Publications > Scream City > Scream City Issue #5 > Our Man in Germany by John Cooper
Our Man in Germany Mark Reeder
interview by John Cooper
interview by John Cooper
Mark Reeder was Factory's man in Germany, was in Frantic Elevators & Shark Vegas and did live sound for Einstürzende Neubaten. He has run his indie techno/trance label "MFS" in Berlin since 1990, produced various artists like Paul van Dyk and is an in-demand remixer/producer for the likes of Pet Shop Boys / Sam Taylor-Wood, John Foxx, Blank & Jones and Bad Lieutenant.
What are your earliest musical memories?
My earliest musical memories? Vague.
Probably listening to things like Jim Reeves, Frank Ifield, Adam Faith, The Beatles and The Shadows on the radio and the Man from UNCLE theme. I remember going to buy Telstar in 1962 with my mum in the small record shop in Denton. That was my first record. I loved it and played it to death. I still have it but it's sadly totally unplayable. It is probably my most influential record. I've always been into instrumental music and I imagine Telstar had a lot to do with that.
How did you come to join/found Frantic Elevators? How do you look back on that period now?
I knew Mick Hucknall from art college, we would take the bus together practically every morning. At that time I was in a drummerless-vocalless band called Joe Stalin's Red Star Radio Band. We just jammed or played cover versions in my mates front room. Nothing much came of it, as we didnt have a singer or a drummer and the guitarist only wanted to pose and play the guitar solo from Freebird and never think about writing our own stuff. It was a bit too much of an ego trip and so I left.
A while later, Mick and a drummer friend of his called Steve joined. They did a few Led Zep covers and after only one dreadful gig, they both left too. I think Mick had been to see the Sex Pistols and came back totally converted. After that, he asked me if I wanted to form a new punk band with Moey Moss and Steve on drums. I would play bass. I suspect they only really asked me because I already had a guitar and amp and worked at Virgin Records (small shop in Lever Street). Mick and Moey decided on the name Frantic Elevators because Mick liked the word frantic and Moey the 13th Floor Elevators.
We would go to Mick's to work out ideas and we practiced proper with amps & drums every Sunday morning in Broomstairs Working Men's Club (and that was always a very daunting task especially after being out all night). It was a lovely place that reeked of old chip fat, booze and fags. Its walls were adorned with photos of the famous faces who had performed there over the years.
A mugs gallery of never-has-beens of the club circuit, such as the live action photo of an overweight and profusely perspiring vocalist Bert Roy, immaculately dressed in a shabby velvet jacket, frilly shirt and drenched in sweat while performing the hits of his day. Hardly a perfect promo pic as he looked like he was having a heart attack.
We played a few support gigs for a selection of punk bands, such as Sham 69 (at Rafters) but by then I had already decided to leave Virgin, the band and Britain.
You were Factory's Manchester representative in Germany from 1979-1982? How did the connection with Factory come about?
I already knew Tony and Rob and so I started out at the very beginning, when Factory had just released their first EP, as by then I was already in Germany and so it seemed natural for me to help them promote my mates band, Joy Division - which we all considered to be the best band 43 in the world - in Germany, so I was designated by Tony (Wilson) and Rob (Gretton) to be their label rep.
In reality I was more Joy Divisions' rep then I suppose. Tony later told me he thought it would look good on paper! He liked the romantic idea of having "Our Man in Berlin". It sounded good too. If anyone wanted to license a track or get info or something they could come to me first. I would also send our records to the mags and radio stations for promo.
Unfortunately, it was a very difficult time for British music in Germany and no-one was particularly interested in a small obscure, new label from Manchester, apart from the usual handful of devoted Brit music fans scattered throughout the republic. This was all quite understandable even at the time, as Germany was being sucked into Neue Deutsche Welle mode.
Was creating a "Factory Germany" ever considered? Was there any linkage with what went on with Factory Benelux?
Of course I was hoping that there would eventually be a Factory Germany and I was always scouting around for local talent and bands in the hope that this would one day manifest itself, but it didn't, as they didn't have the money. I think Tony was secretly hoping I would pay for it myself. Of course I had contact with Factory Benelux as Annik and I had already been in touch after Ian's death.
In parallel with behind the scenes Factory work you also had your own bands with Die Unbekannten and Shark Vegas (who released FAC 111), managed bands and did live sound for bands like Einstürzende Neubaten. You even presented an episode of The Tube with Muriel Grey live from Berlin. You certainly kept yourself busy! Did you ever want to concentrate on one particular area? For example, just be a recording artist?
Absolutely! I would have loved to have been able to sit in the studio recording music all day, but back then studio time cost a lot of money. The management and live sound engineer aspect just came about really. Malaria! Saw I liked and understood their music and so they asked me if I would like to be their manager and look after their sound and as I was also playing in Die Unbekannten, I could also perform as their support band. It was quite economical.
Then other bands asked me if I would mix their live sound too. the Tube Berlin special was something that NME's Chris Bohn (Biba Kopf) had been consulted about, as he had always been a supporter of German alternative music and as I had already been here for over 5 years and had gathered an extensive knowledge of the West and East Berlin music scenes, he passed on my details.
So I became The Tube's adviser, researcher and Mr Fix-it and because Muriel liked me, I was roped in to co-present the programme too at the last minute. although it was nerve wrecking, it was an incredible experience for me, being involved in this iconic show and it was also the first time a British TV crew had ever made a pop programme in East Berlin too. that in itself was a historical achievement. I organised the whole East Berlin shoot and I even discovered a young, unknown, unsanctified East German band especially for the show, which was unheard of in East Germany.
I suppose, being one of the only Brits actually involved in Berlin's alternative music scene at that time, I was really the only person they could contact.
Not content with one of the great Factory band names (alongside Crispy Ambulance and Quando Quango) you contributed what must be one of the best track titles ever in And now your flesh lies rotting in hell . What was the concept, if any, behind the single?
We originally wrote You Hurt Me while Al and I were still known as Die Unbekannten (The Unknown). As with many of our Unbekannten songs, it was another tearful outpouring of melancholy and misery. The song describes the secret inner feelings from a male point of view, on the breaking up of a tragic relationship, where the guy is taunted by his girlfriend, watching her flirting with other men.
I guess we were really sad bastards back then.
We didn't actually perform it live until the New Order tour, when we also changed our name to Shark Vegas. Before the tour, we decided to record it. The demo for this single was originally recorded in Berlin & then these rough 16 track tapes were taken with us to Cologne to be mixed by Bernard at Conny Plank's studio, during the few days we had off tour.
Unfortunately, the Cologne recording session was a complete disaster. Dave, the studio engineer was suffering from a serious back problem and had to lie in front of the mixing desk on a specially constructed bed-like thingy.
In between screams of agony, he shouted his engineering instructions to Bernard. The end result wasnt exactly what any of us wanted.
So after the tour, we went over to england and remixed the track in Manchester. That was another gruelling all-night session. Bernard played some additional guitar at the end and A Certain Ratio's Donald Johnson added some sweet backing vocals. The title was actually a bit of a joke, after all the horror we had been through to make it.
Were there ever any plans to release any more SV material on Factory (apart from the track on Young Popular and Sexy)? An album maybe?
We were really hoping that we would eventually be able to make a full album and we had a bunch of songs prepared, but studio time was a costly business back then and so most of them never got as far as the demo mix stage.
We did record and mix two tracks though, the rockdisco song Love Habit and the more soulful Pretenders of Love, which was chosen for inclusion on the FAC US comp.
Over the years you've had a close association with Bernard Sumner - from him remixing your FAC 111 single to cowriting with Bad Lieutenant. What is it you like about working with Bernard?
We've both always been into synths & I suppose that was our initial common interest. Back in the early 80s I would send Bernard synth music from Germany & all kinds of dance music I was getting into, in the hope of inspiring him to move more in that direction with New Order. His visits to Berlin's Metropol disco certainly inspired him.
Although we are old friends, I never ever wanted to get involved in their music writing. I just wanted to inspire. After Hooky left the band, I think Bernard felt free to experiment a bit. He played me some ideas he had & one track in particular.
He asked me if I would be interested in trying to make something out of it. I really enjoyed it. It was a real challenge.
He had a few sound ideas and he just asked me if I could reconstruct them in some way into a track to which he could sing a vocal too. Although he had a rough idea of what he thought it should be like, he gave me a free hand. 45 It was initially intended for inclusion on the Bad Lieutenant album, however, as it was much too synthpop sounding, it was decided that it wouldn't fit into the guitar album concept that Never Cry Another Tear became. So I remixed Sink or Swim instead.
Tell me about your role as a consultant on Control, the Anton Corbijn-directed film about Ian Curtis and Joy Division. What did you think of the finished film?
I was first approached by the producers, who wanted me to speak to their scriptwriter about that time in Manchester and my impressions etc. They also knew that I had been Annik's boyfriend in the early 80s but they had no idea about her at all, where she was, what she looked like, what kind of person she was. She was an essential part of the story though and without her, there would be no film. I told them I hadn't spoken to Annik for about 25 years but would try and find out where she was and if she would even be willing to talk to them. As I knew it was a very sensitive subject for her.
A few months later, I got a frantic phone call one early morning from the USA. It was one of the producers. He was explaining how important it was for me to give them some idea of what annik was like and if I had pictures etc or if I could give them her contact. During the conversation, I was fiddling with downloading my emails, when suddenly, I see there is an email...
From Annik! With the ref: "finally found you?". I was pretty freaked by this (Twilight Zone music playing in my head). I immediately told the producer what had just happened and hung up.
I instantly wrote back to Annik and asked her if she knew about the film, as I thought that is probably the reason she was contacting me, but she hadn't and then I told her what had just happened and if she would speak to the producer. She instantly refused to have anything to do with it. She just couldn't imagine anyone playing Ian let alone herself on the screen.
I went to Manchester and met Matt Greenhalgh and we talked about the 70s and Ian and my views on the matter. After all, the most important factor in this sad story is that it is not a simple husband having an affair love story. Fact is, Ian and Annik never ever had sex with each other! Annik was still a virgin! (and I know THAT for sure) and I was very anxious that this vital aspect of the story might get eliminated. I also knew this explosive information would throw a totally new light onto the story as people knew it.
It was very personal, but I felt it was essential for Anton to explain this to the audience in some way, so they could try and understand the situation a little better and I wanted Anton to promise to portray Annik in the right manner, as she wasn't a dizzy headed groupie, she was a pretty, highly intelligent well-educated girl, who worked as the secretary to the Belgian ambassador.
After all, you don't get a job like that if you are a dim punk rocking groupie.
I hoped Anton would try and portray their friendship and relationship in this way.
Which he did, in a subliminal way by always showing Ian and Annik on a bed and never in it. The film is definitely Anton's version of the events. Its very poignant and beautifully shot. I really liked the film though for what it is. A tragic love story. It deserved all the accolades. It brought back many sad memories too. My only wish is that Anton would have had the freedom to explore the relationship between Annik and Ian in more depth and show how very different she was to Debbie.
Who do you most admire in music today and who would you most like to produce/remix?
That's a pretty tough question. I've already remixed German Film Star for the Pet Shop Boys/Sam Taylor-Wood and Sink or Swim for Bad Lieutenant, more recently I've remixed the legendary Underpass for John Foxx which was a great honour. Yet there are so many great new bands emerging at the moment its difficult to say. I recently produced two tracks for Martyn Walsh (from Inspiral Carpets) new project called Spartak (with Fidelity Kastrow) and I saw Hurts play live in Berlin and they were absolutely excellent. I would love to remix them, I love their sound and 1930s continental image, as its very close to home, but there are many others too.
It all depends on the music really and if I feel I can contribute something to it. I am not the kind of remixer who takes the vocal off a track and just slaps a previously produced drum loop underneath it. I try my best to keep as much of the original song and music elements in there as possible.
That is how I understand remixing.
Your latest remix project is Twist of Fate, the second single off Never Cry Another Tear by Bad Lieutenant. What was your approach to remixing what is essentially a guitar, bass and drum rock 'n' roll tune?
Firstly, I always want my remixes to be as recognisable as their original song. This is always my main concern when making a remix. I'm not the kind of remixer who takes the vocals and simply slops them on top of an unused techno track that I've had lying about. I always like to use the original parts when I can. therefore, I wanted to retain as many elements from Bad Lieutenant's original track as possible, but naturally add my own sound fingerprint to it. Sound and stylewise I also wanted some continuity between my previous Sink or Swim remix and Twist of Fate. Of course, making a remix from a rock song is not as easy as it sounds. as BL play their songs live in the studio, there's always going to be a slight timing deviation within the group.
This makes their music alive and organic, but it creates a nightmare when you want to make a 4/4 electronic DJ mix. Without getting too technical I will try and explain what I did.
All this meant that Micha and I had to manually cut and move all the guitars and vocals and place them into position, so they would fit with the precise timing of a dance mix, yet at the same time sound natural.
Then I added a new, gritty but straight, throbbing bassguitar line, as I wanted more drive in the track and I doubled and embellished the guitars, so I could get them crisper and more balanced in my mix. To that, I added a whipping hi-hat and a wiggly-woggly arpeggiator sequencer, some sad sounding strings and a couple of spongy synths. I kept the song structure of my first remix virtually intact to the BL original, but as I had everything already up on the soundboard it seemed only natural to me, to remix my remix.
So for my second remix, I kept more of my elements and doubled the guitar riff with a synth and left out the chuggy rock guitars and replaced them with synths, similar to the way I did with my Sink or Swim Waterwing Remix, and in this second remix I added a short poignant-sounding breakdown. as I was doing all this, I had another idea for a third remix version.
When I told Bernard, he asked me how many versions did I intend to make, because I actually made five remixes for Sink or Swim including a 5.1 surround sound mix.
I guess he was probably dreading having to listen though all of them in one go. anyway, for this synth-rock mix, I dropped the tempo down to half speed and added a totally new Zeppelinesque style heavy duty drum pattern and an additional synth bassline.
I must say, I was pleasantly surprised myself just how well it all worked together. I hope you will like it too.
Do you have anything to declare?
I have NOTHING to declare... apart from...
Issue 5 index
- A Factory Trip Around the World by Andrew James
- The Absence Of The Object Becomes A Presence You Can Feel by John Cooper
- Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records by James Nice
- The Distractions by David Quantick
- Closer, Karamazov and K550 by Ian McCartney
- 33°52'38.29"E / 151°13'05.79"S by Matthew Robertson
- Our Man in Germany by John Cooper
- Factory Over America Part 1 by John Cooper
- Factory Over America Part 2 by John Cooper
- Looking From A Hilltop... at Lytham St Annes by David Nolan