Jon Hopkins might be one of the best musicians you’ve never heard of – though you’ll probably have listened to his music.
His prolific and varied career has included being nominated for a Mercury Prize; producing albums for Coldplay (on Mylo Xyloto he is credited as “Jon Hopkins: light and magic”); composing music for Wayne McGregor’s dance production Entity in 2008 and the soundtrack for highly-acclaimed 2010 indie film, Monsters. He is a long-time friend and collaborator of both Scottish folk musician King Creosote and musical pioneer Brian Eno, who he has often been compared to.
Having studied at the Royal College of Music, Hopkins could have been a professional pianist but his love for electronic music prevailed. Despite this passion he is probably one of the few producers in this genre who shies away from new technology. He is a musician truly fascinated by sound, even incorporating recorded audio – for example of his studio door closing or of the fireworks going off from the Olympics – into his records.
As well as his numerous collaborations and production credits he’s been releasing his own genre-bending subtle electronica since 1999. But it is his recent fourth studio album Immunity that has finally garnered Hopkins the more mainstream recognition he deserves.
So if you aren’t familiar with his work or are only now discovering it, we highly recommend you explore his back catalogue. But before doing so, read our interview with the talented musician to better understand the man behind the music.
WHEN DID YOU START MAKING OR BEING INTERESTED IN MUSIC AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE ELECTRONIC RATHER THAN CLASSICAL MUSIC?
I have always been obsessed with it, from my earliest memories. For me the classical side was never an option for actual serious career stuff – it was just logical to learn classical piano while I was at school. It gave me good playing technique plus exposure to some incredible music, so it was definitely a good thing, but it never competed with my love for electronic music. I started making that when I was about 14 on my first computer (an Amiga 500).
YOU’VE BEEN IN THE INDUSTRY FOR A WHILE. HOW DOES IT FEEL NOW THAT IMMUNITY HAS RECEIVED MORE MAINSTREAM RECOGNITION?
It feels great. I didn’t actually do anything different when writing this one, I have always just made the music I love in exactly the way I want to make it, but something about this album has connected to a wider audience. There’s no point pretending it doesn’t feel good to play to a full room and to people who know your tracks. It can be a very euphoric shared experience.
MANY HAVE SAID THAT IMMUNITY IS THE ALBUM THAT DEFINES YOU AS AN ARTIST. DO YOU AGREE AND IF SO, WHY DO YOU THINK ALL THE ELEMENTS CAME TOGETHER SO WELL?
I don’t know but it is I think my favourite thing that I have done. I have always equally loved the two opposing sides of electronic music – the heavy, more aggressive side, and the hypnotic, ambient side. This record gives equal presence to those two elements. It’s hard to say why it came together, how it did, but I certainly had a good feeling whilst making it. It felt like a coherent piece of work that was representative of one particular time in my life.
YOU’VE SAID THAT YOU HAVE A BIT OF SYNAESTHESIA. HOW DO YOU FEEL THIS AFFECTS YOUR MUSIC OR PROCESS?
It helps me with the mixing and placement of sounds. I see music as an abstract three-dimensional structure, so for me putting a track together is kind of like building a physical thing. It has always been like this but has become a lot clearer in recent years.
FOR AN ELECTRONIC MUSIC PRODUCER YOU’RE NOT ALWAYS THAT POSITIVE ABOUT NEW TECHNOLOGY. CAN YOU TELL US WHY?
There are a lot of newer programmes that take the human being out of the process to quite an alarming degree. They allow you to make music with such ease by providing preset loops and grooves and all the ingredients you need to make something listenable, almost instantly. It can encourage lack of exploration. There’s something about the old programmes I love – I find that in the time it takes me to get a homemade sound completely right, I have had all kinds of other ideas for what should happen around it.
WORKING WITHIN THIS GENRE, HOW DO YOU INTERPRET OR INCORPORATE HUMANITY INTO YOUR MUSIC?
I only work from instinct really so it’s not a conscious thing, but most of the music I listen to is non-electronic and hence very human. I guess the influence has rubbed off on my stuff.
YOU’VE SAID THAT THE ALBUM IS PARTLY INSPIRED BY WANTING TO CREATE SOMETHING FOR A LIVE AUDIENCE. HOW MUCH DO YOU ENJOY PERFORMING LIVE?
It is probably the best bit of my job. The opportunity to share new developments of the tracks with an audience who know the originals is just amazing. You can kind of tease with semi-recognisable bits then drop something central from one of the main tracks and see people get excited. I also love the travel that comes with it. I tend to stagnate if i spend too much time in London without leaving.
YOUR COLLABORATIONS HAVE BEEN QUITE VARIED. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE COLLABORATION?
I had an amazing experience working with Hayden Thorpe of Wild Beasts recently. We made a cover of Goodbye Horses by Q Lazzarus, in the space of one day. Everything came together instantly, there was something strange in the air, like we were channelling the weird, dark energies of the song. It could have just been that I had a hangover though. Hangovers make me more creative.
ARE YOU AS HANDS ON WITH THE VISUALS (FOR THE LIVE SHOWS OR MUSIC VIDEOS) AS YOU ARE WITH CRAFTING THE ALBUM?
No, I leave that side to my VJ, Dan Tombs. Most of the visuals he works with come from the microscopic stuff that Linden Gledhill and Craig Ward designed for the album sleeve. With this record I was determined to have a unified visual language across artwork and live shows. But when it comes to actually making them happen in time with the music I leave it to Dan.
YOU’RE PERFORMING AT UNKNOWN CROATIA IN SEPTEMBER, WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO MAKE IT A UNIQUE FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE? WHY WERE YOU KEEN TO BE INVOLVED?
I don’t know yet, I haven’t been before! But I love the line up and I have had some amazing shows in Croatia in the past. I also have done shows with the organisers before and have always had great experiences.
WHAT ARE YOU SPECIFICALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO AT UNKNOWN?
Jamie XX, Four Tet, Scuba, John Talabot, Moderat, loads of other stuff. Also looking forward to just hanging out with my friends, loads of whom are coming. I am getting there the night before my set in order to just hang out a bit first.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE SET UP OF YOUR PERFORMANCE AT THE FESTIVAL?
I think I’m on the main stage. I’m doing an A/V show. I’m aiming to have some new stuff ready to play by then too.
To find out more about Jon Hopkins, visit his website.
Jon Hopkins plays Unknown Croatia 10-14 September, (tickets from £109) and at KOKO on 21st September.