Small Doses 7 – Rema-Rema

Small Doses 7 – courtesy of Iv/An

And you thought that getting a copy of Rema-Rema’s Wheel In The Roses EP was like trying to locate rocking horse shit: in a painfully small edition of just 100, issue seven of Iv/An’s obsessively detailed, intensively-researched and beautifully-designed Small Doses is entirely devoted to telling the absolutely definitive story of a band who had already fragmented when their solitary EP was released, an act which simultaneously launched the 4AD label and which also started in motion the ongoing mystique and mythology surrounding the group.

For Iv/An this is, first and foremost, a highly personal endeavour and a work of love as a fan of the group; because of that this issue intertwines his own story of becoming intrigued by Rema-Rema with the story of the band.

Featuring interviews with four of the band’s five members (Mick Allen, Dorothy ‘Max’ Prior, Mark Cox, and Gary Asquith) providing a comprehensive first-hand account of the band’s history, unseen photos, a discography including compilation appearances and cover versions and a ‘family tree’ showing where the members of Rema-Rema came from and where they went onto after their eleven gigs and solitary EP. The fanzine is accompanied by a CD-R of unreleased recordings by the band culled from demos and live rehearsals, all sequenced into a single piece brimming with white heat and blistering energy.

Small Doses 7 – courtesy of Iv/An

More information on the new issue will be made available at Iv/An’s 0.5 Facebook and Bandcamp pages on May 1. I already have a copy. It’s signed by Gary and I’m not selling. Don’t even ask.

The latest issue of the fanzine comes hot on the heels of 4AD’s overdue Fond Reflections by Rema-Rema – a collection of unreleased live tracks, demos and studio material from the same rich archive as the Small Doses CD-R that approximates what should have been the band’s 1980 debut album, assembled by Gary Asquith and Takatsuna Mukai and released earlier this month.

The album’s launch was supported by a live Q&A with Max, Mick, Gary and myself at London’s Rough Trade West, just a few hundred metres from where they recorded their first demos in a Portobello Road basement on a tape recorder borrowed from Hazel O’Connor.

Rema-Rema and Mat Smith at Rough Trade West, March 1 2019 – Q&A for the release of ‘Fond Reflections’. L to R: Mat Smith, Gary Asquith, Max, Mick Allen. Used with kind permission of Trevor Pomphrett.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Rema-Rema – International Scale / Short Stories (Inflammable Material / Le Coq Musique single, 2014)

Rema-Rema 'International Scale / Short Stories' 7" artwork

inflammable material / le coq musique | 7″ burn017 | 04/2014

‘Can you imagine what these beautiful songs would sound like if we’d done them in a 24-track recording situation?’ ponders Gary Asquith by email when I let him know that the copy of Defiant Pose Eight with its accompanying Rema-Rema 7″ he sent me has arrived. ‘It’s so sad that the most beautiful creations that I’ve ever made are just demo quality-lo-fi. They’re the pinnacle of my musical thinking.’

Rema-Rema’s recorded output, until the release of this 7″, was confined to the Wheel In The Roses 12″ that effectively properly launched the 4AD label; apart from a couple of live tracks on a very underground cassette and an alternative version of one track on a Japanese 4AD compilation, that was it. And yet, as future Wolfgang Press member and Rema-Rema founder Mick Allen recounts in the interview with him and Gary Asquith in the Defiant Pose fanzine, this post-punk unit seemed to have developed a cult following that even these two members are surprised about. Allen recalls Nick Cave talking to him about his time in the band whilst his Bad Seeds were on tour with Allen’s Wolfgang Press, and Steve Albini‘s Big Black covered one of their tracks. I can vouch for their status: when I posted a review of Wheel In The Roses last year, including some insightful information from Asquith, I received emails from people enquiring about whether the band had any other recordings that might see the light of day.

Which brings us on to the exciting prospect of two hitherto unheard Rema-Rema tracks, rescued from cassette demos and pressed onto heavyweight vinyl to accompany the Defiant Pose feature and interviews. ‘International Scale’ is a breathtaking moment of sparse robotic motorik rock underpinned by squealing synths from Mark Cox, a taught, sinewy guitar riff from Marco Pirroni and a Mick Allen bassline that dominates with ground-out, low-slung angsty prominence. Asquith prowls above the mix, his vocal somewhere between punky snarl and wide-eyed wonder, offering repeated phrases and complex wisdom. Like all the best post-punk this feels like a head-on collision of ideas: the edginess of punk and the regimented rhythms of German electronic pop (thanks to a skeletal beat from Max) and a leaning into artsy esoterics. It’s not hard to see why Asquith considers his Rema-Rema period his best – ‘International Scale’ suggests a raw confidence and effortless cache of ideas that could have served this band very well had circumstances been different. It’s a travesty of grand proportions that we’ll never get to hear a finalised version of ‘International Scale’ but this is more than adequate aural evidence of what makes Rema-Rema so compelling a proposition.

‘Short Stories’ clocks in at just under two minutes and has a much rawer, embryonic sound to it, Asquith sounding not dissimilar to Wreckless Eric with an emotional, almost anguished vocal. Slow, gravelly and murky, ‘Short Stories’ feels like a single evolution away from the pure punk of The Beastly Cads / Models and Manic bands from which Rema-Rema were formed. No surprise, perhaps – in the accompanying interview we learn that Allen and Asquith brought fragments from unused songs from their former bands to the studios as the genesis for the Rema-Rema material.

Asquith turns more sanguine as our brief email exchange concludes. Hey, we have these moments and we get respect – because you can’t be in a band with Marco Pirroni and Michael Allen playing guitar and bass that isn’t worth a listen. Because those two people exude class. That’s the moment I live for, and when I die I will say “please God, can we cut a deal and you play me some Rema -Rema?”‘

Buy this; it’s important.

Get it at Defiant Pose

Track listing:

7″:
A. International Scale
B. Short Stories

Thanks to Gary

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence