Having contributed a track to John Digweed’s landmark summer 2018 ‘Bedrock XX’ compilation, Hannes Bieger has now returned to round off the year in style with his debut ‘Stars EP’ for the label. As one of Europe’s most in-demand mixing engineers, Hannes has built an untouchable reputation, with an exhaustive client list that includes some of the biggest names in contemporary House and Techno. In 2017, after eleven years in the world of mixing and mastering, Hannes decided to shine a fresh spotlight on his creative talents as an artist, emboldened by years of experience, a renewed zest for production and a lifelong romance with electronic music. Since then, Hannes has focused his energy on producing his own music and building a new and unforgettable live show. A debut EP and follow-up for Steve Bug’s Poker Flat, releases for Audiofly’s Flying Circus, Alex Niggemann’s Aeon, and a remix for Monkey Safari, alongside his ‘Bedrock XX’ contribution, have seen this masterful German artist rapidly recognised as a talent that cannot be ignored. Now, with his four-track ‘Stars EP’ raising the creative bar ever higher, we thought it a perfect time for DMC to have a chat and dig a bit deeper…
Hannes, a big welcome to DMCWORLD and congratulations on the release of your debut EP ‘Stars’ on John Digweed’s Bedrock label. The first thing we’ve got to ask is what makes this label so special?
Thanks! Bedrock has offered an endless string of incredible music over the years. To me the label stands for quality throughout the entire catalogue, it indeed forms a large share of the bedrock of underground house and techno music. I feel honoured to jump onto this mothership.
What’s the story regarding Juan Hansen and his amazing vocal contribution for ‘Stars’?
We have a mutual friend in Buenos Aires, Jimmy Van M. Jimmy and I have a story that goes quite a few years back, I’ve been mixing a bunch of his productions, and as the head of Insound Academy and on behalf of Analog he is taking care of my world wide masterclass bookings. He is working with the incredibly talented Juan Hansen a lot, and their latest Bedrock EP, which I have mixed as well, was ready to go when I was looking for a vocalist for the track that then became ‘Stars’. Jimmy proposed to try Juan, and I fell in love with the first thing he came up with, what is pretty much exactly what ended up on the final version. I’ve worked with many, many singers as a producer and I am always looking for that special something, so I couldn’t be happier with Juan’s contribution!
Talk us through the making of the very distinctive EP tracks? How does the creative process work when you’re in the studio?
An analog guy for all my musical life, in past years I have been drawn more and more towards modular synthesizers. I love creating music with hardware instruments, I enjoy the physicality of this process, and standing in front of my big Moog Modular makes me happy… it’s great to develop grooves, melodies, sequences or even soundscapes with knobs and pots and buttons and not just by way of moving little building blocks on a computer screen. Both ‘Titan’ and ‘Scoria’ are based on jams I developed with my modular system. ‘Stars’ was different though, I had just purchased the Moog Sub 37 and the OTO reverb and delay pedals with the idea to use them for my live set, and while toying around with it I came up with the main melody. I recorded it straight with the reverb of the pedals and then I built the rest around it. It’s always a good idea to record your first steps with a new instrument – in this moment you are super alert and listening closely and often great stuff happens before you know it.
For anyone not familiar with your music, how would you describe your individual style? Can you put your finger on the elements of your music that make it so distinctive?
Tough question… I’m not a DJ, I come more from the musician/instrumentalist side of things, so I guess a lot of my music is slightly more melody driven rather than “just” being a DJ tool (although I consider it a great artform to create the latter). This phrase is overused, but I really aim to tell stories with my tracks, and they often seem to end up in the no-mans-land between House and Techno. The latest stuff I’m working on is leaning more to the Techno side of things though.
Do you find it easy to express your deepest emotions when you make music, or is this something that finds an outlet only in certain, special moments?
Music – and making music – has been with me for the most part of my life. Yes, it’s an integral part of who I am, and I could never be without it. I love getting lost in music – this feeling is pure bliss to me. And it’s so elusive! Someone once said that music is the only art form that doesn’t really exist, and I like this thought a lot. You are tapping into something ancient but transient, universal and very special at the same time…
Before this EP, you contributed the excellent ‘Mauna Loa’ to John Digweed’s landmark ‘Bedrock XX’ compilation this summer. Tell us about this track?
Similar story like ‘Stars’! The main arp line came up right after I unboxed the synth. It’s duophonic, so it can play two notes at a time. I immediately pressed the record button to keep the memory, and then I built the track around it. As with most of my tracks, its title is a volcanic term, it’s the name of the biggest volcano in Hawaii.
What people might not know is that you spent 11 years away from the spotlight, building your reputation as one of Europe’s most in-demand mixing and mastering engineers. Can you share with us some of the artists you have worked with?
My history as a producer of electronic music goes back into the 90’s, and I had a number of releases up until 2006, including two full albums. After that I needed a break from production, and as it turned out that more and more people requested my mixing services I quickly got so busy that I didn’t really have time to work on my own stuff anymore. It took me well over ten years to find my way back into the production side of things, but I continued to work as a mixer as I really enjoy this job as well. And I have to say that I have learned a lot working with all these people on these different projects, I wouldn’t want to miss it! Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the greatest musical spirits and biggest names in our field. It would be difficult for me to put a spotlight on just a few projects as there has been so much incredibly great stuff being sent my way. Some of my personal milestones include ‘Howling’, the first collaboration between Frank Wiedemann and Ry X, before they even became Howling; DJ Tennis’ album ‘Local’; ‘Phantom Studies’ by Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann; the two albums I mixed with Steve Bug, ‘Noir’ and ‘Paradise Sold’; Ellen Allien’s album ‘Nost’, which I have also co-produced, and a lot, lot more…
What made you decide to become the focus of people’s attention as an artist in your own right? Do you prefer to be in the spotlight now?
I was a producer before I even became a mixer, and I played in numerous bands before I focused so much on electronic music. So, with my making and releasing music again a story comes full circle. It was a natural thing to happen for me, and long overdue. I’m happy to be able to express this side of me again, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy my studio work any more.
You have also developed a live show, so tell us about this exciting project?
Again, I’m not a DJ, at least not a House or Techno DJ. I have a huge vinyl record collection of mostly Jazz and Latin Jazz, Soul, Rare Groove etc. and in the year I moved to Berlin almost 20 years ago I even made a living playing them in clubs and bars. But I never played electronic music as a DJ. It was clear to me that performing live was my only way to step out of the studio and into the clubs, and so this was another logical step. In the studio I’m known for not cutting corners, and I wanted to bring this approach to the club as well. I never compromise on quality, even if this means that I need big, heavy equipment! I’m playing with analogue synths, various pedals, an UA Apollo interface and an SSL mixer – it’s basically like a small studio set-up. These days in too many areas quality is being traded for convenience, and I’m not going that way. Of course, traveling just with hand luggage is super nice, but then I could not put on the show the only way that feels right to me.
What are the pros and cons of playing live compared to DJing?
Someone else should probably answer this question as, for me, being a live act now wasn’t really a choice but my only option. There are so many great DJs out there and I’d never be able to compete with them. While I deeply respect their art and craft it’s just not for me. I’d rather make my own music instead! Of course it’s easier for a DJ to react to a certain momentary energy than it is for most live acts. But blasting my Moog through a big sound system feels incredible, and this is something the DJs don’t usually get to experience in the same way. But ultimately we’re talking about different sides of the same coin – we’re transforming and conveying energy through sound waves.
What was it like playing live in Berlin for the first time? And, what new places are you looking forward to experiencing in the coming months? Will we see you play over in the UK soon?
IPSE is a great room, and sharing the stage with incredible artists like Steve Bug and Rodriguez Jr. gave me a great push. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, and now I’m super stoked to take it to the next level. I’ll play a number of shows in Europe in the coming weeks, and then I’ll embark on my first South America tour with stops at legendary clubs like The Bow, D.Edge, Baum and Bassick. I would love to play in the
Let’s rewind for a moment, what are your earliest musical memories?
Luckily my dad allowed me to scratch his vinyl records already when I was a really small kid. As a five year old I sat in front of the stereo, headphones on, and flipping over Sgt. Pepper’s time and again.
How did your musical tastes develop? When did dance music come into your life?
I made the journey from Rock via Funk to Acid Jazz and Trip Hop and ultimately dance music. Electronic music in a wider sense was part of my life since the very early days, with ‘Ummagumma’, ‘Meddle’ and ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ by Pink Floyd, but the straight bass drum only took over when I moved to Berlin in the late 90’s. I was into Metro Area, St. Germain, Masters at Work and the likes at the time, and later came Techno…
At what point did you get into making music? Who were big influences in the early years of your career?
I started playing electric guitar at the age of ten, and my big hero at the time was, and in a way still is, Keith Richards.
In what ways do you think your particular journey through life has influenced the electronic music you make now?
I have always admired the minimalistic, on-the-point stuff, and it has been a journey for me to get there. I also like big sound paintings, but ultimately what grips me is the precision of masters like Carl Craig and Stephan Bodzin. This is still work in progress, and the Bedrock EP follows a slightly different concept, but generally I tend to be able to strip it down more and more. If you can tell a compelling story with a kick, a hi-hat and just one synth line you have something to say. This quest far from being completed for me yet…!
What piece of studio equipment couldn’t you live without?
There’s so much, but ultimately I need my analogue synths.
Which of your tracks do you consider to be your most accomplished creation to date? Why?
You tell me!
Having grown up through the evolution of the underground scene in Berlin, what’s your assessment of things now? Is the scene healthy? What could improve it?
Berlin still has so much room for creativity! Maybe a bit less so than 20 years ago, but in a way the scene is more professional now, which isn’t a bad thing either. I’d wish that the super rapid gentrification processes, fuelled by factors such as the low interest rates and the relatively stable economy in Germany where every investment firm around the world wants to park their assets, will leave some space for us! I am not happy with the way the city has changed, especially in the past 2-3 years.
For anyone visiting, what 3 (or more) things should a person do to have an authentic Berlin experience?
It gets harder and harder to find these experiences, but Berlin still has many authentic, “real” places. If you find a really good Döner Kebab or Köfte around Kottbusser Tor (they do exist, you only have to find them), this is a very “Berlin” experience. Also, there is amazing nature around Berlin, many pristine forests and lakes. People seem to forget that Berlin is a big city in the middle of nowhere, and this “nowhere” definitely is worth exploring!
After this superb release for Bedrock, what new projects should we watch out for from you in the coming months?
I have another Poker Flat EP almost ready to go, and I just started a very promising collaboration. I’ll keep my lips sealed though until we have some results ready to show. I’m also constantly refining my live set and I hope to be able to play more great shows next year.
And finally, what’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
One thing I always come back to, is this card from Brian Eno’s legendary deck Oblique Strategies: “Gardening, not architecture!”
Thanks for your time Hannes – much appreciated!
Hannes Bieger – Stars EP (Bedrock) BEDDIGI129
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