Almost four decades since it’s domestic release, Karen Marks’ 1981 single Cold Café has finally reaped it’s deserved international credit to become one of Australia's most recognised minimal wave recordings. Efficient Space now showcases the Melbourne artist’s brief but entire discography, including two previously unheard demos, all produced with experimental synthesist Ash Wednesday (The Metronomes, Modern Jazz, Thealonian Music).
A rarity in the then male dominated industry, Marks found her footing in music, first through rock journalism and then in band management. Formally of Adelaide, newly arrived synth-punks JAB (Johnny Crash, Ash Wednesday and Bodhan X) approached her for representation, subsequently contributing tracks to seminal 1978 snapshot Lethal Weapons and playing the Crystal Ballroom's opening night. Wednesday and Crash would soon dissolve JAB, enlisting Mark Ferry and Sean Kelly to create Models. Still under Mark's management, Models became one of the fastest rising new bands of the punk movement, playing to full houses of dedicated and frenzied fans everywhere. Sadly, internal frictions forced Wednesday and Marks to leave after two years, with Crash following three months later.
Her creative relationship with Wednesday fortified with the co-production of his 1980 machine-pop prank Love By Numbers, her swooning chorus uplifting his deadpan count to 100, before the two collaborated on Marks’ own recording persona. Immortalised by the icy Oz wave of Cold Café, her Astor issued 7” also boasted the caffeinated flip Won't Wear It For Long - a should be hit with guitar from future Icehouse member Robert Kretschmer.
Fans know of one more recording - You Bring These Things, a forlorn arrangement of an otherwise unreleased Paul Kelly song, gifted to her by the revered wordsmith. The track only ever appeared on the Astor promotional LP Terra Australis, sinfully alongside Up There Cazaly and Joe Dolce - hard proof that the label grossly misunderstood her talent (Marks recalls their persistent requests to show midriff and cleavage). Locked in a dissatisfying label arrangement and at this stage unwilling to follow her peers to greener pastures overseas, she felt her only way out was to cease all further activities.
At the 11th hour of preparing this retrospective, two tracks unexpectedly surfaced via two cassettes - a paranoid demo version of her signature tune Cold Café, and a long-lost fourth song Problem Page. Both living room recordings follow Marks and Wednesday’s ingenious framework of minimal lyrics, minimal chord progressions.
Like so many others, this came like a bolt out of the blue and, even though it's well before payday, I had to have this astonishing album on vinyl to prove it exists. The feel of the tunes makes me feel like the Impressions do, Curtis Mayfield, the big spaces and instinctive horns and stuff drifting in and out. Great grooves and I can see lots of ghosts nodding along to this with big smiles on their faces. At last! Anthony Cottrell