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Sunday Documentary – Hansa Studios: By The Wall 1976-90

Screenshot from Hansa Studios: By The Wall 1976-90 on YouTube

Photo: Screenshot from Hansa Studios: By The Wall 1976-90 on YouTube

If you asked music fans to name the studio where their favourite songs and albums were recorded you would most likely be met by a wall of blank looks, except perhaps if that music was recorded at Hansa Studios in Berlin. Hansa Studios: By The Wall 1976-90 is a documentary that tells the story of the golden years of this legendary recording studio.

You might not be familiar with Hansa but you have certainly heard some of the incredible songs recored there: Depeche Mode – People are People; Lust For Life and The Passenger by Iggy Pop; U2’s One; Kayleigh by Marillion; and of course, the most famous of them all, Heroes by David Bowie.

It was from a window in Hansa that Bowie watched Tony Visconti’s dalliance with Antonia Maas that inspired the line, “I, I can remember standing by the wall and the guns, shot above our heads and we kissed, as though nothing could fall.”

David Bowie and Iggy Pop choosing to record at Hansa changed the studios fate forever. Up to that point Hansa was known for producing Schlager, schmaltzy German pop music, but the records produced there in 1976 brought it fame in a whole new scene. As Thomas Müller a former Sound Engineer at Hansa says “the world learned that Germany could also do Rock ’n’ Roll and not just um-tata!”

In the 1980s Hansa’s fame grew thanks to recordings from Einstürzende Neubauten, whose frontman Blixa Bargeld was a fixture at Risiko and Nick Cave, first with Birthday Party and later The Bad Seeds. Hansa Studios: By The Wall 1976-90 features footage from the Nick Cave documentary, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Gareth Jones, who produced Depeche Mode on Construction Time Again (and their later Berlin albums), explains how technically advanced the equipment at Hansa Studios was and how the computerised console allowed him to create the distinctive sound of this seminal album. The building also features heavily on the record in the percussion samples.

The wall falling was ironically the death nail for Hansa’s golden period. Berlin’s status as an island and it’s alternative lifestyle were part of the draw for the musicians who recorded there in the 1970s and 80s but when U2 arrived to record Achtung Baby, Germany was on the brink of reunification and Berlin would be forever changed.

Though it doesn’t enjoy quite the same levels of attention as it did in its heyday, Thilo Schmeid, who features in the documentary, runs a Hansa Studio Tour for music enthusiasts, for whom it is a Mecca.

Everyone talks about the magic of the sound at Hansa Studios and how important it was for their music, which Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds producer, FLOOD sums up perfectly – “Hansa has a sound and that sound…it is as much an instrument as any guitar, drum, synth…it’s a vital, vital part.”

Hansa Studios: By The Wall 1976-90

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