Music producer, DJ, Berliner of 39 years and the face of 2015’s hit documentary B-Movie: Lust and Sound in West Berlin 1979-1989, Manchester native Mark Reeder returns with new album Mauerstadt.
The wall-themed work is a collaborative effort between Reeder and several artists, from big names like New Order to younger Berlin bands like The KVB. Returning from a two-month tour in China with B-Movie, he’s presenting some of his new work live in his adopted hometown for the first time at experimental festival Berlin Atonal, on Thursday, August 17. We spoke with him about his latest works, and what’s changed since B-Movie made him famous.
Your record is called Mauerstadt. Whom do you want to reach with it?
I want everyone to be able to enjoy it. People my age, approaching 60, should be able to appreciate it as much as people who like techno music, as opposed to being in a closed environment of only a select few. My whole point is to take something which is very iconic and famous, but mix it with people who are not. Who are young and just starting their careers. I know people will want to listen because of the New Order tracks. But at the same time they get to hear all these things that they didn’t even know about or had ever heard of. And that mixture, I think, is really important.
Can you explain the title?
It’s about the wall in your brain, in your head. The way people perceive. In the UK, you have all these questions about people voting for Brexit because of the foreigners, because of the immigrants. The whole album is really about division. It starts off dark, and it ends up with the New Order track (“The Game”), which is actually a very poignant song with an underlying uplifting message. I wanted to have a bit of a mixture, between black and white. And I wanted it to be a bit foreboding. Because it starts with The KVB, it starts with a warning. Like an atomic bomb.
Where does that darkness you mention come from?
I like this kind of dark… I find it quite attractive. If you look at Manchester back then in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a very dark place, a grim place. Everything was dirty and grey, and people were having very hard lives. That kind of reflected in the music. If you listen to Joy Division, it’s the same. The same sort of ambiance, the upbringing. That’s just the way I am, you know.
You collaborated with many artists on this album – how was it to share your vision of Berlin with theirs?
It’s a wider vision. Berlin was walled and it created this kind of scene because it was a walled. Now it’s no longer this, it’s an open city, and it’s open to everyone who feels the need to escape. And I think the same kind of people that came to Berlin in the 1980s are the ones coming to Berlin today. Because, if you are a bit weird and you live in some village in the middle of nowhere, in some hick town, you have the finger pointed at you everyday, you are bullied, or heckled for the way you look or dress or the type of music you listen to… then the only place to go is Berlin. It’s the place to find refuge, and you’ll find everybody else has been in the same situation. You can be creative here, it allows you to be open-minded. Of course there are a lot of people who just jump on the bandwagon, the generic techno thing, because Berlin is techno central. But at the same time, there are a lot of other artists here who are not just making straight techno, like KVB for example.
Are you nostalgic for 1980s West Berlin?
No, absolutely not. I lived through that and I experienced that and feel very privileged to have done so. I think it’s just as thrilling today. It’s the fact that I know there is going to be some really good music coming. Not necessarily just out of Berlin, but from other places too. Recently I spent two months in China working with this band called Stolen [秘密行 动]; they’re really young, but they’ve got so much potential. The way they approach making music, it’s so different to that Western way. They come from Chengdu, the musical beating heart of China. There are a lot of bands there, there is a little scene happening. I got the impression that I was in Manchester in the 1970s, you know. This energy that is being created there… they’re doing their own thing, and I found that really exciting.
You were in China to present B-Movie. How was it received there?
B-Movie is forbidden in China. The government decreed that all films depicting sex, drugs and violence are completely forbidden, and my film’s only about sex, drugs and violence – and music. So we were like, “Oops, how is this tour going to be?” But we were kind of left alone. We went to Nanjing, and the general secretary of the communist party of Jiangsu Province came to us and said “We want to see the film”. They watched it, and after that they really liked it, actually! The guy who took me to China said “Tonight we’re sleeping in the intercontinental hotel and tomorrow we might be sleeping in a gulag…”
So why do you think they let you promote your movie?
I don’t know why, honestly, but I think it’s because we don’t glorify the sex and the violence – we just show it. I think the film’s inspiring to them because they get to see what Berlin used to be like and how we approached things, with this kind of “We don’t give a shit” mentality. That’s very important for the young Chinese generation, who are quite distanced from the old regime. The grip is being slowly relaxed.
You’re speaking a lot about cities: Chengdu where you just went, Manchester which you left in 1978, Berlin obviously…
Well, I’m a city kid. The countryside is something very pretty and nice, but it’s an alien world to me. I like going to the countryside, but I can’t spend much time there. I like the way cities look, whether they’re dirty and falling apart or brand new. Manchester’s become cleaner, brighter, more international and cosmopolitan – it’s not as grim as it used to be. But I don’t miss Manchester. I’ve never missed Manchester since leaving. I like Berlin as a place to work. I feel very comfortable, making music and working here. It’s an inspirational place, even if you’re just walking through the streets. I think the people feed off each other, and that’s what Berlin’s more about than just fighting amongst yourselves. Berlin’s always been about collaboration.
B-movie made you quite famous, especially among Berliners – how do you handle this in your everyday life?
I hid behind a curtain for 40 years. When I was onstage playing in bands, I realised I didn’t really want to do that. And it was nice to be behind the camera, behind the mixing desk, behind the scenes in the studio. Now because of the film, obviously, people sometimes recognise me. It can be a little bit embarrassing, you know, because I really don’t revel in that at all.
Is this the reason why you rarely play live?
I don’t mind. It’s not like I hate DJing. It’s just that I never wanted to be a DJ. I know that people never really hear my music in a club that often. And the reactions are very interesting, actually. The way people react… I heard these guys weeping at the end of my set and I was like, “Is it that bad?!” and they were “No, it’s so beautiful”. My music is quite emotional, and to hear it in a club, rather than on a stereo or car radio, I find that… it touches some kind of nerve somehow.
Berlin Atonal (Aug 16-20): Mark Reeder, Thu, Aug 17, 22:00 | Kraftwerk Berlin, Mitte