Jon Hopkins crafts dance music to meditate on
If Jon Hopkins’ moody, muscular dance music leaves fans feeling a little dazed, that’s no accident. The London-based producer practices autogenic training (a kind of brain-clearing mental yoga) and director David Lynch’s brand of Transcendental Meditation.
“For me, it’s not about relaxing,” Hopkins said. “It can get music flowing in a way that’s really uninhibited, and I want to spend as much time in that place as possible.”
Dance music artists often write with a sense of escapism. But Hopkins’ music does something else. The handmade, eerily focused techno on his most recent album, “Immunity,” makes a night out feel more like you’re re-wiring your mind rather than just fleeing from a day job.
His arrangements won over lauded collaborators like Coldplay and Brian Eno, just a few of the artists who have tapped the 34-year-old to add (as Coldplay once credited him in their liner notes) “light and magic” to arena-ready anthems.
But 2013’s “Immunity” was a breakthrough. It’s an ambitious, pulsing noise record that would sound just as good annihilating Berghain’s legendary Berlin dance floor as it would in an experimental film — in fact, he did the soundtrack to Gareth Edwards’ 2010’s sci-fi-dystopia flick “Monsters.”
Hopkins has produced spacey folk albums for singer-songwriter King Creosote and improvised on synth freakout albums with Eno. But on “Immunity,” he finally found his own sound. And it just might be the future of late-night dance music.
It’s hard to place Hopkins in any kind of contemporary club-music scene, however. Put aside the current mainstream EDM wave. “Immunity” is more demanding than that.
It’s not difficult music. The album’s lead track, “Open Eye Signal,” is eight minutes of a single, slinking bass line that somehow feels as re-playable as a pop song. “Collider” fires off dozens of radiant synths and samples, for a finish that’s more emotional and disorienting than anything Coachella fans may illicitly pass around in the Sahara Tent.
But Hopkins stresses that these are songs at heart, not mere party supplies.
“For me there always needs to be a narrative element in music,” Hopkins said, “so it isn’t just a functional thing to keep people up all night in some messed-up state.”
That’s the element that attracted some of the world’s sharpest ears in pop and experimental music alike.
Hopkins began collaborating with Eno in his early 20s, which led to producing for Coldplay after Eno signed on to work with the group. Hopkins’ productions and samples of his own music have appeared on every Coldplay album since 2008’s “Viva La Vida” (the top-selling album of that year), most recently on this year’s “Ghost Stories” in the single “Midnight.”
“Brian Eno introduced him to us as his ‘more talented protege,’” said Coldplay singer Chris Martin. “He can play more notes in 10 seconds than our whole band can in eight hours and, were this three centuries ago, he would have no doubt been the talk of the classical concert scene across the palaces of Europe.”
For a synth-centric composer, Eno asking you to join him in-studio is the equivalent of John Bonham inviting you to jump into his drum circle. Hopkins is a “producer” in the classic sense of the term, however, and has a natural ear for how his style pairs with other visions — from pop-trap stars Purity Ring (whom he’s remixed and collaborated with) to art-rock elder statesmen.
His first day with Eno was “pretty painless, actually,” he said. “I was 23 and nervous as hell, but we just started playing along together, and soon I had a part and he said, ‘That’s good,’ and we kept going. My method is always just to follow my instincts.”
There are challenges, though. Hopkins largely performs at rock venues (like the Echoplex, where he’ll perform Saturday) rather than pure techno clubs and admits he’s not totally sure of his place in the current electronic music landscape. “I love the atmosphere, but it would be disingenuous to act like I’m from the club world,” he said. “And I’m not a DJ, I don’t have that skill set, and everything I do is live and all arranged from my own music.”
His solo tracks and production savvy are turning powerful ears, though. It also helps that, as experimental electronic composers go, Hopkins has rather smoldering features (Coldplay’s Martin described Hopkins’ hair as “quite heroic.”)
Whether Hopkins becomes a club-scene star or a top pop producer is yet to be seen, but it’s not especially the focal point of his career. What Hopkins has done on “Immunity” is to move the goal posts of what danceable music can accomplish. That’s a feat worth meditating on.
Where: Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., L.A.
When: Sat., 8:30 p.m.
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