Picking up the story with Tony Visconti and Brian Eno during the sessions for David Bowie’s Low album, Mike Christie’s Hansa Studios documentary delves into the hallowed building that once stood on baron wasteland metres away from the Berlin Wall. Bowie went there to be anonymous with a sensible haircut, moustache and a checked shirt; to walk the streets unnoticed and to clean up his drug act. Along with the production of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life LP in the same time frame, the fortunes of Hansa switched from the cheese of German Schlager to the cutting edge and uber cool.
The film is a romantic look into the history of the studios and the artists that passed through from 1976 until the Berlin Wall came down. You nerds wanna learn how that drum sound on Lust for Life was created or how a frustrated Bowie found the inspiration to finally complete the lyrics to Heroes? This documentary tells all as well as exploring the early sampling techniques adopted by Depeche Mode. For all the sounds created by Martin Gore rolling a pebble along the floor, industrial noise makers Einstürzende Neubauten took things one step further and turned the place into a building site with scaffolding and used power hammers as percussion instruments.
Things aren’t totally dedicated to musical geekery, with stories being retold of the West Berlin creative hub and nightlife scene, albeit overlooked by armed guards. Was it that intensity that got the best out of the artists? With great archive footage, the film shows the demise of The Birthday Party and the rise of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. As Mick Harvey re-enters the building and claps his hands, you sense he is catapulted back in time to the recording of Tupelo. The room’s acoustics explain a lot in relation to the sound of that song alone.
It would appear that as the Wall came down, the fortunes of the studio changed too. Was it due to the edgy surroundings being evaporated or demand for large, expensive studio spaces diminishing in the 1990s? U2 entered as a band in disarray at that time. The resulting Achtung Baby is on show with original recordings of One being anything but a ballad. Love them or hate them, it’s an interesting look into the evolution of the songwriting process and a band in a make-or-break situation.
Although unrecognisable from the archive footage, the studio lives on in part, amid conference rooms for hire. More recently the likes of Supergrass and Manic Street Preachers have revived things, along with R.E.M. recording their final album there in 2011. Maybe that old magic is still buried in the walls.
Whether it be from the perspective of the artistic process, the groundbreaking and often unconventional recording techniques, or how a building at a certain place and time can have an impact on creativity, I cannot recommend this documentary highly enough for all music buffs. Hansa Studios: By The Wall premiered on Sky Arts on 10th January 2018 and is available to download now. Take a bow, Mike Christie. Ginge Knievil