From Drum 'N' Base to Flying High with Air Force in Concert

28 September 2018

Leading New Zealand drummer Darren Mathiassen will be keeping a military beat next week when he performs in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Band’s annual concert in Wellington.

Better known for his work with one of New Zealand’s most successful drum ‘n’ bass bands, Shapeshifter, Leading Aircraftman Mathiassen is also a Reservist in the RNZAF Band, as well as a popular session musician.

The 65-member band is made up of New Zealand Defence Force Reservists, many of whom are active in Wellington’s music scene.

This year the band’s popular Air Force in Concert, on 6 October, has been moved to the larger Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington, which also provides improved acoustics on previous venues.

The concert will feature a range of musical styles, from John Williams to John Farnham, and from Sousa to Puccini, led by outstanding vocalists Leading Aircraftmen Barbara Graham and Stephanie Paris. Talented piper Flight Sergeant Murray Mansfield will get the feet stomping with some Celtic melodies, while the band’s Drumline are promising dramatic innovation on last year’s electrifying performance.

Leading Aircraftman Mathiassen, who began his percussive career in Invercargill but is now based in Wellington, said he was taken aback when he was approached to join the RNZAF Band.

“A friend of mine who works for the band shoulder-tapped me to perform in the band’s swing band,” he said.

“There are not many opportunities to play in a big band but to do that I had to sign up to become a member of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF). We had a long conversation about what that actually entailed.

“I do have to pass fitness and medical requirements when I tour overseas with the band but there’s no regular fitness tests. In saying that, I’m pretty physically fit from my day job.”

Since joining the band he has toured around the country, performed at a miltary tattoo in Malaysia and kept the beat for the NZDF’s contingent marching in Belgium’s National Day military parade in 21 July.

However, joining the band was a big step out of his comfort zone.

“I come from a jazz background, so I’m used to a lot of improv. Some things, like always being switched on, are the same with any group. With the RNZAF Band, you’re also listening to commands, giving the right signals and there’s no room for error.

“You’ve got a whole guard in front of you and you’re responsible for marching them around the parade ground – it’s nerve-wracking but it’s also a lot of fun.”

The RNZAF Band also gives Leading Aircraftman Mathiassen the opportunity to work with a wide range of Wellington musicians in a wide range of genres.

“It’s made up of musicians from all areas of the Wellington music scene. While we all know each other, we don’t really have the opportunities to play together, so it’s a really great thing for the community,” he said.

“The range of music played in the RNZAF Band really appealed to me. I can play in anything from a small jazz combo or covers band to the big swing band and concert band, then at military events like parades as well.”

The Air Force in Concert will be held in the Michael Fowler Centre on Saturday, 6 October at 2:30pm.  Tickets from Ticketmaster.

This page was last reviewed on 7 February 2019.