We all have our own personal soundtrack – a collection of songs that have defined pivotal moments and that for some mystical reason just stick with us. Backtrack, a new series from LOLA, is all about capturing that sonic sentiment. In each installment we’ll sit down with some of Berlin’s most inspiring characters and get the lowdown on records that have shaped their sound, careers and, indeed, their lives.
For the debut edition of Backtrack, we’re thrilled to speak with our very first LOLA cover star – musician and producer Mark Reeder. Having moved to Berlin from Manchester in the late 1970s, Mark has enjoyed a long and illustrious career that shows no signs of slowing down. He’s a prolific remixer and collaborator, member of Shark Vegas and former manager of Malaria!, and perhaps best known for B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin 1979-1989, the documentary film that charts his life through heady 80s Berlin. If you’ve got a penchant for post-punk and Factory Records, garnished with a dollop of 90s German techno and NDW, Mark’s eclectic offering will be right up your Straße.
The first song I remember loving:
The Tornados ‘Telstar’ (1962)
Telstar was a communications satellite that the Americans put into space in the 1960s, maybe 61, and The Tornados made a song dedicated to it. It had no vocals and it was instrumental, but it wasn’t supposed to be – Joe Meek, who was supposed to sing on it, couldn’t get up that morning and it ended up being left as an instrumental. It would always play in the mornings and I would always say to my mum that I wanted to hear it again and again. She eventually got fed up and drove me to Rumbelows Records in Denton, gave me the money and told me to ask the lady at the counter for it. I was 5 years old.
My favourite song as a kid:
The Beatles ‘Help!’ (1965)
From their first hits, it seemed the Beatles were always on the radio before going to school in the mornings. It was the height of Beatlemania and everything revolved around them. We had a lot of Beatles records, like ‘She Loves You ’and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. I recall my mother commenting on the ‘disgusting‘ length of their hair, when they returned from a trip to America. It only made me like them more. I even collected Beatles bubble gum cards which cost a penny, in the hope I’d eventually get the full set, which made up a poster. I remember seeing them perform ‘Help!’ on the telly. It was a video before there were such things as videos, and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. The band were dressed in black polo neck sweaters, and looked like The Tornados, but this film was all in extreme close-up and it was all in and out of focus. I immediately loved ‘Help!’. It was a song from their new film, but I wasn’t so interested in that. I was more into Dr Who and sci fi films. i just liked the song and its b side, ‘I’m down’.
The first record that I bought with my own money
Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland (1969)
That was the first album I bought. When I was 11, I would do odd jobs and run errands for neighbours for a bit of pocket money, and I saved that along with money I got for my birthday and Christmas. As a little kid, when my elder cousin would have to look after me he would drag me with him to the record shop. I remember seeing this album cover with the naked ladies and I thought ‘What is that?!’ I listened to it in the shop, and it sounded like science fiction. The next week I wanted to hear it again. The other side sounded completely different, and then I found out it was a double record that had four sides! I’d never heard of a double album before. One day I snuck off to Manchester and bought it. Then I realised that if my mother found it, she’d bin it because of the naked ladies, so I hid it under my bed. No one saw it for at least four years as I was so petrified that my mother would throw it away.
The first artist that inspired me:
Hawkwind ‘Silver Machine’ (1972)
In 1972 I decided I wanted to make space-rock, so I saved up all my money in the hope of buying a synthesizer, but they were much too expensive, so I bought an electric guitar instead. This record inspired me to form a band – Joe Stalin’s Red Star Radio Band.
The song that opened my eyes to a new genre:
The Damned ‘New Rose’ (1976)
Working in a small Virgin record shop in Manchester, I always had to collect the latest records from the railway station before opening the shop. I was already aware of the Sex Pistols, but it was ‘New Rose’ which was the first punk record I heard. It was so exciting. Soon after that came ‘Anarchy…’ and then the Buzzcocks ‘Spiral Scratch’. I played all these records to death in the shop, much to the annoyance of some of our more mature progressive music patrons.
The record that changed my life:
Joy Division ‘An Ideal for Living’ (1978)
Their Manager, Rob Gretton, asked me to promote the first Joy Division 12 inch record in Germany in the hope the band could get some gigs. Soon after, Tony WIlson formed Factory Records, and I also became Factory’s representative in Germany. That decision certainly changed my life.
My first ever release:
Die Unbekannten – Die Unbekannten (1981)
My first ever release was as a member of Die Unbekannten. We had just played a disastrous gig at SO36 and we thought “We’ll never ever do that again!”, but as soon as we got off the stage this woman came running up to us saying “That was amazing!”, and that she ran a label called Monogram and wanted to make a record. We thought that we would wait to see how she felt the following week because it must be a mistake, but sure enough she had already booked a studio, and we made the record in 1981. I had discovered a photo of three Volkspolizei, the German border police from the DDR, with binoculars and we asked this photographer if we could use it for the cover. Elizabeth, the label owner, printed up posters of the cover and the guy freaked out saying that it was supposed to be for the cover but not for posters and we weren’t allowed to use it anymore. So this record is now really rare.
The first song that made me cry:
Joy Division ‘Atmosphere’ (1980)
Although many pieces of music have almost brought me to tears, the one that opened the floodgates was ‘Atmosphere’ by Joy Division. Although it was released on the Sordide Sentimental label before Ian died, it still really grips me and ever since his death, it always brings me to tears.
The song that I associate with Berlin:
Geile Tiere ‘Geile Tiere’ (1980)
I saw Geile Tiere play an impromptu gig, and then a couple of weeks later I saw them at the Excess Club. They were just so different from anything I had seen before and it was a mind-blowing performance. I come from Manchester and had been through the punk rock scene since its inception. In Manchester, punk rock was so poplike and focused on success – in contrast to Berlin where it was based on expression.
‘Der Klang Der Familie’ by 3 Phase featuring Dr Motte was a bit more of a post-Wall record and whenever I hear it, it makes me think of Berlin in 1980. There are a couple of others that sum up Berlin as well, like Westbam ‘You Need the Drugs’ or ‘Art Decade’ by David Bowie.
My latest release:
Alanas Chosnau & Mark Reeder ‘ŠIRDIS’
As war looms on the European eastern front, we thought it would be important to write a song that reflected the situation through the metaphor of lovers/friends splitting up. After all, Lithuania used to be a part of the Soviet Union – where Alanas fled to, to escape Saddam Hussein’s gas bombs (he’s an Iraqi Lurd) and they know just how it is. This time, it’s a track sung in lithuanian, and the English version will appear on our forthcoming album.
And while you’re here, check out our writer Eiliyas’ Mixtape Menage project for more music features with Berlin creatives.