Sounds & Images
London’s Rema-Rema existed very briefly, forming in 1979 and breaking up before the end of 1980. Wheel in the Roses is the post-punk quintet’s lone release, a four-song EP that was also the first release on the long-running 4AD label (ignoring the four prior releases from when 4AD was called Axis Records). The half-studio, half-live Wheel in the Roses is an odd little record – it starts with a lumbering bassline that plods along into the way noisier than expected feedback explorations of, um, “Feedback Song,” takes a diversion into the Public Image Limited via Flipper party drive of “Rema-Rema,” gets a heady 4/4 dance groove on for “Instrumental” (which isn’t actually an instrumental), and then winds up at “Fond Affections,” a spaced-out dirge.
Rema-Rema’s music isn’t as confrontational as the no wave acts that preceded them in the late 70s, but the feedback-drenched Wheel in the Roses is still far noisier than most records from 1980. With this in mind, I would certainly consider Rema-Rema to be an intriguingly overlooked piece of the 80s underground rock puzzle, fitting somewhere between British post-punk and American noise-rock, yet with an atmospheric slant that’s largely their own (tellingly, Big Black covered “Rema-Rema,” and This Mortal Coil covered “Fond Affections”).
The band’s eponymous song is the most straightforward thing on here; it’s almost like a companion to Flipper’s “Sex Bomb” – it’s repetitive, contains “ha ha ha” vocals, and is grounded by a burly distorted bass mixed upfront. If you’re sick of putting Gang of Four on your post-punk party mixes, “Rema-Rema” might just be the rowdy substitute you’re looking for. The guitar tones are far less stark than Andy Gill’s, but the ways in which Rema-Rema’s feedback assault matches (and pre-dates) early Jesus and Mary Chain levels should do more than enough to make up for it.
“Fond Affections” is the grower here, recorded live with psychedelic guitar feedback, space laser noises, and synthesizer unease coming together for a post-punk funeral march. One might hear a loose space-rock influence (think Chrome, or possibly the more abstract moments of Hawkwind) which stands in bold contrast to the more traditional post-punk found earlier on the record. On an EP packed with unpredictable turns, the noticeably darker feel of “Fond Affections” makes it a perfect closer.
Given the relative obscurity of Rema-Rema, I hesitate to make sweeping comments on their influence. However, I do hear echoes of their sound in a handful of contemporary bands — for example, I don’t know if HEALTH got their hands on Wheel in the Roses at some point, but the merging of guitar noise, synth textures, and danceable post-punk groove found on “Instrumental” seems to predict a song like “Die Slow” decades in advance (vocals aside). On the other hand, the repetitive and shouty “Feedback Song” makes me think of an embryonic Wilderness.
After breaking up the members of Rema-Rema went on to form and/or play in other groups — guitarist Marco Pirroni notably joined Adam and the Ants, and drummer Max Prior worked with Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P Orridge in Psychic TV.