Hannes Bieger is an artist that has built a very lefty reputation of late with what appears to be an exhaustive client list that only some artists could possibly dream of. For 11 years Hannes was very much focussed in the world of mixing and mastering with his magic touch being the choice of some of the biggest names in the industry. Since 2017, Hannes has decided to step, once again, back into the limelight and start making his own music after an extended break Hannes returned to making his own music with his debut EP on Poker Flat in 2017 inspired by the purchase of a coveted Moog modular synth in 2016, which reinvigorated his passion for production. Since his return to the forefront of electronic music his music has graced labels including Flying Circus, Poker Flat (a couple more times), Hommage Records, Aeon, and of course John Digweed’s, Bedrock Records. His output has continued to be more than consistent, maintaining the high quality throughout 2019 showcased on tracks like ‘A Million Souls’ (featuring Francesca Lombardo on vocals) bolstering Hannes’ sterling reputation. In October 2019 he was signed to Davide Squillace’s label This And That with the ‘Tharsis/Elysium’ EP. Again, demonstrating Hannes’ ability to craft emotionally-charged, club-ready electronic music with precision and panache. He is now due to release his labels LP on Christopher Coe’s and Carl Cox’s label, Awesome Soundwave.
Proof that dedication to one’s craft and an uncompromising focus on quality over quantity can provide the perfect foundation to a lifetime of success. Hannes Bieger is an artist who is reaping the rewards from a lifelong commitment to music (take note you rookies out there), sharing his gift with the world every step of the way… I caught up with Hannes shortly after he landed back in Berlin for mandatory quarantine to talk about his new album, how he is coping during this crazy time, his production techniques, and some news about some potential new projects…
When I spoke to Hannes he had just returned home and begun his time in mandatory quarantine in Berlin… “today is the first colder day in Berlin since I came back, so I didn’t get to enjoy the sun on my roof terrasse. I did a bit of a home workout, I have been answering a lot of emails, I had Spaghetti for lunch, with the Pesto I made last night, and now I’m talking to you”. Before I spoke with Hannes we had exchanged a few emails about this interview and he mentioned that he had quite a surreal trip back to Berlin from the USA. I asked Hannes to tell me more about this surreal trip… “I embarked on a US tour before all the travel restrictions and corona related measures were issued. I was supposed to play Ultra, that had been canceled already, it looked like the club shows were still on, but ultimately everything got canceled. I then went to the Bahamas for some longe planned holidays, actually my first proper holidays in almost two years, and then the US travel ban was issued, so I couldn’t even return for 14 days. By the time this period was over, all commercial flights and boats between the islands had been canceled already, and in the end, I was able to “escape” on the copilot seat of a small charter plane. I returned to Berlin with stops in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Atlanta, and Amsterdam, dealing with cancellations, being bumped from one plane to the next, and in the end, the return trip took over four days, normally it would have been less than 24 hours… it was a surreal experience through and through. When I arrived in Miami the pool area of the hotel was still open, although it was closed the next morning. The hotel in Atlanta had 200 rooms, but only four guests. Completely empty airports, the long haul in business class with champagne and cocktails felt almost frivolous, it reminded me of this flying party in the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, and then a very sober mood everywhere when back in Europe…”
“I was happy to get back home finally, but it also felt like I was the last techno artist still up in the air, I knew this was going to be my last flight for a very long time…”
After quite the story from Hannes I wanted to ask him about how it all began for him and what it was that got him hooked on the sounds of electronic music… “one real breakthrough moment definitely was when I listened to Portishead the first time in late 1993 or early 1994. I was playing guitar in school bands before, and it struck me like lightning. I immediately knew that I wasn’t interested in long guitar solo noodling anymore. I also liked Massive Attack, AIR, and Kruder & Dorfmeister a lot in that era, Trip-Hop was really what pushed me into making electronic music myself. Although I must add that I listened to the Beatles and Pink Floyd a lot as a kid, and much of it also qualifies as “electronic music” in certain ways, the way how they experimented with varispeed tape recorders, how they began to use the studio as an actual instrument, and of course their use of synthesizers and sound effects themselves”. Whilst speaking about his early influences I asked him who or what helped him to develop his sound over the years, as well as influence him… “the 90s with all these different styles and genres emerging every couple months or even weeks, that has been a very inspiring, eclectic period for me. Sometimes I miss this openmindedness today! As musicians, I have to mention Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd, Adrian Utley from Portishead who taught me a lot about minimalism and also many of the musicians who played in bands and projects with me in the early years. We were companions finding our musical languages, bounced ideas, and concepts off each other, and I’m sure this has had a huge effect on me, too. Guys like Christopher Noodt, Ruben Scheffler, or Lasse Eilers, who also became full-time professionals like musicians, although in slightly different fields. I think I owe them as well.”
For those of you familiar with Hennes and his music you will have no doubt seen his incredible studio and the many beautiful machines he uses to create those all so distinctive sounds. If you have not seen his recent live set for Awesome Soundwave I would add it to your must-see live sets!!! I asked Hannes how long did it take him to build up the studio we all see today and how has it evolved over the years with the hardware/software and technology changes? “I think the oldest piece of equipment I am still keeping at the studio I bought in 1994. My Juno-60, which I bought around 1997: It wasn’t the first synth I bought, but it’s the only synth of my first setup I’m still keeping. I really started to build my studio around 2000/2001, after I had moved to Berlin. It has been a work in progress ever since. As a guitarist, I have always been an “analogue” guy, and I started to become interested in synths long before soft synths existed. The hot thing in the late 90s was “virtual analogue” hardware, I still have my Nord Lead 2… if I started from scratch today, my studio would probably look a bit different, but I bought much of my analogue stuff at a time when digital wasn’t a real alternative at all. Today this has changed for sure, and I find it wonderful that we can really choose the best of both worlds now.”
Hannes recently released ‘A Million Souls’ on Bedrock records where he worked alongside Francesco Lombardo. I asked Hannes how he came to work with Francesca and how the track came together? I had heard it had a curious history… “It was early 2019, I had just returned from a long South America tour, and I had to catch up with studio stuff and create the music I wanted to release in that year. But I didn’t have much time and everything I came up with was just decent, but no A-Side material. One Monday morning I woke up and I had the groove and the melody of ‘A Million Souls’ in my head. I sent myself an email from my bed with a couple of notes, and luckily it was precise enough to recover it later at the studio. Something like this has never happened to me before, and never after, it really was like a gift from the universe at a time when I needed it the most! I knew I wanted to have vocals on the track, and I asked Francesca to do it. I had done some mixing for her in the past years, and I love her not only as a human but also as a musician, she is so complete! DJ, live performer, instrumentalist, vocalist, lyricist, producer, she is just extremely talented, and musically we seem to be pretty much on the same page. I remember I somehow didn’t like the first idea so much that she sent me, it was just a gut instinct. But with the next thing, I knew immediately we had struck gold. It was haunting but in a great way”… and boy did they both strike gold with that track! If you haven’t heard and been living under a massive rack for the past few months, check it out below…
Whilst on the production chat and talking about vocals I asked Hannes if he found any difficulties with working on vocal-based tracks over instrumentals or dub versions… “I have written and produced a lot of vocal-based music in my career, including three full albums with different projects. I find this easy, and it’s also a great way to bounce ideas off each other, write a tune together with the vocalist. For me it is important though, that a vocal track also has a strong instrumental, I don’t just rely on the vocal to make it work. It’s like the great rock singers, who always had a very characterful lead guitarist by their side. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page… This concept of vocals communicating with a strong instrumental lead always fascinated me, and in a way, all my vocal tracks are constructed in a similar fashion. When I started out with my first deep house tracks, when I finally entered the realm of straight bass drums, I struggled with the arrangements, how soon to bring the elements in, how many of them, but today I enjoy working in both ways a lot.”
Hannes recently released a track with Ursula Rucker on vocals on Chris Coe’s and Carl Cox’s label, Awesome Soundwave. I asked him about how the track with Ursula came about and what his thoughts were on the outcome… “I was in love with what Ursula did since I listened to her for the first time in 1998! This was “Loveless” by 4hero, I was in awe! I always dreamt of doing a collaboration, and I knew that I wanted to have one vocal piece on the album, and I wanted to have spoken words. There is one person in the world I would reach out for this, and I am incredibly happy she said yes! I made the instrumental in spring 2019, and Ursula added the vocals later on in the summer. I have always been very fond of her lyrics, her poetry, and I gave her free reign to do whatever she wanted to do. Last year we’ve been dealing on a global scale with the prospects of climate change and authoritarianism, and I understood her words mainly in that context. Who knew how a “Poem for the Planet” would sound in April 2020, shortly after the corona pandemic really became a pandemic”. The release was almost the perfect release and title for the time and very bizarre space we are all experiencing right now. Check out the delightful vocals by Ursula below…
Hannes touched upon his new album a few moments ago so I asked him to tell us a little more about it and what we can expect in terms of the tracks (you can check out ‘Pluton’ from the album at the top of this interview, as well as his track with Ursula Rucker above)… “when I was invited to do a release with Awesome Soundwave, they were asking for an album, and for long tracks, well, that’s what they got! At first, I was reluctant because that task seemed daunting, but when I started to work on it the music really began to flow, also because I ended up feeling liberated by the concept, doing something outside the boundaries of a 7-minute prime time banger. The album has six tracks, but over an hour of music, and next to four “club” tracks there are two shorter pieces, one of which has a broken beat, and the other one is entirely ambient. It’s very analogue, organic, modular synth-driven, with long, almost unedited live recordings, a bit like a modular synth jazz band jamming together. In that sense, it’s musically different from what I have released so far, but I strongly believe that an album has to be some sort of challenge, is a chance for an artist to modify and challenge their recent musical concepts. The “club” tracks all can be played by a DJ, but I think they are for special moments.”
“I always envisioned the [album] title track, ‘Pele’, to be played on a beach at sunrise, with the long 2-minute breakdown really carrying the people away. The album is also a great companion for a long night drive.”
Whilst chatting about the album I asked Hannes if he found any tracks tricky to complete? We all know that feeling of writer’s block!!! Hannes answered… “not really! The whole album was created over only a couple of weeks. I think I have finally arrived again as a producer, after my long break behind the scenes, I really have found the instruments and working methods which suit me. Working so fast, and always with the big picture, the whole piece in mind, when starting to work on a new track, gave me great results, and the results gave me great confidence. The album is intentionally still a bit raw in many places, but I think this adds only to the momentum and the emotional impact. I am now enjoying to again to work on more condensed, focused EP tracks again, but I think the album is an interesting journey, and it kind of stands for itself.”
As a producer and engineer, Hannes must hear many bad habits that creep into an artist’s productions. I asked Hannes what some of his big NO NOs are when producing and mastering a track… “I think there are two main culprits. Working with a substandard monitoring system would be the first one. Of course, not everyone can work out of a perfect studio (what would that look like anyway?). What I heard a lot is that people say they only need small speakers for producing because someone else is going to mix and master the record anyway. But how can you write and arrange club music when you can’t even hear the bass drum fundamental on your speakers? The other thing is putting too many processors on your master channel while producing and mixing. This way you’re not really able to tell what you’re doing, and when you take your master effects off before having it mixed/mastered externally, the whole sound picture falls apart. You haven’t heard your mix all the time, just the effect of your master chain. I don’t see any reason why one should have a multiband compressor on the master while arranging or mixing. It’s just a band-aid, imposing its own side effects, and it prevents you from hearing and tackling the issues at the source.”
We are all living in very bizarre times at present with the COVID-19 outbreak. I asked Hannes what some of his biggest challenges have been over the past weeks whilst the world is in the grips of this pandemic… “well, the first challenge was to get back home… now I have to deal with the mental challenge of being in mandatory quarantine at home. In Germany, we don’t have a full lockdown, but I have to stay at home for 14 days after my travels, can’t even take a walk or do my groceries right now. Of course, like anyone in this industry, I have to rearrange my whole professional life, and I am only beginning to grasp the consequences. Right now I don’t expect much if any, club and festival activity to happen until spring 2021, and I have no idea yet what exactly that will mean for all of us. I will also have to move my studio and build a new workspace, this year which would be very challenging even under normal circumstances. Right now it seems daunting indeed, but I am also looking forward, as this will be my workplace for the next decade and I’m excited to make it a great space! I think Germany and especially the city of Berlin have reacted fairly well to the outbreak though. In contrast to the financial crisis of 2008, where only the largest banks received a bailout, Berlin, as a first step, has taken good care also of independent, self-employed artists and businesses like me. This can’t be the final word if the situation really carries on into the next year, but we are much better off than people in other places, who are under full lockdown, in states with fragile health care systems, and no compensation at all. I am worried, but I am also thankful for that, and I can’t even imagine the consequences of this pandemic hitting poorer parts of the world…”
A lot of people across all industries are being hit hard by the lockdown procedures especially those in events and hospitality. I asked Hannes how this is affecting him mentally, and asked how his family are keeping… “I try and do one step at a time right now, but there are ups and downs. Frankly speaking, I have been through some fairly hard times in my life, and there are days now where I am full of energy, and in a “this will not be the thing that finally brings me down” type of mood. And then there are other days where I feel the insecurity and the pressure a lot more, and it hits home in a different way when you can’t even go out and take a walk around the block, or go to the studio and actually create something. One thing that doesn’t worry anymore, though, is that I believe I have had Covid-19 already. And if that proves true when antibody tests are available, there is one thing less to keep me up at night. Luckily I experienced fairly mild symptoms, but it was a scary thing regardless”. During times like this it can be easy to focus on the negatives but I do genuinely believe that many positives will come out of this for the dance music industry and society as a whole. I asked Hannes to chat about some of the positives he feels might surface through this situation…
“It is my sincere hope that our industry, which can be extremely competitive at times, pulls together more, with the notion prevailing that we’re ultimately all in the same boat.”
Hannes continued… “I started my ‘Hannes’s Homework’ series on my socials while I was in the Bahamas, as a way to try and support producers stuck at home with some insights and inspirations for their work, and the response has been overwhelmingly great so far. We mustn’t forget that we can’t just withdraw from the overall bank account of our global scene, we also have to pay something back into it. I tried to work and live by this standard long before corona, for example by way of doing masterclasses as a regular part of my touring schedule, but I believe this becomes even more important now. On a personal level, I am an avid chef and I love cooking, and now I have to do this everyday, which saves money and is fun and very rewarding anyway. This was one of the things I really missed in my very busy pre-corona daily routines, I used to have much more time for this, and now I have it again. I also started to do my home workout again, another thing that always fell off the radar because I didn’t pause and take time for this until just recently.”
Conscious of waffling on about COVID-19 too much, and I am sure you are all sick of it on the news, like many of us, I asked Hannes what is he most looking forward to when this whole damn awful mess is over with (whenever that might be)? “Again, it’s a step by step thing. Right now I can’t wait to be able to take a long walk outside again. Something so simple will be such a fantastic, liberating experience… The first time dining out at some point, reuniting with my favourite restaurants and their staff will be wonderful, listening to music on a big sound system, even stepping inside the next aeroplane, and my first show finally, after we’re all done with this – I think that will be a fantastic experience, and imagining that situation also gives me the strength to carry on!”
With more time than ever for producers to sit and write music, I asked Hannes what he has in the pipeline (besides the new album of course)… “I’ve been very busy last year, so after releasing my album there will be another EP on Bedrock, and then I have three more EPs practically finished and ready to go. There will be another fantastic collab I did with Francesca Lombardo, and this is only the music that is already finished as we speak. Who knows what I will come up within the weeks and months ahead? But I believe it’s already time to work on the next album, and I already know my collab partner for that project. Maybe, unfortunately, it’s not a great time to dance to music, but it’s a great time to make and to listen to music for sure”. Well, you heard it here first folks, new album in the pipeline… I reckon Hannes could have this released by the end of the year if you look at his output of late… no pressure Hannes!
On that note I would like to thank Hannes for a truly inspiring chat. I would like to wish him safe and well during this time, and know all the Decoded Mag family would also like to thank him and wish him well. Here’s to summer 2021!
You can pre-order Hannes Bieger’s new album on Awesome Soundwave here.