INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Mojo APRIL 2018 - by Paul Trynka
HANSA STUDIOS BY THE WALL: 1976-1990
Fables of the deconstruction: The famous studio at the edge of Western civilisation remembered by many who recorded there.
Hansa Tonstudios, Köthener Strasse, Berlin, is one of the world's magical places. If you like your magic dark, that is. For as the Sky Arts - and forthcoming DVD - documentary on this fabled studio shows, its isolation in space and time made it like no other: "there's a darkness in the dust," as Bad Seed Barry Adamson puts it so memorably.
This joint German/UK production does a supremely competent job of assembling musicians to sing the praises of the portico'd building's three studios. You get a real sense of hard-won, life-defining breakthroughs in the careers of Depeche Mode, Einstürzende Neubauten, Nick Cave, and many more, via key participants including Daniel Miller, producers Gareth Jones and Flood. Even if you regard Bono's face as the most punchable in pop music, the emergence of the chord sequence in One is spine-tingling. There's real comedy there, too: notably Fish, now a cheerful lecturer-type, supplies a charming voiceover to Marillion's thrillingly cringe-some video for Kayleigh - which turns out to have a brilliant soap opera plot strand in which he marries the icy Berliner blonde filmed posing by the wall. And later, natch, divorces her amid expense and acrimony.
As it turns out, the most disappointing segment is that featuring the pair who put the studio on the map. There's little sense of what Bowie and Iggy were fleeing from, why they came to Berlin and why this isolated spot - "a wonderful island", as Iggy puts it - brought them inspiration and awarped kind of healing. Bowie and Iggy were marooned in a kind of pressure-cooker, with their senses heightened, somehow allowing them to snatch ideas out of the ether and record them on the spot. (Also, they could live cheaply; Coco Schwab was counting the pfennigs). There's too much emphasis on Low - most of which was recorded at the Chateau D'Herouville - and it's disappointing that Visconti, usually so incisive, repeats over-familiar tales without drilling-down into Hansa's magic, especially the ambience of the wood-panelled Studio 2, or Meistersaal, whose sound imbues every microsecond of Bowie's voice in "Heroes".
Without an authorial voice to add coherence to this kaleidoscope of sounds, the film is intriguing, but patchy: one to stream for sure, but maybe not to re-watch. That's not to downplay the magic of the place.
Memorably, Michael Stipe explains how the studio was so resonant, in every sense, that it was chosen as the location for R.E.M.'s final album. Footage of the band in the Meistersaal is inspiring: like a religious ceremony, consigning R.E.M. to history. It makes a persuasive argument that this once decrepit, now swanky classical edifice is one of the great cathedrals of the twentieth century.