When Muldoon met Mi-Sex

Murray Burns vividly remembers the night in 1980 when then-prime minister Rob Muldoon attended a Mi-Sex gig in Wellington.

At the time there was a bid to have tax taken off local products and it was argued that records by local artists should be included.

“We argued that New Zealand music should be considered as culture,” keyboardist Burns recalls. “Muldoon said, ‘I’m going to see this cultural act at the Wellington Town Hall’. He turned up to meet us and was pleasant.

“But it was weird being on stage and looking out. The whole place was filled with people in black with spiky hair and there, in the middle of the gods, was Muldoon and his entourage. The next day I remember waking up and seeing a newspaper article in which he’d said it was about as cultural as On the Mat, which was a wrestling show of the time.”

Taking its name from an Ultravox song, Mi-Sex is an important band in the history of New Zealand music. It rode the crest of the emerging punk/new wave scene in the late 1970s.

“We were doing new things and these new things needed a new name, ” says Burns, now a music producer in Australia.

“After I moved to Wellington we put Mi-Sex together and I moved to Sydney at 21. It all happened very quickly for us.

“When Mi-Sex got to Sydney it was an amazing live music scene, Midnight Oil, the Angels, Mental as Anything were in their formative years. We started doing shows. We quickly signed to CBS and had an album out within a year.

“By 23 I was playing packed houses in New York. It was the most incredible roller-coaster ride you could wish for.”

Derided by some for being a novelty band, Mi-Sex found worldwide acclaim with the 1978 hit Computer Games.

“It was our biggest hit. We hid it from the record company at first. We knew it was a great song but we were scared of it. We recorded it in 2 hours and it went big in 15 countries around the world.

“It was a great, never to be repeated song, but in a way it was like a nail in the band’s coffin. It was a gimmicky song. The record company said we were futuristic and threw us into being that kind of band.

“It was still an awesome time and we were so lucky to have that. Not everyone can drive around America and hear their song on the radio.”

While the band never broke up, as such, Mi-Sex had slowed to a virtual standstill by the mid-1980s. It was working on a comeback album when Wellington-born Steve Gilpin died in 1991 and all plans were shelved. After several decades, the band reunited for a fundraising concert following the Christchurch earthquake in 2011, with the role of lead singer filled by Steve Balbi (Noiseworks/Electric Hippies). “It’s interesting,” Burns says. “People can’t really name our songs until they hear them and then you see from the stage the recognition spread over their faces.”

More than 30 years since its last release, Mi-Sex is back in the studio, working on new songs. “We’ve worked up four so far. We probably won’t be playing them on this tour but once we’ve released them we’ll definitely be back.”