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Rema Rema – Fonder recollections Alan Rider asks Max and Mark from Rema Rema and Film Director Marco Porsia just what was so special about Rema Rema?

Rema Rema – Fonder recollections

Alan Rider asks Max and Mark from Rema Rema and Film Director Marco Porsia just what was so special about Rema Rema?

by Alan Rider, Contributing Editor
first published: June, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

haven't hadn't been that excited about hearing a record for a long time you know, to hear all those songs that that never had the chance to come out, it really hit me that there was so much more to Rema Rema.

In our recent review of Marco Porsia’s film recounting the story of Rema Rema, ‘What You Could Not Visualise’, we described them as an “influential band that barely existed”. They were only around for about a year, in which time they rehearsed a lot, played just 11 shows (roughly one a month), and then split at the end of 1979, posthumously releasing a four track EP ‘Wheel In The Roses’ as the debut release on the new 4AD label, reputedly created in order to issue that record. Since then, their shadowy mystique and influence has grown, with 4AD bringing together demo, live, and rehearsal recordings in 2019 as ‘Fond Reflections’, which the label claimed was the equivalent of what would have been Rema Rema’s first album. It wasn’t really, but paved the way for a resurgence of interest, culminating in Marco Porsia’s definitive film statement. That so little was recorded at the time, with few studio and live recordings surviving, scant photos, and no video, only added to the legend. Band members subsequently went on to mainstream chart success with Adam and The Ants, and indie chart fame with Mass, Wolfgang Press, Renegade Sound System, This Mortal Coil, and Psychic TV. Having seen the film, we felt we needed to dig a bit deeper, and sat down with the film’s Director, Marco, and former Rema Rema members Dorothy ‘Max’ Prior (Drums, later of PTV) and Mark Cox (Synths, later of all the other bands listed above aside from Adam and the Ants) to do just that.

Outsideleft: Firstly, thanks all of you for sparing your time to talk to Outsideleft, especially as we are currently spread between Canada, Corfu, and the UK, and Max has just returned from exotic Morocco (and not-so-exotic Great Yarmouth) but without even getting a tan, and Mark is actually still on holiday in Corfu! Marco – You previously directed a film on Swans, who have a long, long career, almost the polar opposite of Rema Rema really, so why now do a film on such a short-lived band?
Marco Porsia:
Well, I wasn't really scared about that, but it's a limitation, the fact that there was no footage of them or anything. I actually thought it created even more of this mythical sort of legend. I liked going from one extreme to the other, from a band [Swans] that has been going for over 40 years and has a huge career and lots of archive material, to the other extreme. Most bands change from album to album, but that didn’t happen with Rema Rema of course. To me, it felt like it was a story that was really worth telling, because I didn't know much of it myself. Once I met everybody in the band, and got to hear the story, I realised that there was a film there, there was a really interesting story. It just meant that I had to be more creative, not having any live material to work with. That wasn't really a big deal. In the end, it actually makes the film better, I think, because it's more in your imagination, what they would look like on stage.

OL: Given they left so little DNA behind, and what they did leave has been reissued or reproduced many times over, wasn’t that a massive challenge for a rock film maker, when there is hardly anything new remaining and everyone has seen it all already?
MP:
I did find that I could get a new insight through those people who attended their shows and there were also some photographs that came to light that had never been seen before. That was really exciting. Then I recreated live performances using these paper cut out versions of the band that a girl in Brussels made for me, to help take you into that world. The impetus that set the spark in my head about doing a film on Rema Rema was when 4AD put out the Fond Reflections album. I had just finished my Swans film, and I had no idea that album was coming out. I haven't hadn't been that excited about hearing a record for a long time you know, to hear all those songs that that never had the chance to come out, it really hit me that there was so much more to Rema Rema.

Max: I was quite amused by the fact that 4AD marketed it as if it were the long-lost Rema Rema album we'd recorded, but somehow it got stuck in the vaults and was never put out, whereas what it actually is, is a load of scrappy little cassette tapes and things that were recorded on a TEAC four track in a very dingy basement in Portobello Road, Halligan's Heap. We just spent months and months not playing in public and just playing for ourselves, which is a whole story in itself. Really, we just didn't want to play live. The only person who even knew how to turn on the tape recorder was Marco, so we were completely reliant on him having some vague idea of how things worked. A lot of those tracks were done on that TEAC four track borrowed off Hazel O'Connor, who was Kenny Morris's (Banshees) girlfriend at the time, and was a part of our circle of friends.

Rehearsal photoOL: There was a lot of overlap at that time between people that have since become more well known in their own right. People moved in and out of each other’s bands, helped each other out with recording, lending equipment, that kind of stuff, which is a great thing really, to have that lack of competition. I guess competition did come in later on. Now, it seems to be quite competitive as people need to rise above the pack, and because the pack is so large, they have to do that.
Max:
People did help out. Particularly, the boys in the bands were helping out the girls. I think that's really important to say. I had an awful lot of positive support. People were really enthusiastic about the idea of me playing, and helping me out. They’d let me know if someone had a drum kit for sale and dear old Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols even kindly offered to steal one for me! When I auditioned with Subway Sect, it was Topper Headon who helped me set up my drum kit, and was really enthusiastic about the fact that I was doing this audition, you know, wishing me the best of luck. So I did feel it was a very supportive environment.

OL: As the only girl in the band, did you sometimes find that difficult?
Max: I didn't really think about it, but I suppose it may be. Without going into personal stuff too much, I suppose it possibly became a bit of an issue that I started going out with Marco. Maybe that was not what the others would ideally have liked. I don't know. In retrospect, that possibly changed the dynamic.

OL: Coming back to the Fond Reflections album, do you ever wonder what an album recorded at the time would have sounded like, maybe going into the studio with a name producer who could bring out the best in the band
Max:
It's not that we didn't get a big producer that was the problem, it was that Marco decided that he really, really, wasn't happy with the way things were going. I don't think that by September 1979 we were doing anything that was radically different to what we were doing a year before, when he seemed to be very happy with what we were doing. It's hard to say whether that person changed, or whether the situation changed, but, you know, because I was going out with Marco at the time, I did have a lot of angsty, late night conversations about the band. I kept persuading him stay, and he kept wanting to go. He wanted to make pop music. Classy, arty, pop music. He wanted to do something like Roxy Music, or Cockney Rebel. We were talking earlier about Joy Division. That Paul Morley review which compared us to Joy Division upset Marco so much, because he hated Joy Division. He hated that review. He was so pissed off, that was almost a tipping point. All of that was going down, so it wasn’t that we didn't have a big producer, or we didn't have the songs. We had the potential, but we saw ourselves as a unit of five people, and if any of those five people left, then we couldn't continue. We felt very strongly about that.

rema remaOL: In the film it made it sound as if the end came very abruptly, with just a phone call from Marco.
Max:
it wasn't abrupt, it was going on for ages, as I said, with all these awful angst laden, terrible, late night conversations about how unhappy he [Marco] was and how he didn't want to do this. When I say ages, it's probably only weeks, but it was still trundling along for a while, this agitation and frustration. Then there was the whole thing about John and Kenny walking out of the Banshees and Marco ending up supporting Siouxsie and Steve and what was left of the Banshees. Meanwhile, John and Kenny were staying with Mark up the road, when everyone was looking for them, so we had this really weird divide in the band, and that became a catalyst moment for Rema Rema.

MC: I've never regretted anything that's ever happened in my life. It just went as it went. I do still have memories of the night Marco rang me and said, “I'm leaving the band”. It also came along at a peculiarly emotionally challenging time for me in my personal relationship, and as Max says, for a while things were not quite gelling and Marco leaving meant that was the end, really, because it was only ever five people as far as I was concerned. It was only later I learned Max was having these conversations with Marco about his angst. He went on to be in this huge pop band and the rest of us went in other ways, but who know what would have happened if things would have been different, but they were as they were. In terms of the Rema Rema material coming out on Fond Reflections, I simply found a load of old tapes gave them to Gary years ago, as he had a record label and slowly he evolved this way of making the things sound as good as they could, to the point where I thought, Oh, they actually sound pretty good, in a relative way. They are what they are, but there is still an essence that you can feel about them. There are times when producing something actually lessens its quality. ‘Wheel In The Roses’ ended up the way it did, because it was a co production. Willie Brill [the engineer on that recording] was really uncomfortable with the way we were using this flanger on the drums and the way that it sounded. He was “I can't let you do this” and we were like “No, it sounds great!”. So, we were very much in there. Who knows how an album might have turned out!

Rema RemaOL: Marco, did you approach Marco P to ask him to take part in the film? I know he didn't want to, but did you ask him anyway?
MP: Yeah, I asked him to three times at the beginning when I was starting out and he gave me a polite “thank you, but no thank you. I've already said everything I need to say”. As the film was taking shape, I thought for sure he'll come around, but he just got more and more “don't call me again, just leave me aloneI”

OL: Which means a reunion is never going to happen, and I was going to ask Max and Mark if maybe that's a good thing, as it preserves a little bit of the mystery? So many bands get back together and are poorer versions of what they once were.
Max:
That was a moment in time. It was like a time capsule of something that was very special. And I think it is very, very, very, unlikely that Marco would ever be willing to come back and do a reunion, I think of a Johnny Rotten quote about reunions “it's their heritage to fuck up”. That's what others choose to do, and I think people can do what they want to do, but it is just not what I would choose to do.

MP: Even the Pixies, you know, when they play their old stuff, it just doesn't even compare with seeing them in 1988.

MC: It feels like everyone and their uncle is reforming now. Sometimes people tell me some of them are way better than they used to be, which is fine, but mostly, I don't go to see any of them. Nostalgia doesn't interest me really. That said, an interesting thing happened in 2005. This idea came into my head one day in the shower, and I thought yeah, Rema Rema, we could do ‘Wheel In The Roses’ for the 4AD 25th anniversary! It wouldn't take much rehearsal. So I sent emails to Gary, Mark, and Marco, and was looking for Max. Gary and Mark responded fairly soon with a yes, but then Marco Peroni came back and said “I will never play live again. It’s nice to hear from you and all of that, but no”. So, there was this thing that nearly happened, that was a seed of an idea, in 2005, but it would have been just this very particular one-off thing.

OL: In some ways, I felt the film was as much about the UK and US 1980’s post punk scenes than it was about Rema Rema. A lot of space is given over to the talking head contributors and their bands (eg The Membranes). Is Rema Rema maybe used almost as a vehicle to do a semi-documentary on that scene
MP:
Well, if it was about Rema Rema only, it probably wouldn't have been much longer than about 40 minutes, but I discovered that there were so many people who were fans and were able to speak about it, like John Robb, for example, that I pointed the microscope deeper and deeper into that post punk world. There was so much connecting tissue, like Cabaret Voltaire, Big Black, This Mortal Coil, 4AD, and so on, that I was able to tell a bigger story about that time period, which was amazing. If I had a time machine I would want to go back to that period, for sure.

Max: It was important also, that it was placed within the context of the 4AD story, because Rema Rema were really the reason why they started the label. Originally, we were going to be signed to Beggars Banquet, and we were talking to them when Ivo [Watts, 4AD Records] became involved in the conversation. He said that he would like to start a record label and, although not technically the very first release because of a glitch in production, but we were the first signing to 4AD and started the label off. The story of 4AD starts with Rema Rema.

MP: Ivo doesn’t give interviews, he is really a recluse, but he gave me one about Rema Rema, because they still hold a special place in his heart.

Max: Mark stayed with the whole history of 4AD right up to the point of playing a cover version of his own song, ‘Fond Reflections’. When that first came out on 4AD, I hadn't realised that Mark had been involved, but I think it's rather lovely that he did a different version of a song he wrote.

MC: I was really touched and happy to asked to be a part of This Mortal Coil. At that time, I would say 4AD felt like an extended family, and a lot of my favourite music was made by people on 4AD at the time, so it was really lovely to be asked. I thought it was a great way to look at a song with a different approach and I was really happy to be involved with that. Can I just say a little extra about my feelings about the film. A number of people have said to me that it's just a really good film. It happens to be focused on Rema Rema, but it really evokes a time where free spirits were able to express themselves without needing a certificate to do it. You know, people just got up and did things, and it really, puts all that together in one film. So, for me, it's a very good document of that time in our lives, which was a very influential time.

MP: Rema Rema was just such a small blip in the career of all these five individuals. That was an element that I love, the beginnings of these five people who were a super group in reverse, because everyone went on to play in so many great bands; Renegade Soundwave, Mass, Wolfgang Press, Max played with Psychic TV, Marco with Adam and the Ants. That's another really interesting and charming aspect of the band.

OL: Is there a risk, though, in making films about long gone bands, in that it fictionalises them, and the time and environment they existed in, until the story no longer represents the reality, and that actually does a disservice to the past?
MC:
My wife’s brother is in his 20s and he really loved the copy of the Rema Rema 12 inch I gave him. It's not necessarily his musical cup of tea, but for me, this is indicative of something that I've come across, which is that people in their 20s are looking at those times and they are trying to recreate the sound of analogue tape. I don't think this is nostalgic, necessarily. I think that in the same way that vinyl has become popular again, people are finding something in this that moves them, that excites them. It doesn't matter if it came from yesterday to them. You know, sometimes evolution goes back as well as forward.

Max: I have a radio show, and I work with a lot of people, and as Mark just said, a lot of younger people are really interested, not only in Rema Rema, but in 4AD and other things from that era. They don't think of it as nostalgia, they are discovering things that they hadn't previously experienced. You know, the past doesn't even mean the past, the past is in the present. It's here. Everything that has ever existed is here now, and we can relate to it in very many different ways. How I relate to the Rema Rema EP now is different to how I related to it 10 years ago, and how I potentially will relate to it in the future. You always bring your present self into any appraisal. With things like Spotify, rather than music being like a river that flows in one direction, everything's now a big ocean. You can dip into things from the ‘50s, the ‘60s and the ‘70s, ‘80s,’90s ‘2000s. It's all out there. Regarding the film, I do think it's interesting for people younger than us to be aware of all that stuff, like how long it took to get a record out, and how communication happened. You know, it happened through flyers on the walls in cafes, through word of mouth, or someone at a gig saying, Oh, are you coming back here next week to see Cabaret Voltaire? and the other person saying, Oh, I haven't heard of them, should I? The way that communication worked was very different. It’s not that it's better or worse, it's just different, and it’s interesting to talk about that.

OL: Music was definitely more handmade then, you know, using letraset to create posters and sleeves, having no internet or desktop publishing, pushing out gig flyers by hand, using photocopiers and even those messy Gestetner duplicators to print things, physically cutting up tape to make loops, and so on. People are really interested now in how difficult it was then to produce what are quite basic things now, and the lengths that we all had to go to to do that. They don't see that as being horribly inconvenient, they see it as being almost heroic, that we were dedicated enough to go to those lengths to do things, and that we were able to create a network without an internet, via the post, word of mouth, telephone calls, etc. I think that idea is quite attractive to people now.
MP:
I was thinking about that the other day. In the film Steve Albini talks about how he hates nostalgia, but because it's about an era that is 40 plus years ago, it's inevitable that you bring your own nostalgia to it, like when I was looking through the racks, when I was 17, and found this record, with these two African warriors on the cover, and being completely intrigued. Today, obviously, it's so much easier to discover everything, but there is still that element of discovery. It’s like an archaeological dig. That's why I called it a ‘visual document’ instead of a film, because to me, it is like a document of that time, and I just wanted to make something like the band was able to make with that record, this piece of vinyl that lasted through time. I wanted to make the same thing, just take that spirit and make a film of that. Everything started from that record, and I wanted the film to have that same spirit.

OL: That one record seems to have had a lasting influence. There's a lot of testimony in the film, from different people in different countries, saying that those four songs had a big influence on them both at the time, but also, now. I know it's a clichéd question, but is it surprising to you just how much influence that record had, given the very short timescale you were together for?
Max:
I’m not sure whether Mark agrees, but in a nice sort of way, we were quite full of ourselves I think, because we did really, really, believe in what we were doing. We really did believe that we had something that was special, which I don't think is big headed. It's not us thinking oh, we're going to be world famous, or people are going to be talking about us, but it’s that pure and heartfelt belief that what we were doing was worthwhile. For Mick and Marco, who who'd been in a proto punk or punk band before, they really clearly wanted to get away from that, to explore different ways of working.

PosterMC: I seem to remember thinking at the time that 25 years old was really old, and I'll be dead by the time I'm 30, so I didn't really have any ideas about the future. I would also agree with Max that for me, it was total. I was really into this. As time progressed, and I was in another group, and another one, I became what I call a musical snob, in that I had a feeling that what I was involved with was better than anything else, and I wanted to share that and that was really the impulse for it. I've never been any good at business and I don't have any interest in sales, but in retrospect, I'm really pleased that people in their 20s are excited about this sound now, because they've got all this other stuff they can listen to if they like. Something in there resonates with them, and that's wonderful.

MP: When you're in a band, you always think you're better than anyone else, right? And you need that to go on.

OL: And you have to have that cockiness, that confidence, in order to get up on stage in the first place. There are some great lines in the film, though. There's one about “nobody does this for a career”. You do it because you want to do it, and you're not really thinking about where it's going, or the future. You're in the moment all the time.
MC:
I wasn't interested in using rock'n'roll terminology either. So I didn't call them gigs. I called them ‘events’ or perhaps ‘concerts’. When we played together with other bands, often times we would ask them, would you like to go on first? Or shall we? You know, that there wasn't this hierarchy of opener, main band, or any of that stuff. Actually, when we did play with Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, it was organised in that in that way, but generally, it was a different way of viewing things. For Joy Division, when I did go and see them, I thought “whatever”, I wasn’t that impressed. I appreciate them more now in retrospect!

OL: Marco, I wanted to ask you about the Rema perfume that featured in the film, as that is a really interesting and unusual idea. The smell of a gig back then would probably not have been something I would necessarily want to smell, but the guy in the film actually created a perfume based on the Rema Rema record. It's very interesting to think of sound in terms of smell.
MP:
When Gary told me there's a guy in Seattle that has made a perfume about a Rema Rema song, I just couldn't believe it. Here's some young kid in America creating a perfume, a scent, from a song that was done 43 years ago! I thought that was just mind blowing, and I had to find this guy and talk to him. That perfume, in a way, bridges the decades, and I thought also rooted the film in the present. It was a nice way to start and end the film in the present, instead of just in the past. There's also a lot of things I didn't know, that I found out by making the film. I didn't know that Jim Thirwell [Foetus] had seen the band live, or that Bruce Pavitt from Sub Pop was a fan. I’m pleased I got to include Steve Albini too. There's lots of little pieces that kind of fell together. The only one I really wanted to get, but couldn’t, was Thurston Moore, who was a huge fan, but I could never quite get him. Like my friends say, Rema Rema were a musicians band, and if you talk to musicians, they all know Rema Rema. It's funny, I was in LA recently, and I happened to meet David J and he is a fan too.

OL: We should probably wrap this up now, as we have been talking for a while, but one thing I must ask you, Marco, is that in the film’s credits, I spotted Kim Deal is credited as reading an extract from Plato. Is that THE Kim Deal, from The Pixies and The Breeders?
MP:
Yeah, almost forget about that. I was trying to find a voice. I had this quote that I really loved and wanted to include in the film, something from ancient times that related to music, and I was trying to find a voice. I asked different people; Isabella Rossellini, Tilda Swinton, but I always loved Kim Deal’s voice and she was happy to do it. I didn't want to publicise it, as I thought it would be more fun to let people find it. Kind of like an Easter egg hunt, like a secret.

OL: I should really have said “Spoiler Alert” then, before I asked you that! Mark and Max, final question; what would you want people to take away from seeing the film?
MC:
I love the idea of a creative response. Marco has responded creatively to our music and made a film which becomes another piece of art that's informed by, but separate to, the original material. Then James in LA has made his perfume and it's really wonderful that creativity can inspire creativity in in a different form or genre. That’s fantastic.

Max: I like the analogy that the film is like Marco’s baby, because I feel that like that about the music as well. You know, you give birth to something, you create something, but then you let it go out in the world, and people have to forge their own relationship with it. So, I feel when people go to see the film, and when people listen to the music, that they will create, they will construct, their own narratives. They will form their own relationship with that, and that is something that all art does, that is brilliant. It becomes a two-way process, it becomes something that's interactive. People form their own relationship with it.

OL: What about you, Marco?
MC:
I don't think there is an answer. I'm just happy that there's a spectrum of possibility of what people might enjoy about the film, or Rema Rema, or all of these connections, and I'm happy with whatever aspect of that spectrum they take, so there's nothing specific. I don't try and control anything. Just let it be. So, the answer is ‘nothing’!

OL: Which I guess you could say is the same as ‘there is no light at the end of it all’, which is a line from the song ‘Fond Reflections’, bringing us full circle. Thank you all for your time today and your insightful answers, and good luck Marco with the various upcoming screenings in the UK.


Essential Information:
’What You Could Not Visualise’ screens in London and Brighton on June 21st and 22nd, accompanied by Q&As with the Director and some of those featured in the film. Book here

Alan Rider
Contributing Editor

Alan Rider is a Norfolk based writer and electronic musician from Coventry, who splits his time between excavating his own musical past and feeding his growing band of hedgehogs, usually ending up combining the two. Alan also performs in Dark Electronic act Senestra and manages the indie label Adventures in Reality.


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