INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Guardian JUNE 5, 2013 - by Jude Rogers
MEET JON HOPKINS - THE NEXT BRIAN ENO
From studying the sound of hotel water pipes to stealing chord patterns from a reversing lorry, Jon Hopkins likes to go the extra mile when adding a little human warmth to his electronic music.
On a grotty east London corner, by a long-shuttered-up pub and a railway, Jon Hopkins's studio disguises itself well. Inside we find a small, pristine room filled with shiny technology: analogue synthesisers, Kaoss pads, a huge glittering iMac. A doormat separates Hopkins's warren from the rest of the building; the words always make Hopkins smile. "Fuck off," it says.
Hopkins makes the least fuck-off music imaginable, though. This week, the boyish thirty-three-year-old releases Immunity, a stunning record inspired by the emotional arc of a night out. It begins with Hopkins entering this studio - we hear footsteps and the turning of a key - before it explodes into a spectacle of glorious techno, peaking at a monstrous central track, Collider, before slowly, deliciously coming down.
On paper, Immunity is a very different project for Hopkins. His last album was 2011's Mercury-nominated ambient-folk LP Diamond Mine with Scottish singer-songwriter King Creosote. "I really wanted to get loud again," he shrugs. "Quite simple, really." He's mainly done collaborations in recent years. On Coldplay's 2011 album Mylo Xyloto, he's credited as "Jon Hopkins: light and magic", having also helped produce 2008's Viva La Vida with his de facto mentor, Brian Eno. They also worked together on 2010's Small Craft On A Milk Sea with Leo Abrahams; Hopkins's only time alone has been spent writing scores and as a remixer, most notably for director turned musician David Lynch.
For this album, though, he's completely on his own, and happy to be. Born in Wimbledon in 1979, this self-confessed "musical obsessive" was the only musician in his family. At two, he got fixated by a set of toy chimes; at four, he went around to a friend's house who had a piano. "And I just wasn't interested in talking to him anymore. This was it! Pressing one note, listening to the way the note decayed and the sound just slightly morphed..." He got his own when he was eight - the same piano still sits behind him in this studio - and he studied the instrument at the Royal College of Music as a teenager.
But electronic music is his true love. As a child, he was really into Depeche Mode, the Pet Shop Boys and Erasure, he explains, "but it wasn't about the songs. It was that sound... It's the sound of human ingenuity." He raises an eyebrow self-deprecatingly. "But electronic music is full of emotional content, and technology exists for you to put in that personality."
The overuse of software can damage music, though. "Some machine-y music is great," he says, "but you can apply any groove to any song now - there's literally a massive drop-down menu on most programs. And that's what takes the human being out of the process."
Hopkins fights against this by doing what he did on Diamond Mine: recording sounds and rhythms from the outside world. In a Manhattan hotel bathroom a few years ago, in the middle of the night, he spent hours trying to work out why "weird little sine wave blips" were coming out of a water pipe. An alarm on a reversing lorry outside this studio took the chord pattern of hazy new track, Sun Harmonics, down a completely new route. On the night of the Olympic opening ceremony, Hopkins was on the roof of his house nearby, recording the fireworks exploding just over a mile away.
"I wanted them to sound like some sort of distant battle," he explains. "Like explosions of something that's already happened, that you're seeing the remnants of, hearing echoes. That's kind of how it's supposed to sound." Hopkins speaks gently and intensely about his methods, and with obvious warmth; he's a geek, certainly, but more romantic than that.
The concept behind Immunity is romantic, too. It's influenced, he says, by festivals where he's played DJ sets over the years - "where perhaps I've played early on, and been up until way into the next day. There's so many experiences you have on the way, like making bonds with complete strangers. Ultimately, there's a real sadness when it starts to end."
He's been particularly influenced by Berlin acts Modeselektor and Apparat and the "hypnotic quality" of British DJ James Holden's sets - so much so that he worked on the addictive, squelchy bassline of recent single Open Eye Signal for six weeks. "And at the end of every day, it was completely impossible to sleep or switch off. You end up kind of having very strong coffee every morning to get you through it!" He's also been learning autogenic training to hypnotise himself. "It's great to do something that makes your brain just switch to a different mode, and music can do that really powerfully." He's practically fizzing as he speaks. "It's so exciting!"
When he's grinning so eagerly, it's hard to think of Hopkins as the next Eno, but all signs point that way. Film soundtracks he's made in recent years have raised his stature too. The mesmeric score for 2010 sci-fi film Monsters was nominated for an Ivor Novello; he's also worked with the State Of Play director, Kevin McDonald, on the forthcoming How I Live Now. This summer also brings a single with Hayden Thorpe of Wild Beasts, a cover of the Silence Of The Lambs soundtrack song Goodbye Horses - so, like Eno, Hopkins is handling both ambient music and pop with aplomb.
But what been Eno's best tip? Hopkins smiles. "He would never offer any. But he'll notice if someone is just getting overly detailed, tooling away on edits too soon. So now, I just put down my ideas quickly, just chuck everything in as I'm thinking about it. It'll sound like a complete mess, but in there, there'll be this spark of energy, of excitement." In this is a lesson Hopkins knows this more than most: from grotty east London corners can come glorious things.
Immunity is out now on Domino.