Membra had been very low-key, short-term affairs, Russell, Matthew and Jaz would all remain vital contributors over the years to follow.  Messrs Jagger, Oakley and Tregilgas’ approach to both old and new material likewise held lasting sway over the arrangement and direction of several songs going forward.  Moreover, the period of transition, experimentation and reinvention had opened the doors onto a wider musical vista; drawing influence from folk and neoclassical music, swampy blues, angular post-punk, experimental noise, ambient/drone and traditional Māori elements. 

By 2007, any pretense of Disjecta Membra still being a cohesive ‘band’ had been traded in for a vast, sprawling collective of guest musicians and collaborators.  Along with Michel, Jaz, Russell and Matthew, the rotating cast of live personnel from 2007-09 included Kane Davey, Jason Just, Vivian Stewart, Bryan Tabuteau, Isobel Te Aho-White, Stefan Sarten, Nathan Bregmen, Daniel Cross, Dan Smart and Justine Sharp.  Past members Stan Jagger and Scott Barnett also worked on recordings from this era.  From the latest intake, Kane Davey, Viv Stewart, Izzy Te Aho-White and Dan Smart in particular emerged as the key players.    

Outside Disjecta Membra, Michel sang guest vocals both live and in the studio for Distorture (Jason Just and Kane Davey), alongside the duo’s usual vocalist Kane.  Shared membership, mutual influence and cross-pollination characterised the relationships between Disjecta Membra, Distorture and Kane’s own vehicle Serenna (alias Manumission) at this time.  The latter group also featured Vivian Stewart and various others, including both Jason Just and Izzy Te Aho-White at one time or another. 

It was a comparatively streamlined band (Michel, Matthew and the drum-machine) who made Disjecta Membra’s contribution to ‘She’s Lost: an underground New Zealand music recovery expedition’; a ‘tribute’ compilation project, released as a free download for New Zealand Music Month 2007.  Coordinated by Josh Wood of The Mercy Cage and Michel on behalf of the Mediatrix collective, and Craig Charles and Bryan Tabuteau of Creepshow Productions, ‘She’s Lost’ brought together ‘dark’ underground New Zealand artists to record covers of influential New Zealand songs.  Disjecta Membra’s offering – the first in several years – was an epic re-imagining of Th’ Dudes new wave classic ‘Walking In Light’, from 1979.

For the same project, Michel sang on System/Statik’s cover of ‘Pulsing’ by The Body Electric, and provided background guitar loops and drones for Hog Haul Valentine’s rendition of the Skeptics’ ‘La Motta’.  Other featured artists included Betashine (the signature for Matthew’s solo output) and Nullity (with Izzy on bass, her sister Kate on vocals, and multi-instrumentalist Bryan Tabuteau); alongside The Mercy Cage, The Fanatics, N.U.T.E. and related entities.

Further Disjecta Membra material developed in the studio between 2007 and 2009, however, would not see the light of day until 2013.