jon hopkins

Jon Hopkins Thrives On The Second Stage

For the in-demand British electronic producer, making albums is just step one.

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- Jul 24, 2014

Jon Hopkins knows when to change the script. This past Saturday at Toronto's TIME Festival, the British electronic producer was stuck with an early, unfavourable slot, well before headliner Grimes was set to take the stage. Making matters worse, a steady rain had been soaking disgruntled concertgoers for hours, sending those who didn't head home to huddle under ponchos provided by the festival's alcohol sponsor or under tents if they could find the real estate.

But the weather didn't seem to bother Jon Hopkins. If anything, it energized him. Hunched over a laptop and trigger pads, the beatmaker created techno soundscapes that slowly escalate in tension, while geometric shapes and scenes of a skateboarder crossing the desert flashed on a screen behind him. Gradually bodies started moving, propelling one fellow clad entirely in black into a particularly inspired two-step while holding an umbrella. For Hopkins, these are the ideal conditions for a festival show.

The album wasn’t the finishing point, it was just the first stage.

Jon Hopkins
“I really enjoyed today because I had adverse conditions,” says Hopkins backstage in his trailer following his set. “I had to really try to bring people’s moods up without compromising what I was doing.”

"I like the challenging ones."

Whether he’s playing the muddy grounds of a historic 18th century fort in Toronto or Glastonbury’s electronic stage (“Probably the highlight of my year,” he says), the 34-year-old has proven he’s capable of adapting to different elements. The same goes for when he steps offstage. “I’m happy to be in the background or onstage in the foreground,” he claims. “I don’t like being the focus all the time.”

Jon Hopkins - Full Performance (Live on KEXP)

He’s certainly busy enough. Beyond his solo career, an admiration for film composers Carter Burwell (best known for his work with the Coen brothers) and Thomas Newman has sent him into the cinematic realm. Last year he completed his third soundtrack  for the British drama How I Live Now. Again, he relishes the opportunity to fade into the background.

“The pressure’s off a bit,” he admits. “It’s not so much the form for experimentation or progressing your own sound, but you’re part of a crew and you don’t have to come up with the story.”

Through his film work, Hopkins met Brian Eno, who in turn introduced him to Coldplay. Hopkins’ worked on their last three albums including this year’s Ghost Stories. “The track 'Midnight' was something I made in my studio a long time ago,” he says. “I played it for Chris [Martin] and he asked, ‘Well, can I get a mic and just sing over it?’”

Hopkins’ willingness to collaborate with other artists extends across the Atlantic Ocean too. Take, for example, his fruitful working relationship with Canadian electronic pop duo Purity Ring.

Jon Hopkins - Breathe This Air feat. Purity Ring ft. Purity Ring

“Originally they got in touch with me when they were making their first album [2012’s Shrines] to see if I would mix it and I don’t generally mix people’s albums,” he says. After exchanging ideas he agreed to help, which led to him remixing the duo’s song “Amenamy” and Megan James contributing vocals to “Breathe This Air,” one of the stand out tracks off the producer’s last album Immunity.

“I don’t ever just cold call people and ask if they want to sing on my track, It has to make some sense in my mind,” he says. “There was definitely room for another version of it and I actually preferred the version with Megan.”

After he’s finished the interview, he’ll head back to his Toronto hotel to work on an upcoming mix for BBC Radio, before flying out to Chicago the next morning to perform at Pitchfork Music Festival. Hopkins also mentions that he’s been working on an EP, recorded at Sigur Rós’ studio in Reykjavik, Iceland, expanding on what he calls the “quieter half” of Immunity. While Hopkins estimates he’s played over one hundred shows since the fourth album was released, he continues to re-interpret material (and have other artists remix songs) so that it’s fresh for audiences and himself.

“There’s always moments that work every night,” he says. “Onstage I use bits of all these versions and remixes to develop these tracks. It’s almost like the album wasn’t the finishing point, it was just the first stage.”

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