Thursday 12 July 2012

A tour of Hansa Studios

On 9 July I was fortunate enough to go on a tour of Hansa Studios, Berlin organised by Thilo at Berlin Music Tours . As well as the Hansa tour they also arrange a bus tour of Berlin's music scene which I'll be doing next time I'm there. I recommend that you go on this tour if you have a chance.

As regular readers will know I'm something of a Depeche Mode fan so the chance to tour Hansa was an incredible opportunity. The tour itself begins outside the studios where Thilo tells you about the building's fascinating history and reveals some Depeche, Bowie and U2 secrets. I'm not revealing those here as that wouldn't be right ;) . From the outside of the building you can see the restaurant (bottom left of picture on the right) where Andy Fletcher first discovered Toast Hawaii in betwen frantic bursts of clapping etc in the studio. The tour starts in the he reception hall where I took the photo of the legendary studio sign you see at the top of the blog. The entrance hall is filled with pictures of the many artists that have used the studio ranging from Depeche Mode to U2 to Bowie to Mike Batt (he of Wombles and Katie Melula "fame"). The next stop is the main hall which was formerly Studio 2. One point to note here is that on the way up to the hall you walk up these steps (left) which were the location for the cover shoot on the rear of the A Question of lust single. Unfortunately I didn't have the time to arrange a photo that matched the single cover - I would have done had I got the chance as anyone who knows me would expect. Anyway, after wandering up and photographing the stairs we came into the Meistersall. It is spectacular room and you really can sense the history when you're in it. Remember this was the room where Heroes and parts of Low were recorded, where Depeche recorded Somebody and where Recoil played on the last tour. It was a privilege just to stand there albeit I tried to put the image of a naked Martin Gore singing Somebody as far from my mind as I could. A Christain Rock band were rehearsing in the room when we were there and whilst it isn't my cup of musical tea, it gave us a chance to hear how good music sounds in the hall.  Here's a picture of the hall

From there we went up to what was the old control room. It's now a bar but previously it was the room that housed the mixing desk etc that dealt with all recordings from the main hall. The area around Hansa used to be pretty desolate featuring only a garden and a view of the Berlin Wall. It was from the control room's window that Bowie saw two people kissing " the wall" which helped inspire Heroes. As with the main hall, it felt really special standing in that room.

From there we moved upstairs to Studio 1. What's special about Studio 1? This is where Depeche mixed Construction Time Again and recorded Some Great Reward, Shake The Disease and Black Celebration. I didn't know what to say or do when I was there really. I'd seen footage from their time in the studio on the re-issue dvd's and had had the pleasure of hearing Gareth Jones talk about his and DM's time there at the Mute Short Circuit event but to actually stand in the studio was mind blowing. Here's a picture of the studio itself

which I am assured is pretty much as it was at the time the band recorded there albeit the equipment has changed etc. What was exactly the same as the time Depeche (and U2, Nick Cave, Einsturzende Neubauten etc) was the control room for Studio 2. The vast majority of the equipment in there was there when Depeche recorded there and was used by them, Gareth Jones and Daniel Miller. Call me a needless Depeche Mode geek like fanboy but the fact I was able to see (and indeed surreptitiously touch) that equipment took my breath away. Here's the mixing desk itself:

The picture isnt too clear but at the sides you will hopefully see the wall speakers. Thilo plugged his IPhone into the desk and played Black Celebration at full volume through those. I've never heard the song sound as good or as huge. It was stunning. As well as the desk the original analogue tape machines remain in place.

I tweeted a picture of these to Gareth Jones who retweeted it so that's confirmation enough for me.
And that was that. We had some studio chat which was I enjoyed far much more than my wife did and then we left. It was a truly fantastic experience and like I said above, if you are in Berlin then get in touch with Thilo and go on this tour. Every Depeche Mode fan should do it.

(Thanks to Panos for the additional info and fact checking!)