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Interview: Jon Hopkins – Laneway Festival 2019

Interview: Jon Hopkins – Laneway Festival 2019

Interview by David Green / Saturday 26th January, 2019 12:41PM

UK electronic dance innovator Jon Hopkins is back in Aotearoa this week, to play an evening set in the leafy surrounds of Auckland's Albert Park at St. Jerome's Laneway Festival 2019. Last here for Laneway in 2015, Hopkins returns fresh from the release of Singularity, his epic-scale Grammy-nominated first studio album since 2013's Immunity, released last year alongside a clutch of visually dazzling and immersive videos created with directors Elliot Dear, Robert Hunter, Seb Edwards and Alex Grigg. Ahead of Hopkins' sure to be jaw-dropping set on Monday (at the Dr Martens Stage from 9.30pm), David Green of Auckland electro-punk trailblazers The Fanatics recently spoke with the genre-defying electronic artist about his long-awaited new record and what we can look forward to at Laneway 2019...


Hi Jon, what what have you been up to lately?

Pretty recently I finished the live tour for the year, we did 51 shows and the last one was in Madrid a couple of weeks ago. As well as that, I’ve been playing DJ sets. It’s been a busy year in terms of travel and touring. Since the touring ended, I’ve been trying to restore myself a bit from all the rigours of that and also looking at the idea of starting some new music as well, which is a vague way of saying that I am in the studio, I just don’t have anything yet.


Is touring still a buzz for you? Or are you over it?

I’m enjoying it now more than ever, the show has grown a bit and the crowds have grown, which is something I’m very grateful for, but that does mean I don’t get to play smaller venues so much anymore and I don’t get to play more unusual cities, you tend to play major cities only. At the same time, the larger crowd does mean you have more freedom around the show and you get to make the show as good as you can. It’s not like you’re trying to play every city as often as possible and exhausting yourself doing so. It’s more about doing one or two hard-hitting shows in a country and doing it how you always dreamed of doing it, doing the best possible show without compromise.


What kind of live setup will you have when you come down here for Laneway?

It’s based around Ableton, which is how I wrote the album. It’s an incredible system, it allows you to improvise and build music and do everything that you can dream of doing in the world of electronic music. I have some very strong visuals that have been worked on by quite a few teams of people, for every track there is different visuals and then there’s a guy, Dan Tombs, who runs the visual show and there’s a fair bit of live collaboration going on between me and him.


Are you still using a bunch of Kaoss pads on stage?

Yeah, I’ve been using those for 10 years and I sometimes think that I should move on, but I can’t find anything I like as much for doing that particular thing. The only thing that could replace them is more touch screen type things and I don’t feel the same level of trust because they would just control further levels of Ableton and I don’t feel the confidence in that. I still love the idea of processing audio and I’ll keep doing it until I get bored of it.


It’s kind of like the dub ethos isn’t it?

Yeah, that’s kind of how I write as well, I like to capture sounds and then take them a long way from where they started, they end up as new sounds and then you can blend them with the original, that way I find quite a lot of inspiration.


Are you humanising machines or mechanising the organic?

I’m not consciously aware of what I’m doing, I’m just following instincts. I think that we humans built all these machines, so they are all inherently human. I think what I am trying to do is use them to express what I want to express, you can use them whatever way you want, you can make life a lot easier and use all the presets and sample packs that you can buy, and I’m not judging that, that’s absolutely fine, but I don’t find that inspiring myself. I tend to use every level of control that is available to find new avenues of sound. That’s why I like Ableton so much because you can go either way, if you want to go super deep with it and create and control new sounds, there’s no more logical and intuitive way to do it.


Do you also sometimes perform with just a piano?

Yeah, this is something I did a little bit on the Immunity tour and doing a concert tour more globally has been something I’ve been very interested in exploring. I did a small version of how that might look recently, at a show for the charity, War Child. I had a grand piano on stage and played with a guitarist, who I’ve worked with for many years, he’s played on all of my albums, a guy called Leo Abrahams. He’s the guy that introduced me to Brian Eno originally, so I owe him a lot. We have a great time improvising together. That show was a kind of preview of what I hope to be doing when the main festival circuit is complete.


You released Singularity five years after you released Immunity, what was the rush to get it out?

Oh you know, life is short, at this current rate I’ll be on my 7th album by the time I’m 55. I just don’t think it matters really. If you release something that you are not completely happy with, just imagine looking back at it years later and thinking, “if only I had done a few more months here and there, this could be this thing rather than that thing.” When you have been releasing albums for nearly 20 years like I have, it just doesn’t make any sense to rush things. I’m happy to have a track sitting around for ages unfinished, there are tracks like ‘Everything Connected’ on Singularity that I started in 2010. I just think, if an idea is interesting enough for it to hang around that long without me getting bored of it then, at least as far as I’m concerned, there’s something in it. There is no way for me to find out if they are on that level other than to wait a long time. I might work intensely on a track for a few months and then I might not listen to it for another couple of months, that’s the only way I can be sure that I’m not going to get bored of it.


Do you have the Aphex Twin thing of tracks just piling up on your hard drive?

No, on this album there is not a single off-cut, they all go into the tracks that I make. It’s not that I don’t throw things away, it’s just that the stuff I throw away is from within the tracks that make it. If you were to listen to the first version of ‘Emerald Rush,’ you wouldn’t recognise it, there’s almost nothing in common with the finished version apart from tempo and key. Often the idea that you start with is no longer valid by the time you finish, but it was still the stepping stone towards something that became interesting.


Is the idea of albums dying?

I decided that it’s really none of my business whether they are dying or not, they may be, it may be that people just want playlists and tracks. I like the idea that tracks are equally valued outside of their context and that’s why I do radio edits and you can listen to them on Spotify. Although I wouldn’t recommend it, they are the ones that end up in playlists and I’m perfectly happy for them to exist on their own like that. Even if there are only a few people listening to albums, those people are looking for a deeper journey. They generally like getting a record out and looking at the art work and then they put their phones away for a bit and just really enjoy the experience of letting the music guide them for an hour. I don’t see why that isn’t valid, trends are changing, but I don’t think albums are in danger because of the simple fact that an hour or 70 minutes is a logical unit of time to fully express a story, or an idea, in the same way an hour or 2 hours is right for a movie. It’s a sensible length of time for constructing a narrative or some kind of emotional arc. I’ll always do it even if no-one listens to it in that form.


Alongside Singularity you’ve released a bunch of really nice music videos, I was particularly taken with ‘Feel First Life,’ how involved are you with the video making process?

Oh yeah, that one’s amazing. I get involved in the early stages, for example with ‘Feel First Life,’ Elliot Dear, who directed that, is someone I worked with many times over the years. He was the co-director of ‘Emerald Rush’ and I worked with him on the collaboration I did with King Creosote. With ‘Feel First Life’ I had this idea in my head of this dystopian, post catastrophe world and this weird child that was roaming around the ruins and was eventually somehow able to restart the process of life. I was well aware it was a terrible new-age idea and that’s why I am not a video director, but that’s the concept I was thinking of, which is rebirth essentially. So Elliot took the idea and made something that was actually good out of it, he went away with his team and came back with this extraordinarily poetic video.

Are you a music gear nerd?

No, quite the opposite actually, I get quickly frustrated with equipment and I never really buy anything new. I have a great engineer that I work with who helped me mix the album, a guy called Cherif Hashizume, and he knows the tech side really well. I use Ableton and I use different plugins to quite an extensive level, I’ll use many, many different tracks and many, many different plugins, but I just use the program, I don’t know how to use Max and I don’t know how to use modular synthesis. I haven’t tried these things because I’m interested in quick results, I know I work for ages on albums, but everything I’m doing is done on instinct, so that doesn’t really blend very well with the aesthetic behind deep programming. I also think that there is something damaging about being too stuck on the gear, there is always new stuff to explore, but if you are learning new stuff all of the time, then how are you writing music?


You are broadly involved in music and don’t sound like you have much free time, but what do you get up to when you do have free time?

I’m into things that are quite opposite to my working life, that really means getting out into nature. I live right in central London and touring takes me to a lot of other big cities and whilst I love the buzz of that, I don’t find it restorative and relaxing, so I’ll try and get out and go hiking. I’m particularly passionate about wild swimming and cold swimming, I love yoga and various breathing techniques, I like playing chess, I like hanging out with friends and I’m quite a beer enthusiast. There’s no shortage of things that I like out there.


Are you looking forward to Laneway?

I played it before in 2015 and I’m not joking it was the most fun tour I ever had, it’s nice going around with the different bands and you become friends with different crews. Last time I did it, Flying Lotus’ crew was there and we just became friends and I hung out with those guys a lot, Caribou as well, people that I have been fans of for years and you just end up hanging out with them.


Laneway Festival 2019 is happening at Auckland's Albert Park on Monday 28th January — explore this year's timetable and site map right here.

Links
jonhopkins.co.uk/
auckland.lanewayfestival.com/

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Mon 28th Jan
Albert Park, Auckland





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