Jon Hopkins: ‘Psychedelic experiences inspired this album’

The musician on film scores, technological developments and the natural highs behind his new album, Singularity

Born in Kingston upon Thames in 1979, the musician and producer Jon Hopkins studied piano at the Royal College of Music before turning his hand to electronic music. He has released four studio albums, including the 2013 critical smash Immunity, and has collaborated with artists as diverse as Brian Eno, King Creosote and Coldplay. Hopkins’s mind-bending fifth album, Singularity, is out this Friday on Domino. He plays London’s Village Underground on 10 May.

You said on Instagram recently that you knew you’d make this record 15 years ago but only figured out how to make it in the past couple of years. What twigged?
I knew a few things in advance, including the title and the idea of the album starting and ending with a really simple tone. I also wanted there to be a symbiotic relationship between all the sounds, so that everything would seem to grow out of everything else. But I was still figuring things out back then – if I was a visual artist, you would say I was still learning how to draw – so I needed to get the basics right before trying to be conceptual and ambitious.

Were you also waiting for technology to catch up with your ideas?
Yes. With the program I use now, Ableton, it’s quite easy to imagine how one sound could lead to the birth of another. On the track Feel First Life, I have a synth sound that gradually morphs into a choral sound. That idea of a 15-part choir appearing out of the fabric of electronic sounds was what I was looking to do all those years ago. Trying to work out how to get that on to an electronic album without it sounding ridiculous was one of the fun challenges.

You also said that the album “is designed to follow the build, peak and release of a psychedelic experience”.
Yeah, that was definitely one of the primary inspirations for how it turned out sonically. It’s something I’ve only recently become interested in; I didn’t really feel ready to go deep into the psychedelic space until a couple of years ago.

What kind of psychedelics are we talking about?
Quite specifically, the naturally occurring ones. I’m fascinated by the idea that I can eat a mushroom that grows in the ground and have these crazy cosmic experiences that will then appear in the music and then possibly affect other people. I like to have an album arc that comes from an experience rather than a story. Immunity was more of an MDMA-type album, with the melancholy and the tinge of mild dystopia you get with huge, adventurous nights out. This album is more wholesome, in that it’s geared towards naturally occurring things.

Is the album title referring to the technological singularity – the moment when artificial superintelligence comes of age?
Not really, though possibly the title track is about that.

How do you feel about robots taking over?
I’m a massive catastrophist by nature. I’m not keen on interfering with nature; I don’t want to edit my genome. I checked into a hotel recently and got text messages from a virtual assistant called Edward. I just texted back saying: “Fuck off.” I’m looking forward to the moment when people will finally twig that filming a concert is actually less fun than watching a concert.

What did you learn from working with Brian Eno?
I learned so much. It wasn’t really technical stuff – it was more about disrupting your natural processes, about enjoying [making music] more and not getting bogged down in the minutiae. Eno really broke down my idea of electronic music as a perfectly structured thing. It made me a little more loose and more human in how I approached it.

Have you seen or heard anything good recently?
I did enjoy [Alex Garland’s] film Annihilation. Maybe not in the way it was intended to be enjoyed – I didn’t really like the large mutant CG monster – but it had an incredible visual aesthetic. The way it looks is unbelievably dreamlike, beautiful – I was really hypnotised. And it has an incredible score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. For me, the score is one of the main characters of a film.


Killian Fox

The GuardianTramp

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