Meet Jon Hopkins

Meet Jon Hopkins

Jon Hopkins  is something of a polymath: soundtrack composer, producer, remixer, DJ. He’s the kind of guy who makes you feel like you’re shirking if you’re yet to get Brian Eno on speed dial and still waiting earn cross-discipline plaudits on a regular basis. What’s that? You haven’t? Slacker.First, some background: Raised in London, he studied classical piano at the Royal College of Music before having his ears tweaked by the surfeit of groundbreaking electronic music that was seeping out of the radio in the early 90s. Since then he hasn’t exactly looked back; his solo body of work begun with his 2001 debut Opalescent which set a high watermark for primary coloured electronica, washed with ambience yet still structured, tight. Over the years he’s continued to refine his sound, keeping one ear open to new trends and avoiding easy categorisation. His 2009 album ‘Insides’ toyed with expectations of electronic and acoustic, where spells cast by glossy, introspective melodies are torn asunder by gut wrenching spasms of bass.But that’s just part of the story. Hopkins has also established himself as one of the most in-demand producers working within the field of electronic music, with production credits on albums by Massive Attack, Herbie Hancock, Coldplay and, of course, long-term collaborator Brian Eno. Last month it was announced last month that his collaboration with King Creosote on the record ‘Diamond Mine’ has been nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize – which means more ears than ever are going to be tuning into his frequencies.

As part of the build-up to Alpha-ville ’11 – where he will be gracing us with a live AV set on Friday 23rd at XOYO – we muscled in on his hectic schedule to shoot the breeze with this highest of high achievers.

First up, congratulations on your Mercury nomination. Was that out of the blue?
Yeah, that is pretty exciting and unexpected. It was a bit strange because it was one of the most relaxing, tranquil and easiest record-making experiences I’d ever had. The main body of songs is stuff that Kenny (Anderson – King Creosote) had written over the last 20 years so I just got a chance to record new vocals and write new music underneath so the focus was already there. I didn’t have to worry about song structures and the kind of stuff that makes solo writing much harder.

It crowns an incredible year for you. You continued your collaborative work with Brian Eno ‘A Small Craft on a Milk Sea’, you wrote the soundtrack for ‘Monsters’ and you’ve remixed some amazing people artists, including dare we say it, David Lynch.
That was very strange. He’s my favourite film director and has been for about 20 years so it was interesting to suddenly be talking to him on Twitter and things like that. I’ve heard he’s got a full length album, I’m really excited to hear that.

David Lynch – I Know (Jon Hopkins Remix) by Jon Hopkins

You trained as a classical pianist. What made you want to break away from that and move in an electronic direction?
I only did it between 12 and 17 at the Royal College [of London]. Then when I left school at 17 the classical thing was very useful, it taught some good techniques and the ability to play on the piano whatever was in my head but I never thought of it in terms of a career as it wasn’t what really interested me. When I left school I got into keyboards and samplers and started learning electronics a lot more. I did use computers when I was 13 and 14, just basic stuff, but I stepped it up and started writing properly at about 18  - 19.

Was there a particular record that turned you onto electronic music?
Because I was listening to it so young it was more like stuff I heard on the radio, like Depeche Boys and Pet Shop Boys and all the dance tracks that would be in the charts occasionally that year like acid house. It was just whatever was on. In my mind it was always that music that I wanted to do. Later on I wanted to incorporate acoustic elements. But if I’m to pick a specific record it would be Violator by Depeche Mode, that kind of thing

A lot of people do set acoustic music and electronic music up as opposites. Organic instrumentation is perceived as being warm, and electronic beats are perceived as being synthetic. Did you find reconciling those two fundamental types of music a challenge?
My last album is all about that really, bringing those things together. There’s a third element which is exactly half way between acoustic and electronic and a lot of the sounds off that album, particularly the warmer sounds, are actually digitally processed acoustic instruments. I try and use both natural acoustic sounds and then completely electronic sounds and then something in between the two. Of course, sometimes you want the sounds to be as harsh as possible, you want the contrast to be as extreme as possible. I think you can benefit from not blending them at all, just forcing them together.

What is your process when writing a new track?
There’s always one seed at the beginning. Sometimes it’s just me sitting down and pressing record and coming up with a motif. There’s a track on the album called…which is a bit weirder. In Hackney, for some reason, the TV reception is incredibly bad. One time the reception was sounding really bad, like the nastiest electronics, I was watching Deal or No Deal and these incredibly weird noises were coming out, tiny weird fragments so I got my computer and recorded that and made a beat out of it. A song can begin like that just as easily as it can come from an instrument. I might be walking around with my field recording stuff and hear something and just record it. It can come from anywhere really.

Have you found that over the last few years audiences have become more fluid in their tastes? You toured with Coldplay, for example.
Well yes. The Coldplay thing kind of sits apart from everything else. With that audience it’s impossible to tell what the reaction was, there was so many of them and they were so far away, an endless sea. You do get applause and you sell records but if you’ve got that many people it’s inevitable that some will like you. But people who come and see me, knowing my stuff, what to expect of it, will also expect something more. As it’s evolved it has become a lot heavier, a lot more consistently rhythmic than the records. There aren’t really any long ambient sections, it’s gone a bit crazier.

One thing that strikes me about your records is how emotive your records are, primarily through your use of melody. Where do these melodies come from, are you writing about something personal to you?
There’s no one thing. It’s a wanky answer but they must be feelings I have but they’re not conscious, I’m not thinking that I’m going to write a song about a girl. Obviously that’s happening whether I’m thinking about it or not because it will just come out. There’s maybe one or two where I’m consciously trying to do something with a melody or a track. Light Through the Veins is a really simple 9 note repeated thing and when I hit upon that melody I had this idea just to have this 9 note melody and just try and actually create something that hypnotises. I wanted to create this timeless feeling. It’s almost like when you have a really good night and time just disappears; just creating that feeling in one piece of music.

As well as the melodies there’s some gristly, almost industrial passages in your sound. Are you interested in bass music?
God Yes, and I’m always playing with those artists. However, those heavier tracks on my last album were actually written long before I was really knew much about that music, before I was listening to dubstep. I mean the snares are in the same place so it might get called that by some people. Nowadays I’m more exposed to it. Also I’ve become really interested in Border Community. Four Tet sent me a bunch of stuff and then I got Nathan Fake to do me a remix and I got really into their stuff. I’m anticipating my next record will sound a bit like that.

I can see how both your sound and the Border Community sound are quite apposite in terms of being melody led.
Yeah it’s incredible stuff. Luke Abbott particularly as well, a track called Swansong on his album is something I’m really obsessed with.

You’re doing a live set at Alpha-ville, what can we expect?
I’m already two years away from my last album and I’m not doing too many solo live shows so this is going to be quite rare and fun for me. I’ve got a visual artist, Dan Tombs, with me and it will be the first show we’ve done together. He’s done some visuals for Nathan (Fake) and Factory Floor.

What sort of thing do you have in mind?
The idea is that he’ll be doing generative stuff, he’ll be controlling how it responds to the music. It’s really mind blowing, I’ll want to look behind me! It’s a new direction for me because normally I’m much more pre-prepared but as this uses generative techniques it should be a lot more original, I think.

Finally, what do you find more rewarding, composing, producing or remixing?
I think the key for me is to do all of them. The hardest thing by miles is writing your own album, but the reward is brilliant, the feeling of writing something you love is certainly more than any other feeling. It’s hard to explain, but when I do an album on my own that’s when I make a big step forward in terms of my sound -when I force myself to not do something I’ve done before.
I am looking forward to getting back into writing, I’ve bought some analogue synths and I’m looking forward to getting away for a few months. Mind you, I always say that but I never do.

Meet Jon Hopkins live at XOYO on Friday 23rd September, get your ticket here.

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One Trackback

  1. By Metaphor Miracles on September 21, 2011 at 2:43 am

    Other Metaphorical Miracles ……

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