Jon Hopkins on euphoria, transcendence, and the contrast of feeling
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Jon Hopkins on euphoria, transcendence, and the contrast of feeling

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Jon Hopkins has been a figure of curiosity in electronic music since the turn of the century. The former Brian Eno protégé spent the 2000s moving between outsider ambient solo records, producing for the likes of Coldplay and working on film soundtracks. But while music has long been his primary vocation, the UK producer wasn’t one of the scene’s heavy-hitters until quite recently.

The change came in 2013 with the release of Hopkins’ breakthrough solo LP, Immunity. A deeper and more muscular collection of sounds than his first three records, the critically-celebrated recordbrought in stacks of new followers and led to festival headline sets, collaborations with Purity Ring and a Hopkins-helmed LateNightTales compilation album.

It also afforded Hopkins an enhanced degree of freedom when working on the follow-up album, Singularity, which debuts in early May.

“Every day when I was writing this record I was arriving in the studio thinking, ‘I can’t actually believe that this is my job,’” he says. “It’s what I’m supposed to be doing, sitting here making music that’s making me really happy.”

Singularity is designed to map out a psychedelic experience, inspired in part by Hopkins’ transcendental meditation practice and a year spent wigging out in the Californian desert. A continuous drone note connects the album’s nine tracks, and Hopkins encourages listeners to experience the record all in one sitting, shutting out other sensory phenomena.

“That suggestion is there for people who want to experience it to the maximum,” he says. “It is an experience. I put so much thought into the sequencing within songs themselves and how songs link into other songs.”

Contrast is key to the album’s stylistic agenda. For example, the album-opening title track ‘Singularity’ ends with an extremely heavy section that destroys itself with distortion, before flowing into the peaceful arpeggios and piano of ‘Emerald Rush’.

“On this album, there’s more euphoric stuff than I’ve done before,” says Hopkins. “That can be felt in the quiet moments as well as the extremely loud moments. I love the contrast. Contrast is what it’s really all about – the tension between those two elements.”

At the same time, he knows it’s important for people to enjoy the tracks individually. “I’ve even made short edits of the singles. I see them more as a showcase for the rest of the record,” he says. “If I insist on everything being left at 11 minutes or six minutes or whatever then you’re limiting how far and wide you can broadcast the messages and the music.”

Hopkins clearly wants his music shared with a wide audience – he wouldn’t put so much effort into packaging it for release and promoting it otherwise. But with an average track length of roughly eight minutes, Singularity isn’t vying for commercial domination. It’s not inaccessible, though.

“Half of Singularity is quite upbeat and crowd friendly, more rave-y,” he says. “That element is informed a lot by my experiences touring the last record and that shared euphoria you can get in a gig situation. But then there’s also the more meditative side of the record. It’s not that it’s more personal, but it’s just a different side of me. It’s not so much about those road experiences and the communal side.”

Fans come to Jon Hopkins’ records looking for a range of different stimuli. There are those who appreciate the heavier techno songs, while others are lured in by the melancholic minimalist tracks. But while Singularity is built around a variety of dynamic contrasts, an overarching sensibility ties it all together.

“There’s more in common between the quietest tracks and the loudest tracks than is apparent,” Hopkins says. “Sonically, there’s obviously a massive difference, but emotionally I think all the tracks I do are an attempt to transmit the same kind of feelings, some kind of transcendence.”

Hopkins has experimented with a variety of genres and working methods in his career – producing Coldplay and King Creosote, playing as a session musician, collaborating with Brian Eno and Leo Abrahams, DJing and remixing, and scoring films. But the purest representation of his artistic ambitions is seen in his five solo albums.

“I’ve enjoyed all of the other work I’ve done, but nothing comes close to the albums. That is the time when I feel like I can actually progress as a musician. The melodic side comes quite quickly to me, but the sonic side is what I like to put in loads of time on. When you’re doing a film score and you’re writing 29 pieces to cover two hours and you’re doing all that in the space of two or three months, there’s no time to sit there fiddling around one sound for a week.    

“When I wrote ‘Neon Pattern Drum’, the third track on this record, that opening sound that’s quite unusual was the result of a lot of experimentation. I feel very lucky being supported and having the time to do this, being left alone to do it. So I feel like it’d be rude of me to not work as hard as I can and try to make it interesting.

“People’s tastes and interests will ebb and flow, but no one can ever stop you writing the stuff you want to write. Particularly with the technology now, it’s quite a beautiful thing to be able to sit there and fully realise a piece of music.”