Hannes Bieger: The finisher
Any producer who has been in the game for more than five minutes knows the names Hannes Bieger. With over a decade of hard work, Hannes have positioned himself as one of the most sought after mixing engineers on the planet. Working with Stephan Bodzin, Frank Wiedemann, Steve Bug and Dixon is just another day in the studio for Hannes. He is the man behind the knobs on some of your favourite tracks, but did you know his name before you read it here?
If the answer is no, don’t beat yourself up too bad. Honestly, I did not know the name Hannes Bieger before this interview was agreed upon. But learning the names he has worked with I realised I have danced my mantits off to music with the Hannes Bieger signature in London, Berlin, Malta, Barcelona and naturally here in Copenhagen. There is no escaping the German powerhouse Hannes on the electronic underground scene. So with that in mind, let’s start this interview by hearing how COVID-19 got Hannes stuck in the Bahamas where he was relaxing before his tour in North America.
Escaping the Bahamas
White sandy beaches, fruity cocktails and a hammock for an afternoon nap. Sounds just about perfect, but when the world is starting to go into pandemic mode, you don’t wanna be thousands of kilometres away from home. Hannes was caught on the Bahamas for two weeks before he had a long, strange trip back to Berlin:
– It was a surreal experience through and through. Just passively following as gig after gig got cancelled and the world closed down. Even the flights and boats between the islands here stopped running. I thought, I might be stuck here for awhile, but a stroke of luck put me in the co-pilot seat of a small charter plane going to Ft. Lauderdale. From there what would normally be around a 24 hour trip, turned into a four day travel with stops in Miami, Atlanta and Amsterdam before reaching Berlin. With strange events along the way like being in a completely empty airport or checking into what might as well have been a ghost hotel. I was sitting in Business Class flying across the Atlantic and thinking that I was on one of perhaps five flights across the entire ocean at this time. Also the cocktails and champagne seem almost frivolous at that point. It reminded me of this flying party in ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, tells Hannes.
Hannes landed safe and put himself into the sobering, obligatory two weeks of quarantine. The rest is Corona history. I wanna know more about Hannes’ arrival to Berlin, but back in the 90’s, before he found out that music was gonna be his way of life.
Berlin in the 90’s
As so many other electronic musicians Hannes started out playing one of the classical instruments. He got his first electric guitar at 10 years of age. His big hero was, and still is, Keith Richards. Rock was his first love, but as he grew, so did his musical library. He started collecting vinyl at 18 and his shelves contain jazz, soul, funk, rock, hiphop, drum’n’bass, trip hop, big beat and everything in between. Growing up in Hamburg, Hannes had no idea that music would be his way of life. He moved to Berlin in the late 90’s to work with multimedia and design. He got to see the internet go from nothing to the monster it is today. But what he remembers best is the free hedonistic spirit in Germany’s capital.
– I moved to Berlin about 10 years after the wall came tumbling down, so I arrived in a very free spirited city that really enjoyed its newfound freedoms. This was also way before the gentrification really started happening. You could get a room for less than 100 marks per month. Sure, the toilet was communal and located in the backyards of the apartment buildings, but it was a time of creative freedom and ingenuity. The creative community really flourished during this time, tells Hannes.
It was a great time to live in Berlin and have a creative soul, but Hannes does not necessarily dream of those times to come back.
– The era of Berlin Mitte being a creative hot spot was great, but it also had its downfalls. The low living expenses also had the effect that you could get by and live a decent life, without putting too much effort into your work. When I first got to Berlin I would meet so many seemingly creative people and we would talk for hours on end about projects we could do. But it so often ended up being grains of sand in the hour glass. I’m not a fan of the gentrification Berlin has gone through, but the creative community has gotten more active and it has become easier to find creative and hard working people that match my more Scandinavian work moral, says Hannes with a laugh.
Hannes’ Scandinavian work moral has been used heavily. The discipline of finishing tracks was his primary job for over a decade.
To Hannes, the job as a mixing engineer is much more than fine tuning a track for his client. He has worked with established artists and fresh out of the bedroom producers. Over the years he has come to believe in one fundamental thing that the old Greeks taught us. Like doctors, mixing engineers should pledge the Hippocratic oath, before they can work in field. An oath that tells us: First, do no harm.
– I really enjoy when I see that the artists have success with a track I have mixed down. But to get there I have to understand the artist, the idea behind the track and naturally the track itself, so that I can stay true to it. I consider myself more of a finisher than a mixing engineer. When the track I get is missing the last 10, 20 or 30 percentage to get to the finish line, it is a joy to help to get the best possible result on the artist’s work. Sometimes the most important thing for me is to know what I should not touch in a track, tells Hannes.
A great example of when a track just needs that gentle push over the finish line is when Hannes is working with Stephan Bodzin.
– Stephan’s music would still be truly amazing without my touches. I enjoy working with him because I simply love his music, but it also forces me to work with the maximum precision I can muster. It is a general challenge for sound engineers to understand which things to tackle and which aspects to leave alone, and his work is so good that there is absolutely no room for error on my end. When we disagree on a detail, we can end up in a passionate discussion. I love it when you are very opinionated about details, but when you can also call the other side on the next day to admit they were right, says Hannes with a laugh.
To say that Hannes loves his job would be an understatement. But a few years back he started feeling an itch that the studio work couldn’t quite scratch. It was time to get back into producing his own music and playing it live. Once his third studio album was done, he sought advice from Stephan Bodzin, Frank Wiedemann and others on his live set up. Now, it was time to once again get into the booth and one experience has really stood out for Hannes.
When everything comes together perfectly
You know those days when you feel like you can piss your pants without getting wet? Where everything just seems like divine intervention and the world is truly your oyster?
Hannes had one of these days back in ‘18, when touring South America with his third EP after his long production break. First intercontinental tour in 11 years. He had just touched ground in Bogotá, Colombia, gathered his metric ton of live gear at the conveyor belt before he can rest in the town car the promoters send to pick him up.
– We were listening to the radio and talking in the car. All of a sudden I hear my name mentioned on the radio. I assume that they are doing a promo for tonight’s gig, but no. They were just letting their listeners know that I had landed and was heading to town. That is just so crazy to me, tells Hannes with a big laugh and continues.
– The day goes as it does when touring. Soundcheck, dinner and some rest at the hotel before it was time to head back to the club, Baum. One of the most wonderful places I have ever played. It wasn’t just that the sound was 100% on point or that the queue to get in started two blocks before the club. From the first moment I plugged in I felt that instant connection with the crowd. Playing my Moog through my SSL desk directly in the Function 1 sound system and feeling each punches in sound gave me chills. Being German and knowing a lot about the turmoil Columbia has had in the past, I felt that we lifted each other up and made it one of my best gigs ever, says Hannes.
The white horse
At 18 years of age Hannes had his first gig in Hamburg and has served the scene profusely for over 20 years. He still loves the clubs and festivals, but is more than happy when he gets to spend weekends at his cabin by the lake. When you listen to electronic music for a living, it must be nice to hear nothing but wind and waves. I am curious to know what a veteran in the game thinks of the chemical intoxication that comes forward on our scene.
– In a club there are so many things that make up the experience. The artist, sound system, crowd, lights, deco, mood, staff, surroundings. Drugs is a part of that experience for some, but I’ve never really been into it. But, honestly, I don’t mind, as long as you do it responsibly. A good thing that I found my cocaine early on: Studio equipment. Expensive stuff, laughs Hannes.
Those who can do, please teach
Besides from keeping his nose clean Hannes is also inspiring the kids in different ways. Often he will be not only be playing his live set when he comes to town – his master classes in mix engineering are often just as popular. He also teaches at Pop Academy Baden-Württemberg, Abbey Road Institute, SAE and other schools.
– Both of my parents have been teachers in their professional life. I swore to never get into that field and look at me now. I feel that it is important to share your knowledge. Not just stockpile it while you sit in your ivory tower and look down at the world. When you have some knowledge that could help others, it’s kind of your responsibility to put the knowledge forward. I have gotten so much love and help from people in our scene, that I need to repay and show my love to the scene that raised me. It’s kind of like if a great chef dies without sharing his recipes – there goes his legacy, explains Hannes.
Without doubt in my mind I can say that Hannes Bieger has secured his legacy, but honestly it seems more like a genuine love for music that drives this sound nerd to the finish line.
Not a DJ, but …
A finisher, producer, live act, teacher, celebrator of our underground culture, but definitely not a DJ.
– There is an incredibly amount of DJs that does this discipline so much better than I ever could. I love it, because it was what got me into this field, but I don’t DJ anymore. Well, I still love spinning my old jazz records. I do that once a year at Melody Nelson – a fantastic cocktail bar in Berlin where I can set up shop right at the bar. Close to the very capable bartender. That is one of my favorite gigs in a year, says Hannes with a warm glow in his voice.
So, if you wanna catch the ultra rare event that Hannes is playing the role of a DJ, then keep an eye on his touring schedule and cross your fingers that you are in Berlin that one day of the year.
Thank you for reading this far and I hope that is has been a pleasure getting to know the man behind the knobs on some of your favourite music, Hannes Bieger. If you wanna take the same journey but in audio, I suggest listening to Hannes podcast for Mark DePulse’s How I Met The Bass. A story that makes a lot of sense once you know the man behind the music.
BY MARTIN ESKESEN