INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Uncut FEBRUARY 2018 - by Stephen Troussé
HANSA STUDIOS: BY THE WALL 1976-90
Summoning the spirits of a Berlin landmark.
"You can wonder - is it haunted?" ponders Michael Stipe, with a quizzical stroke of his voluminous beard towards the end of this Sky Arts doc about Berlin's storied Hansa studios. "Maybe. Is the spirit of the people who recorded these fantastic, incredible, life-altering, transformative songs or moments - is that imbued, is that in the wood? Or in the grain or the fabric of the place? Maybe."
Or maybe not. Actually what quickly becomes clear from this historical exploration of the iconic Potsdamer Platz studios is the sheer variability of music that's been recorded there over the decades. So yes, you get Bowie, Iggy and Eno recording landmark albums of the twentieth century. But they were working in studios then primarily known as a kind of factory for producing schlager - the uniquely anodyne German variety of easy-listening music. You get Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds publicly disintegrating, but you also get Marillion with their tiresome tales of going out on the lash. You get U2 struggling to blow up the band and reinvent themselves as arthouse Europeans, but you also get a tired-looking Supergrass as the band slowly fizzled out.
Nevertheless, there are some good tales on the way. Not necessarily about Bowie's Berlin trilogy, which is now in danger of being smothered in anecdote (surely even Tony Visconti is tired of spinning the tale of his surreptitious snog with Antonia Maass by the wall?). But about Einstürzende Neubauten earnestly miking up scaffolding and jackhammers and threatening to destroy the entire building (Alexander Hacke, who joined the band as a fifteen-year-old nerd savant, is good value as an interviewee). About Depeche Mode transforming from Bambi-eyed boys from Basildon into S&M industrial collagists (producer Gareth Jones still has the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a youth club leader, recalling leading his charges to bash bits of metal around East London). And about the psychosis and paranoia that destroyed The Birthday Party and then slowly dismantled The Bad Seeds (Mick Harvey somehow emerging from the persistent wreckage unscathed).
It's clear that whatever peculiar magic accrued to Hansa wasn't down to the acoustics, the facilities or even the charming resident engineers, but rather the piquant psychogeographical vibe that comes from overlooking the barbed wire of the Berlin Wall death zone. Once the wall came down and Berlin reunified, Hansa became just another studio - splendidly appointed band embracing the recent vogue for analogue, but no longer the existential end of the Western world. The film concludes a little poignantly with Danny and Gaz Supergrass jamming with Tony Sales on Lust For Life, trying gamely but failing resoundingly to summon up any of those old spirits from the woodwork.