Mark Reeder – Lust & Sound Berlin
By Lee Softley
“Punk Rock, Techno Pioneering to Revolutionary Film Making “
There’s not many people in this world who have had such a colourful and exuberant career as Mark Reeder. Born and raised In “Manchester” UK with an infatuation for German music he decided to visit “West Berlin” in the late 70’s to explore all things musical. This visit was to have such an impact on his life he was never to return to the UK and shaped a roller-coaster journey of excess that would have scared most people away. Throughout the 80’s he was absorbed in the “Punk” and “New Wave” scene in Berlin which was a debaucherous breeding ground for the unknown, the creative and the rebellious.
This limitless scene or movement enticed and consumed artists such as “David Bowie” and “Nick Cave”, captivated the likes of “Joy Division / New order” and alerted the UK media.
Throughout this period Marks time was spent as a squatter, sound engineer, musician, promoter, manager, German representative for Manchester’s “Factory Records” actor, TV presenter and much more.
When the dawn of the 90’s came knocking Mark turned his attention towards to the new breed of electronically produced music which was soon to be branded as “Trance and Techno”. He started the legendary Berlin label “MFS Records” released music for artists such as “Cosmic Baby”, “Humate”, “Alien Nation”, “Marco Zaffarano” and launched / developed the career of super star DJ “Paul Van Dyke”. This was soon followed with a new label “Flesh Records” a new sound and another DJ “Corvin Dalek”
Fast forward to 2011 Mark is a producer and remixer for a new project called “Five Point One”. A project based on creating remixes in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound for bands such as “Depeche Mode“. Another Mark Reeder concept album “Collaborator” was released in 2014 comprising of remixes and co-writes with artists such as “Bernard Sumner (New Order)”, “Pet Shop Boys” “Blank & Jones” & “Bad Lieutenant”.
So you think you maybe know something about the music scene in “Berlin”?
We caught up with Mark Reeder to talk about his lustrous career and his new film ” B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin
1: The film ” B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin” documents your rollercoaster musical & media journey from your arrival in West Berlin in 1979 through to 1989.
Throughout the film you take us through a unique journey of time of hedonism, Punk Rock, New Wave to the outrageous night life and development and death of this era.
For those who haven’t seen the film yet can you tell us about your original motivation to visit Berlin when this was a part of the world that was in turmoil with political unrest and “still resembled a bomb site from the 2nd world war”?
MR – Berlin was virtually an unknown place back then. If anything, people only knew of a mythical Berlin such as portrayed in Christopher Isherwood books, but that was a Berlin before the war, it was either that, or the cold war city of Funeral in Berlin, The Quiller Memorandum or The spy who came in from the cold, these were really the only images we had. The only reports you ever saw on TV or read in the newspapers about modern day Berlin were either negative, or cold war stories. They had to be, as no one really wanted to report anything positive about Germany. In most people’s minds the Krauts were still the enemy. In reality, we didn’t really know much about Berlin and most people even had no idea that it was stuck in the middle of communist East Germany. So, apart from it being the place where World War 2 had ended it was off the map and out of people’s minds.
I think Bowie had gone there simply because he realised it was a forgotten back-water and far away from prying eyes. Besides, most people seriously believed this would be the flashpoint where the third world war would begin, because of the potential for armed conflict which might be sparked by some small incident between the four powers who governed the city (British, American, French and Soviet Union) and faced each other off on a daily basis. Media reports on Berlin were certainly very few and far between. I vaguely recall a TV programme I saw in the mid-70s about art & architecture in Berlin where the presenter went to both sides of the city, but that was it. Sometime in the early 70s, I had also discovered what would later become known as Krautrock. German bands making psychedelic, trippy and quite frankly weird music, most of it with lots of electronics. Early experimental Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, Can, Cluster, Faust, Neu, Amon Duul, Popol Vu, The Cosmic Jokers, Guru Guru and Klaus Schulze, that sort of thing. I became fascinated by this alternative and strange style of music, because almost no one was making this kind of unconventional sound in Britain. Everything was geared towards making hits and selling records in America. Besides, synths were just too expensive. Back then, before punk, the kind of electronic music I listened to was stuff like the Dr Who theme by Delia Derbyshire, or her band White Noise, or Tonto’s Expanding Headband and Walter Carlos. In my teens, I listened to a lot of progressive rock like Hendrix or Pink Floyd too, but I also got into rougher stuff like Iggy & the Stooges, the Pink Fairies or Todd Rundgren and almost any band that used a synthesizer I found exciting, especially Hawkwind or Gong and the magnificent Frankenstein by Edgar Winter. The only alternative to all this, was commercial rock or commercial pop-trash and there was loads of that.
Berlin was a place we never associated with music until Lou Reed made an album called Berlin – even though he’d never actually been there (we didn’t know that at the time) – but just the idea of Berlin which he conjured up, was enough to intrigue me and my mates. It was so much different from Lisa Minelli’s Cabaret or the Blue Angel. Then Bowie went to Berlin and returned with a fascinating new record, Low. I thought it was an amazing album, very dark and desperate, especially the instrumental tracks like Warsawa and through it, I guess I became even more curious. What had happened there? It sounded exciting. I wanted to go to Germany too and hopefully buy loads of unknown Krautrock records. But then along came The Sex Pistols and changed everything. The music suddenly spoke to us. Immediately, I found I could totally relate to this sound of music. Somehow it had a really profound impact on us all. It was full of energy and attitude and it represented what we had all been feeling. Our frustration and anger was represented in short stabs of aggressive music.
I was very lucky, I had a job. Although I had originally trained as an advertising designer, I hated that job and went to work in the small Virgin Record shop in Manchester, while most of my mates were unemployed with zero job prospects. I remember reading an article in The Sun about a disgusting new band from London called the Sex Pistols. Then I discovered we had a couple of copies of Anarchy in the UK in our shop. I played it at every opportunity. It didn’t go down too well with our mainly hippy clientele. Excited, I took a copy to a party that Saturday night and for a moment, hi-jacked the record player from the likes of Bad Company to let my mates hear this amazing new record. It had only been playing for about 30 seconds when big Wrangler-clad hippy came over to the record player and said “what’s this shit?” and the put his cigarette out on the record while it was playing! After the Pistols appeared on TV and caused the Nation to question the attitude of this rebellious Punk-Rock music, we became the only shop in Manchester selling punk records, so I experienced this musical explosion first hand and became immersed in the Manchester punk scene. Punk just gave us a way to express our feelings. The rebelliousness of the music and its hard, social commentary, pissed off the traditional music establishment. People questioned punk in the papers and on the telly. The provocative images of punks wearing swastikas, without doubt sent the wrong signals however. It was merely a fashion statement intended to shock and piss off our parent’s generation who had all been involved in winning the war against Nazi Germany. But it backfired.
The notion that Britain had won the war was like a farce to us, especially so when you had to do your homework in a freezing room lit by candlelight. At least none of the working classes seemed to be reaping the benefits of this victory, because practically everyone was either unemployed or on strike. After the surge of popular music and fashion in the swinging sixties, it appeared that everyone was scraping the barrel in the seventies. The contradiction that Germany had lost the war was offset by the fact it was now a thriving industrial nation with almost no unemployment. There was a sudden rise of the British right wing, all claiming that immigrants had stolen our jobs and were ruining our culture (while dancing to ska music) naturally because some Punks flirted with Nazi imagery, they also thought the Punks were Nazis too, so to counter this negative image, the Punks created the Rock Against Racism movement and in a show of solidarity, Reggae bands started to appear on the line up at almost every punk concert. These were exciting times. But as Punk became more and more popular, I saw it was also starting to lose its grip. Serious bands like Joy Division were struggling to get gigs, while parody punk by Jilted John and Plastique Bertrand were racing up the charts. Politically too, things were looking pretty grim, after years of strikes and misery, the spectre of Margret Thatcher was also looming upon the horizon. So I decided to leave.
2: West Berlin took a hold over you, you were living as a squatter with resistance from the police. So what was so infectious about the place that held you there and it becoming a permanent fixture?
MR – Firstly, Berlin had a flair about it that immediately captivated me. The atmosphere was so different to anywhere I had been. For some reason, I instantly felt at home. I guess that is probably one of the reasons I have stayed. I feel at home here. I also discovered it was incredibly cheap to live here too. Everything was subsidised by the West German Government. To get to Berlin, you had three options, air, road or rail. There was no cheap air travel back then and as I missed my train connection, I ended up hitching a lift with a hippy student. We arrived late in the night, a dismal, rainy night. From my initial perceptions of the city, it really did resemble a scene from The spy who came in from the cold. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know anyone in Berlin and I couldn’t speak German. From my balcony window I could see a huge red bricked building. It was like being in Manchester. The next morning however, the weather was lovely and the city looked quite beautiful. A mixture of blue skies, bullet riddled and renovated ruins, surrounded by lots of trees.
The flat I was allowed to stay in was in a beautiful old housing block doomed to demolition. It had survived the bombing of world war two virtually intact and now it was being threatened to be pulled down by a wrecking ball. I couldn’t believe it. I was given a skeleton key to a huge, 6 room apartment, with a balcony, parquet flooring, stucco decoration and a white marble bathroom. Why on earth did they want to tear this building down to build cheap, concrete flats? I was told I could stay there for free until the demolition party arrived. Months later, the cops came eventually after the whole house had become occupied and then the battles began. After a few days wandering about the centre of West Berlin in the search of record shops, I decided to visit the East part of the city. People I met in the West kept telling me I couldn’t go there, but I knew you could. I had no idea what to expect there either, but what I discovered was a true revelation. It was like a scene from a Star Trek episode. Once I crossed the border at Checkpoint Charlie, it was as if I had been beamed down into another world, stuck in the 1950s. Uniforms everywhere, lightweight aluminium monopoly money, ersatz coffee, but this was real Orwellian socialism. I needed to find out more.
3: The story and supporting footage in the film really captivates the period almost like it was recorded yesterday. Quoting words from the film “If you can remember the 80’s you wasn’t there” How was all the information documented for the story? Had you made a journal throughout the 80’s in anticipation for something like this?
MR – No, absolutely not. It all came together by chance. The film was originally Heiko Lange and Joerg Hoppe’s idea. Joerg had been the manager of Extrabreit during the 80s and in the 90s was involved with the development of many German TV music programmes. He also has a TV production company. During a discussion one day, they realised that there weren’t any music documentaries about West Berlin in the 80s. So they set about compiling images of West Berlin from all kinds of sources and formats, Super8, VHS, Beta, U-Matic etc. They didn’t want to make a traditional “talking heads” documentary where old people are seen reminiscing about the past, they wanted the images to speak for themselves. After Joerg had heard my album Five Point One, I met up with him to discuss the possible restoration of the original 80s music to make the songs sound good in the cinema and if I could also make them in surround sound. Joerg explained that he wanted to make a collage of images, made up from original 80s footage with a soundtrack of alternative 80s music. Although Joerg knew me mainly from my 90s trance activities, he knew virtually nothing about my 80s past. In passing, I told him that I had also made a few TV shows for British Telly, which were unseen in Germany. I thought there might be a few images of 80s West Berlin that he could use. I gave him a box of VHS tapes and a few days later he called me and said “what is that material you gave me?” (I thought, crikey! what did I give him?) He was so excited. He had never seen this footage. Suddenly, their original idea had been thrown overboard and I became the main protagonist. I would be telling the story of West Berlin, as seen through the eyes of a cynical Brit… a Brit who was also part of the Berlin avant-garde scene too. It was hard to remember those times in detail. It was simply my everyday life and I certainly never thought it would ever interest anyone. I had to make about five very long interviews before they could even start to match my story together with the images they had collected. Then Klaus Maeck came on board as the director, and there followed more interviews as the film was fine-tuned. Meanwhile, I had to restore all the songs we wanted to use and also write the score music, which I wanted to sound like it was from the 80s.
4: Like a lot of films there’s also a partnering book. Is the book written by yourself did the book come before the film and is it more detailed?
MR – Yes the B-Book is a little more detailed. It was originally going to be a collection of transcriptions taken from the interviews I gave while we were trying to find out which bits of my life were interesting. Hollow Skai, a journalist from Hamburg was given this task, but it soon emerged that it needed more to make it into a book, so I basically wrote the book to follow the film and fleshed it out with more details and a few extra stories that didn’t appear in the film simply because they weren’t filmed. I am not a writer, so it’s not going to win the Pulitzer Prize, and I only had three days in which to write the text in English, but I tried my best as I wanted people to be able to understand it and hopefully, be entertained.
5: There’s a great cast for the film that includes yourself, “Nick Cave”, “New Order” Westbam” German pop idol “Nena” and “Gudrun Gut” enhancing what is a captivating story.
How long the film production in the making and what was involved in pulling it all together?
MR – The film from start to finish took about five years. First, Joerg Hoppe had to collect and view many rolls of Super8 and 16mm film and VHS tapes and select images he thought looked interesting and represented Berlin in the 80s. He viewed many private rolls of film and TV images. The private films were the most interesting, but unlike today, where you can film hours on end in high definition on your phone, a Super8 camera had only about 2-5 minutes of film in a cassette, so when you filmed back then, you were very selective and literally shot seconds. This meant we had a lot of little snippets of film. Just a load of fleeting images. Of course one of these doesn’t make a movie, but when they are all collected and stuck together you have a film. This was the idea.
Then when I came on board, with my own footage, TV shows and personal story, the images could then be sourced to represent the events I had experienced. Also being involved, I knew a lot of people who had filmed during that time too, like Knut Hofmeister, Manfred Jelinski & Joerg Buttgereit. Eventually, the pictures and the story started to gel together and once Klaus Maeck became the Director, he managed to complete the puzzle. During this process, Micha Adam and I had to start to renovate the music. This was also a lot of work. Joerg wanted the music to sound good in the cinema. As most of the songs were either on record or cassette, we needed to restore many of the records and take out the really bad clicks, crackles, pops and hiss. Then we had to strip them down and rework selected frequencies so we could isolate certain instruments and the vocals to enhance them. Then rebuild the music back in stereo and in 5.1 surround. It took about three months for us to complete one track. Some were more difficult than others, such as Koma Kino by Joy Division which was originally a demo released as a flex-disc, or Sleeper in Metropolis by Anne Clark, took ages to do. The end result is that you get to hear them all in 5.1 surround for the first time and they all have a better dynamic range, while still being the same song, crackles and all. I also had to make the atmospheric score music for the scenes where we had no songs, or couldn’t obtain the license for a track we wanted to use. Not everyone was convinced about our film and therefore wouldn’t allow us to use their song in the film, so I had to reimagine the idea and make my own, such as the song I wrote called Mauerstadt. I tried to make the tracks sound as if they had come from various genres of the 80s by only using instruments of the period. Back then, we didn’t use so many instruments anyway, and that’s the way we kept it.
6: There’s also a great sound track for the film released over 2 CDs. Tracks are featured from yourself, Westbam, Joy Division, Malaria to mention a few. Westbam feat Richard Butler “You Need The Drugs” really captures the essence of the film along with your own title “Grenzubergang”. Other than the obvious features such as “Joy Division”, were all the tracks recorded specially for the film? Can you also tell us about CD2?
MR – The soundtrack CD was compiled from almost all the songs used in the film. We didn’t include the Sex Pistols or Nena because we mainly wanted to feature the other, lesser well-known artists. Klaus Maeck compiled the CD1 and I compiled CD2. All the score tracks, such as Oranienstrasse or Koepenickerstrasse were all recorded especially for the film. As I mentioned, the songs were all reworked for the film, so the versions you hear on the soundtrack CD are actually unique to the movie soundtrack. Of course, as all the songs are not 4/4 beat tracks, they were very difficult to mix together like you would in a normal DJ set. Also, some of the artists didn’t want us to fade or lose their intros or outros either, which really made life difficult. So, I tried my best to merge the tracks rather than mix them in the traditional sense.
7: Watching the film It projects an image of living with no limits, form moment to moment with no boundaries and very radical ideas. This would have been quite a contrast to the “No sex please we’re British” attitude at that time. Was this radical Berlin way of thinking a big attraction to the like’s of “Nick Cave”,” David Bowie” and “New Order” who all ventured to West Berlin as a creative discovery?
MR – I don’t think they were initially aware of the kind of lifestyle people were living before they came here. Apart from the things we thought we knew from books or TV. It was only after being here a while did it become apparent what kind of people were living in the city. It was a city full of artists, draft dodgers (mainly pacifists, gay men, transvestites) and weirdos who didn’t fit in.
Bowie realised he could find himself and be himself here and disappear, Nick also discovered himself here and Bernard found it therapeutic. The creativity and inspiration came from the historical surroundings, the atmosphere of the city and the people they met… plus cheap drink and drugs.
8: In the early stages of the film you’re quite heavily involved in promoting bands and namely the girl band “Malaria” who seemed to dislike “Joy Division”. You also started your own band produced by “Bernard Sumner” Can you tell us more about this?
MR – I became friends with Gudrun Gut and Bettina Koester before they formed Malaria! Their band was called Mania D. Gudrun worked in a record shop called Zensor. She said she didn’t like Joy Division, but that was only after Ian had died and because almost every customer wanted a Joy Division record. When they formed Malaria! I became their sound engineer and manager and support band with my own band Die Unbekannten (The Unknown). In 1984, after a few years as Die Unbekannten, we expanded our line up and decided to change our name to Shark Vegas, just before our European tour with New Order. I thought most people don’t know how to pronounce Die Unbekannten, so we will give them an easier name. During a break on the tour, we went with Bernard Sumner to Conny Planks legendary studio near Cologne to mix You Hurt Me, it was a dreadful experience. The sound engineer had a slipped disc and had to lie on a camp bed in front of the mixing desk and shout out instructions to Bernard, while Conny Plank played table tennis in the yard. The end result was rubbish. Consequently, we ended up going to Manchester to do the final mixdown.
9: Its seems like part of the attraction to Berlin for artists in this period was that it was cheap to live there? Is this still the case as increasing lots of artists still flock to Berlin?
MR – For a big capital city, Berlin is still the cheapest in Europe (even if the rents have gone up) and it attracts the same type of people, artists, musicians and anyone who feels outcast in their own town. It is also culturally colourful and is probably the last outpost of free thinking too. I think it is a great place to live and discover yourself.
10: Scottish Journalist “Muriel Gray” is featured in the film whilst covering a feature of West Berlin for the UK TV series “The Tube”. It seems there was some resistance to TV exposure for this undiscovered playground in West Berlin and initially from “blixa bargeld” also featured in the film. What affect would this exposure have on the scene there and the outside world?
MR – Back then, Berlin was still seen as enemy territory. The scene I tried to portray in The Tube (ITV) and on Red Herrings (BBC) was of the Berlin I knew. I wanted the British public to see that Berlin was different to how they imagined it. I wanted to show the abstract, artistic approach to music and art that existed here and I wanted people to be inspired and I wanted to put my mates on British telly. Muriel had read something in the NME about the Berlin avant-garde scene and the squatters and as Britain was in a revolutionary mood itself, with the coal-miners strikes, squatted housing and rise of heroin amongst the young, it somehow seemed fitting to come over and make a programme about Berlin and I wanted them to make a film about both sides of the city too and not just about West Berlin. The Berlin scene undoubtedly had an impact on the outside world, even if at times, indirectly. Bernard Sumner probably wouldn’t have written Blue Monday if I hadn’t sent him tapes of the hi energy music I was listening to in the Metropol disco. If Martin Gore of Depeche Mode hadn’t lived here for a while, their sound almost certainly wouldn’t have changed the way it did. Their producer, Gareth Jones had just finished recording an album with Neubauten and this obviously inspired them to make People are people. Frank Tovey of Fad Gadget recorded Collapsing New People which was inspired by hanging out with Neubauten, the same goes for Nick Cave and the creation of The Bad Seeds, or the on-stage image of Malaria! Which was arguably stolen by Robert Palmer for his Addicted to love video, as it portrays five girls standing in front of a red backdrop, all dressed in black, with white faces and red lips.
11: You are also featured as a journalist / TV presenter in the film. How did this come about and how was it received amongst the sensitive West Berliners?
MR – Again, that was pure chance. Chris Bohn who wrote for NME at the time, was approached to make the programme as he had just written a piece on the Berlin avant garde scene. He told them to contact me and I was then asked to put the programme together. Initially I toyed with the idea of putting my own band “die Unbekannten” on the show, but then opted against it, as I thought it would be seen as self-promotion and that was very uncool back then. So I just put the people I liked in the show instead. People were also very camera shy back then and it was always embarrassing to have a camera crew sniffing around the scene looking for images of drug takers or something similarly sinister. The shows I made for foreign television stations were never seen by Germans… until now.
12: Interestingly unlike some others at this time you took a keen interest East Berlin behind the wall. The film describes your experiences there and how you had an affection for easty kids who were deprived from the music you enjoyed. Its seems like there was a lot of red tape bureaucracy involved just to enter the east but not only did you visit the East you arranged a secret gig there for the band ” Die Toten Hosen” Its sounds like it would have taken a secret covert operation to get this to happen, so did you manage this and what where the risks involved?
MR – Almost as soon as I arrived in the West, I went to East Berlin. As I mentioned before, I found most West Berliners were reluctant about telling me how to cross over the border and would say it’s either impossible or why do you want to go there? Eventually I managed it. It was very exciting. Checkpoint Charlie looked a bit like an armed petrol station. The huge Control tower in the centre of the street housed silhouetted border guards, who trained their binoculars on your every move. This was very serious stuff. You couldn’t make funny comments, crack daft jokes or make sly remarks to these guys. They didn’t take any shit at all. The long, silent walk from West Berlin, over no-man’s land to the checkpoint seemed to take forever. Ever had that eerie feeling of being watched? Well crossing over the border, you knew it wasn’t merely a feeling. My first visit into communist East Berlin was utterly fascinating. It was like being beamed back in time, down onto a parallel world. I went over almost every day for the first month. I think I became addicted to the thrill of crossing the border, which certainly became more acute once I stated to smuggle music over. I desperately wanted to discover more, not only East Berlin but the other Eastern Block communist countries too.
One day, I saw a lad with spikey hair and mauve drainpipe trousers, he was a real rarity in a State where almost all young people seemed to wear Wrangler jeans and jackets. I stopped him and asked him if he liked Punk music. We got talking, I asked him about the underground scene and if there were any gigs by Punk bands in East Berlin. He said “no, it’s forbidden”. So I gave him my address and asked him to send me a postcard if he heard of anything. This was the only way to communicate, as making a telephone call to the West was very difficult and all calls were monitored. After a few months, I received a letter from a girl asking me to meet her on a particular day in the round cocktail bar of the Palast der Republik (The East German Parliament building). She was probably sent to sound me out. Through her I was introduced to the fledgling but secretive East Berlin Punk scene. Punk didn’t officially exist in the so-called Worker & Farmer’s State. One day, whilst sitting in a bar with some Eastie friends, a Wrangler–clad hippy looking bloke overheard our conversation and we got talking about music. He told us he had an electric guitar and that he played it in a Church at what was known as a blues mass. Being part of the Church in East Germany was a form of silent protest, as the only religion was Communism. Electric guitars were almost impossible to find in East Berlin, you couldn’t just go to a shop, buy one and form a band. You needed official permission, even to own one. Which meant you had to appear before a commission, who would give you a permit to own and play… that is, if they thought you were good enough. After meeting this guy, the idea of playing a secret gig in East Berlin, in the church was born. It was quite thrilling. At first, I thought maybe I could play in the Church with my own band Die Unbekannten. I had performed a few months previously at a very secret gig in Czechoslovakia, but that had been so very difficult to organise and after some initial enquiries it was decided we couldn’t do it, so I asked Die Toten Hosen if they would be interested. We asked the priest if it would be possible and he said, it’s not a gig, it’s a religious service. It took many months to arrange and get the instruments and it was kept very secret. On the day of the gig, we took the band over the border in small groups of three, so we wouldn’t attract attention or be recognised as a big group. If it all went wrong I was concerned more for my Eastie friends. The worst the East Gemans would do to me or the Hosen, would be to throw us out and ban us, whereas my friends had to live there and the consequences they would have to face would be much harsher. The idea of never being able to return to the East if we got caught actually really worried me. Regardless of the dangers, we all decided to go through with it. Of course, under such a totalitarian regime, you never know who in your circle of friends the informer. So we tried to keep the numbers down to a selected trusted few. That said, I think everyone expected the police to burst in at any moment. We managed to pull it off, which was also the incentive to perform another secret gig, five years later. By then, the Hosen had become very popular and quite legendary in East Germany for their previous daring performance. Through the help of a US Army friend, we managed to smuggle the bands own instruments and a VHS camera into East Berlin for this second illegal gig which was disguised as a concert for starving Romanian orphans. This is the footage you see in B-Movie.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, I discovered from my STASI file that the young lad I had originally met, was in fact, a STASI informer.
13: In the movie there’s a very dark period captured in West Berlin towards the end of the 80’s. The Punk Rock and New Wave scene was dying rapidly over taken by more political unrest. Lots of the creative force and artists that had been involved had moved on or dispended. Can you describe this period for us?
MR – By the second half of the 80s the experimental, avant garde scene had basically folded in on itself. It was no longer fresh, or exciting. The alternative music scene was moving away as technology opened up new ideas and sounds. Such as, sound sampling and new sounding digital synths. The focus was more on Frankie Goes to Hollywood or Prince than Neubauten. Many of the original avant-garde bands had already broken up and were involved in other projects. As I was interested in club music and synths, I spent a lot of time in dance clubs like UFO or Metropol. But the majority didn’t go to clubs like that and drowned their frustrations in alc and drugs. Some artists moved away from Berlin in an effort to escape. There was a bleak future ahead. Not for me, I always had thrills and excitement in the East and if it was boring in the West, I would simply go over the wall for adventure.
14: In the later stages of the film you take us through the new revolution of electronic music championed by the likes of the DJ “Westbam”. This was the birth of what became “Techno & Trance”. The technology used back then shown in the film and what was being created might seem prehistoric now but it was very important at the time. Can you take us through what was happening then and how important it was for the people of Berlin?
MR – The sound sampler changed our perception of music making. It provided a new creative platform. Even Neubauten used one on their Halber Mensch album and that in turn was quite revolutionary. Electronic dance music had been slowly evolving since the mid-seventies, but it was always so expensive and complicated to produce. With cheaper synths and samplers people could make new music and use it in a creative way. The way a DJ also performed had also changed with Hi-Energy disco music and that just kept evolving too. So by the late 80s and the birth of acid house, the seamless DJ set was the norm and a far cry from the track-for-track sets with each song compared by the DJ. By the time the Berlin Wall fell, we had already established a small techno scene and a techno club – The UFO. Spearheaded by local DJ heroes Monika Dietl, Westbam, Rokk and Tanith. It really didn’t matter how many people were involved at that time. We lived in our own little microcosm, fully apart from rock music and mainstream pop.
Then the Wall came down and everything changed. The Eastie kids could choose for the first time in over 52 years, what kind of music they wanted to listen to. No longer did the State dictate to them what they could or could not hear. They chose techno. Fast, driving instrumental club music with no hard to understand lyrics. Finally they could also experiment with drugs too and the drug of choice became ecstasy. A fairly new drug that enhanced the feeling of euphoria and the sound of the music. Also, the former death-strip which ran between the East/West Border became our playground, these old derelict buildings, abandoned for 40 years, became the venues for excessive techno parties. The first love parade in July 1989, was a modest affair of just over a hundred and fifty people or so, the following July it had grown to many thousands already. This became a major attraction in the techno calander and by 1999 the love parade had swollen to over one and a half million.
15: Since you lived and breathed this period what is your opinion on the debate of the true origins of “Techno”? Did it originate from the USA or Germany?
MR – For me personally, techno began in Germany. The Germans were making electronic music for years before anyone else. The DJ version as we know it, was created in the USA by artists who really wanted to make a dance version of Kraftwerk. Kraftwerk made an album in 1982 called Electric Café, initially it was to be called Technopop the name of one of the album tracks. The ideology of Techno and its lifestyle was created here in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which certainly turned it into a popular movement.
16: Before we move on the 90’s is there anything else you would like to tell us regarding the film? Maybe your band featured in the film or other bands? Your band management, the reference to your other films or anything else related to ” B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin” and a short incentive for people to watch it?
MR – The film is not a nostalgic trip down memory lane. It serves to reveal and inspire. It’s not the usual documentary film where you see a bunch of old people claiming “it was all brilliant back then”. The film shows the 80s in a here and now sense. My narrative tells my story of the city as I experienced it. It is not a success story either, I don’t drive away into the sunset in a Porsche. It just tells a tale of West-Berlin during the cold war, as seen through my eyes. My life in the music business went from working in a record shop to managing a band to playing in one, to being a record label manager and back to making music again. I’m quite sure, none of this would have been possible for me if I had stayed in Manchester. My life would have been very different. I came to Berlin and became addicted to adventure, thrills and history. I think anyone interested in the musical history of this fascinating city should watch B-Movie, as it shows not only how it used to look like, but how it sounded too. The things we created, paved the way for us to realise our ambitions in the 90s. I hope that people will be inspired by the film enough to also realise that you don’t need to go to a casting to be creative.
17: So its 1990 the Berlin wall has gone, the Punk / New wave era has died, there’s a happy state of freedom across west and East Berlin. A new breed and culture surrounding electronic music was on the rise and the start of the “Love Parade”. You started what became the legendary “MFS” Records. What was the motive and objective behind the label?
MR – In the few months before the fall of the wall, I had been invited by the East German state owned record label AMIGA, to produce an album in East Berlin for their indie rock band “Die Vision”. As it later transpired, this would become the last album ever recorded in communist East Berlin and I would be the only westerner ever to have this privilege. Of course, during the recording of this album, I had been introduced to all the record label executives and A&Rs who were responsible for the production. When the wall came down, I suggested to them that they could now finally release real music and should embrace the latest form of new club music, techno. Having never been to a techno club they had no idea what I was talking about and said if you know so much about it, you do it. So i did. I decided to call my label MFS – Mastermined for Success, because I liked the idea of using the three letters of the dreaded STASI (MfS – or Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit). I thought, Eastie kids will be able to terrorise their parents with it and imagined the horrified faces of the former communist party members when their kids came home wearing an MFS t-shirt or carrying an MFS record. It was the first indie label in East Germany. The idea was to provide a platform mainly for East Germans. However, none of them had any equipment or money, so I had to fall back on my friends in West Berlin to start me off with my first couple of releases. The sound I really wanted to release on MFS was actually more of a trippier style of hypnotic trance inducing techno music (people call it chill-out today) but I also wanted to combine the feeling of emotion when on E with a more melodic style of music. At the start of the 90s, techno was all hard and banging with virtually no melody or riff at all. Most of my older friends just didn’t get it and all yearned for some kind of melodic hook-line. So I thought if I can combine the emotional tonalities of Wagner with techno and also make it hypnotic at the same time, then I can induce them to a E’d up trance-like state. I first presented this idea to Cosmic Baby and he came up with his own version of my suggestion and I just let him and eventually the others, go with the flow. I created the sub-line for my label MFS trance dance, which the media soon shortened to trance.
18: The label featured some of the best Trance & Techno names across Germany and beyond. The releases were frequent and quality driven. What was some of the key moments for you whilst running MFS?
MR – At the start, I had so much animosity. The Berlin techno fraction hated the idea that I was releasing anything different to their hard techno music. They even tried to stop me from getting a distributor, but eventually, thanks to the intervention of the editor of FrontPage techno magazine who supported us, we eventually managed to secure a distribution deal. Another high point was releasing the first Trance compilation Transformed from Beyond. Of course, we had many highs, especially when our releases were well received.
19: Whilst running MFS also seemed to really get involved in the artists development. Paul van Dyke was one of the obvious examples, from a cabinet maker to international DJ status. How important was this for you? And does artist development really exist anymore?
For me, artist development was always important and in a way it still is. I wanted to make albums with my artists and create a catalogue of work. That requires not only dedication and patience from the label, but also loyalty from the artist and a willingness to take the rough with the smooth. I believed in all of my artists. I didn’t expect them all to create massive selling records, but I did expect them to make credible music. Not that major record labels are investing in artist development anymore, but in the commercial pop world there are other companies that exist only doing that. Artist development doesn’t belong to a Techno label really. As for MFS, Having been in a band and on a label, I wanted to provide the artists on my label with the care and attention that I had always hoped for myself. So I ran my label just the same way as I would have liked to have had. Certainly, I was inspired by Factory and Mute but I wanted to provide something more. It was a lot of very hard work. I suggested musical ideas, designed their images, their record covers, their artist’s profiles, compiled and mastered their tracks, released their records and designed their adverts and managed their gigs and careers. All they had to do was be productive. It was a 24 hour a day job, because you are constantly thinking of ways to promote your artist and elevate them from obscurity to stardom. Paul van Dyk came to me as a carpenter’s assistant and begged me to help him to become a professional DJ. I told him I would if he promised he would try to be the best DJ in the world, as there were no prizes for second. I put a lot of focus on his career and because he had no idea about making music I first teamed him up with Cosmic Baby to create The Visons of Shiva, then afterwards with another of my artists, VOOV and Johnny Klimek, as they were also very competent producers. They managed to realise his musical ideas.
20: Towards the end of the 90’s you seem to have become disillusioned with what was called the “Trance scene” and was quoted saying “It’s become like high St Trance music, music that you would listen to whilst buying shoes”. Was this a period reminiscent of the late 80s as in the film ” B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin”?
Yes, in a sense it was. For me, trance had become a dirty word. It was no longer trance inducing. It was just hard and fast. It had become soulless and sexless. It was like music by numbers. The people making trance seemed to be using the same formula over and over again. To me, trance had become very tedious. It had become almost a parody of itself.
21: You started a new record label “Flesh Records” promoting a new Techno induced sound called “Wet & Hard” With DJ “Corvin Dalek” as the focal point. This new breed and sound was to promote a more sexual energy maybe lost in trance music. Can you tell us more about it and what you were aiming to achieve?
I thought, we are entering a new millennium and after ten years of techno & trance, it was about time kids started to dance to their own tune. Although very creative, minimal was also lacking in sexuality, so we offered the then clubbing public an alternative, something a little different, and something they could maybe develop? I created Wet&Hard with Hungarian DJ Corvin Dalek. I wanted to embrace the open sexuality of the Eastern European nations into Europe, by giving them a musical platform to play on. I just wanted to push the boundaries a bit and give people a way out, another option to be creative in. After all, dancing is a sexual ritual.
22: This seemed like what was quite a successful period with lots of travelling involved, releases hitting the UK and features in such as “Ministry Of Sound”. Radio 1 play was received but it all seemed to die down a few years into 2000. What happened or changed?
By mid 2007, Corvin, who was actually on the edge of international success, decided to hang up his headphones and stop DJing. It was a major blow and that’s when I decided to stop. He just couldn’t accept that what we had achieved musically and ideologically, had started to resonate around the world. It was very sad and frustrating for me. Again I had put all I had into his career, but he couldn’t take it.
23: Between 2011 and 2014 you stepped away from running record labels you were producing the concept albums “Collaborator” and “Five Point One”. What prompted or inspired this change and can you tell us more about these projects?
I had been working on a theatre project with Joerg Buttgereit (Capt Berlin vs Hitler) and whilst in the studio with Micha Adam, I made a remix for a Blank & Jones track they had made with Bernard Sumner that I had set up. This resulted in the reworking all of Blank & Jones vocal-trance tracks into proper retro-modern songs. This album was called ReOrdered. They even created a label for it So 80s and from there I just got more and more work as a remixer. Being a fan of multi-channel mixes, I decided to remix all my remixes in 5.1 surround sound. Up until then the only music that was available in 5.1 was Pink Floyd, King Crimson or Depeche Mode. I thought it’s for all those who have surround systems at home. So I made the compilation Five Point One (hear it on www.5point1.org). That was the album that got me involved in B-Movie. Collaborator was a project that James Nice of Factory Benelux proposed to me. He thought it would be cool to release an album of mainly Bernard Sumner collaborations, with a few new remixes such as Sugarland by Marnie or Koishii & Hush and a couple of rare tracks.
24: Regarding your experiences, if you could do any of this again would you change anything?
No, not really, well… maybe a few things perhaps.
25: What else is going on to date with mark Reeder? What’s next? Is the door open to make another film like a “B movie the sound of Trance & Techno 1990 to 2000?
I am currently doing a remix for New Order. The producers of B-Movie are thinking of doing a sequel from 1990-2000 or something like that. We will see…
Once again thank you for agreeing to the interview and congratulations on ” B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin”- Lee softley
Film Trailer : https://vimeo.com/116847987
Photography REF Mark Reeder
Mike Mannix was a founding partner in Zone Magazine and this article was originally posted in Zone Magazine in 2016