Jon Hopkins, Clark

The first sound on Immunity is that of a key turning, unlocking the door into Jon Hopkins’ East London studio. It’s followed by the noise of the door slamming, then footsteps, and then finally the crisp, clipping rhythms and pulsating bass of ‘We Disappear’ emerge, signposting the most club-friendly music Hopkins’ has made to date. So begins a confident, dramatic record defined by this acute sense of physicality and place; a bold statement after the quiet, intimate Diamond Mine, his Mercury-nominated 2011 collaboration with King Creosote.

Until now, Jon Hopkins has been an elusive character, known to most as an expert producer, Ivor Novello-nominated composer of film scores, remixer and long term collaborator of Brian Eno and Coldplay. Yet as Hopkins freely admits, the fact that his solo albums to date (Opalescent, 2001; Contact Note, 2004; Insides, 2009) have been rather overshadowed by his work with others has meant that he’s been able to quietly develop his own identity, style and sound. Some of the ideas for Immunity have been in his mind for a long time, but there’s never been a rush to get them out there. It’s part of his mission to make music that feels as natural and unforced as possible. Yet from the moment you hear that key turn in the lock, Immunity announces itself as a powerful, multi-faceted beast, packed with the most aggressively dancefloor-focussed music Hopkins has ever made. Initial indications suggest his first foray into riffs and grooves is paying off. See first single from the album, ‘Open Eye Signal’, where a high pressure hiss gives way to burbling, insistent rhythm – a chrome express train accelerating through a sunlit landscape. The track got its first outing courtesy of Apparat at a DJ set in Japan on New Year’s Eve – an email from the German musician informing Hopkins that the room had erupted made for a great late Christmas present. Or ‘Breathe This Air’ with its graceful build and huge contrasts in mood via uppity rhythms, mournful piano notes, and stirring choral drones. And then there’s ‘Collider’, the album’s peak and the track that Hopkins says is the best he’s ever written. A ten minute techno monster, ‘Collider’ is underpinned by a constant, pounding bass pulse and a sinister texture that could be a harshly taken breath inside a gas mask. The towering central riff makes for a mournful, dystopian aesthetic, cinematic like black rain over neon. Yet the bleak euphoria that suggests a knees-up at the end of the world is only half the story – the compelling 4/4 rhythm and hint of a human vocal give this a massive twist halfway through.

Hopkins deliberately structured Immunity with this colossal banger in the middle. The whole album, therefore, works as an idealised soundtrack to a massive night out, peaking with a huge, lost-in-the-moment climax that feels like more than mere hedonism, warm endorphins swilling around the mind. This desire to create dancefloor-focussed music that was a step up from the slower tempo ambience of his previous solo albums was largely inspired by months spent in clubs and at festivals touring Insides. This gradual absorption of anything from the futuristic oddness found at LA’s Low End Theory club night (at which he has made several live appearances) to sterner European techno seeped out in the studio, shaping his mission to find new melodic routes through what were for him uncharted rhythmic territories. What makes Immunity so intriguing, however, is the methods Hopkins used to do this. A curse of contemporary clubbing is the audible strain of laptop-DJd and computer-made MP3s through powerful PA systems. Hopkins, on the other hand, went out of his way to make music that sounded like physically built things with layer upon layer of depth, a long way from the cold CGI artifice of much entirely computer-derived electronica. This desire to use physical, real-world sounds (anything from tapping a piano and drumming on the desk to a two quid tambourine and salt and pepper shakers) as the basis for many of Immunity’s rhythms also comes from Hopkins’ frustration with the ubiquity of certain synthetic drum machine samples in much contemporary dance music. In the corner of his studio sits the piano that he has had since he was eight-years-old, and the instrument features throughout the more nostalgic second half of Immunity… but not always as you’d expect – Hopkins also uses it to explore new methods of sound generation. On ‘Form By Firelight’, for example, the pedals provide the beat, and the strings are struck for chiming tones. Hopkins’ intent throughout was to be open to the world around him finding its way into the music, wherever he was. These happy moments of unintended creation included the reverse alarm of a lorry outside his Bow studio hitting a certain note during a recording session, serendipitously leading the chord sequence down a different path. The whistle and pop of fireworks emanating from the nearby Olympic Stadium were captured and slowed down, to sound like the echoes of a distant battle. Life and grit came from actively boosting things that aren’t supposed to be there, such as the rattle of window frame at every kick drum hit. This method of looking inside the music for interesting details to pull out and tricking the brain with technically incorrect recording methods might have most studio engineers tutting, but here helped to create a mangled reality. In Hopkins’ studio everything can be melodic, and nothing is wasted.

With this sense of place, Immunity is also a sketch of real experiences and memories absorbed by Hopkins over his thirty-three years. These he now tries to reflect and respond to in his music. This might be the quest to recapture the sound of a perfect chord made by water running through pipes in a New York hotel room, or the light reflecting off the surface of the Thames at certain times of the year, the random patterns of nature. This not only makes the album deeply personal to Hopkins, but is key to one of his main inspirations in recording it – the desire to slow down or alter the brainwaves to help us reach different states of mind, whether via hypnosis, music, or drugs.

Self-hypnosis is a longstanding personal fascination that Hopkins wanted to bring into his music, yet it was only on Immunity that he felt he had the technical ability to actually try and make it happen. The quality control that decided whether or not tracks were finished was to come into the studio in the morning, and if the track started sending him off into another world, it was done. Similarly, when it seemed that Immunity might be ready for mastering, Hopkins tested it by lying on the studio floor, hitting play, and seeing where his mind ended up. With a stated aim to see if this music might have a similar effect on those who encounter it, Immunity feels like the accompaniment to a journey of creativity, a trip inside Hopkins’ mind. That keys-in-the-lock recording that begins the album might usher the listener into the studio to be present at the moment of the music’s creation, but it has a counterpoint in the thrilling album closer, and the song that gives the album its name. ‘Immunity’ is built around rhythms that creak and mutter like the workings of an old watermill joined by a simple, elegiac piano part and indecipherable vocals by King Creosote, as if to paint an inverse to the techno tumult that dominates the album’s first half. The very natural-sounding rattle and dying piano notes at the record’s end show just how far we and Hopkins have come on one of the most human electronic albums you’ll hear this year.

Chris Clark refuses to conform. The Warp Records mainstay has coloured outside the lines throughout his illustrious career, resisting the increasingly regimented and compartmentalised electronic music world with productions that bounce between genres with boundless energy, beholden to nothing but his own restless creativity. Across six albums, seven EPs, and innumerable singles and remixes, Clark has emphasised versatility above all, forging a sound that has incorporated innumerable strands of party-starting techno, abrasive electronics, somber piano tunes, and haphazard electro without ever obscuring the emotional truth at the core of all his productions. Clark's music affirms an utterly human presence within a cold electronic world, and his forthcoming 4 x LP remix compilation Feast / Beast is a snapshot of one of electronic music's renowned talents at his most playful and diverse.

Clark has kept busy since releasing Iradelphic in 2012, an album that glowed with meditative intensity and asserted the breadth of his abilities both on and off the dance floor. Iradelphic was a mostly techno-free surprise to many fans, but it reflected both Clark's musical history (the first track on debut album Clarence Park was a beat-less piano song) and the necessary patience acquired after years sifting through his prodigious output. “I work quickly and on average record about an hours worth of material every day” says Clark. “But as time has gone on I find that I favour practices that slow certain editing and decision making processes down. This purposeful path of most resistance is a rare trait within an increasingly disposable musical culture"

“I prefer to spend a longtime deliberating on sound sources, and they tend to vary greatly. Slowing the selection process down makes your decisions more rigorous, it sort of enhances the ‘Eureka’ moment you get when you nail it."

Fans of Iradelphic took notice, ranging from Thom Yorke, who opened his BBC Essential Mix with ‘The Pining Pt1’ to the BBC 6 Music Breakfast Show, which chose “Secret” as a Single of the Week. For fans of his older material, Iradelphic also coincided with the re- release of Clarence Park, Clark's debut album on Warp at the ripe age of 21, that still proves pregnant with tension and studied restraint.

The new collection Feast / Beast was conceived more than two years ago and the final product ably captures Clark's fidgety past and his expansive future, including twelve brand new remixes of big room acts like Nathan Fake, Barker & Baumecker and The Beige Lasers. It's a broad collection that manages to maintain a sense of cohesion and reflects Clark's own opinions on such compilations. “I find that remix collections tend to tread on a straight path,” he says. “Quite often I hear a remix compilation and you can sense the formula. They get stagnant two- thirds of the way through simply because some people can only write club remixes. This is pretty out-there and exploratory material.” Feast / Beast captures Clark at his most somber and volcanic, whether on the foreboding float of Silverman's ‘Cantstandtherain’, re-shaping Depeche Mode's industrial churn on ‘Freestate’, or adding an analogue stampede to Health's‘Die Slow’. Exploring dichotomies between downtempo piano excursions and boiling techno, it’s a wholly individual work in which years of honed talent bursts through every measure.

“There's a fine line between earnestness and sincerity” says Clark. “The music I like doesn't have to be sentimental, but you can truly feel when an artist is committed and the music is a clear representation of how it exists in their head.”

Feast / Beast is a collection of lullabies, concentrated noise and transportive melancholy, and the eclectic source material reflects both Clark's own creative transience and the fans he's won amongst contemporary futurists, collagists, and kindred spirits. Clark has shared stages with Portishead, Drexciya, Jeff Mills, Tortoise and Beach House, as well as remixing Massive Attack, Friendly Fires and Kuedo, giving him a superlative slate of diverse admirers not confined to any one particular genre.

All the ambiguities, conflicts, and abstraction of electronic music allow for complete emotional freedom, and Clark finds avenues for that revelation not only in his recorded works but in his famously inventive and improvised live shows. Chris got his first taste of the power of live performance while he was a teenager in his hometown St. Albans, London: “I used to go to parties, hijack the stereo, and turn my tracks up loud...I lost a few friends along the way, but gained quite a few, too.” His performances have evolved in depth and breadth since, recently adding visual complexity with the help of visual artist Vincent Oliver and a creating a more focused sonic narrative from his coterie of beloved analog gear. Encompassing swirls of psychedelia, fire-and-brimstone techno, and all manner of explosive experimentation, Clark's live sets are crowd-pleasing affairs that have brought him around the world, from Japan to the belly of the Berghain in his current base of Berlin, as well as festivals such as Mutek and Decibel and noted parties like Low End Theory. Touring the world with this modular setup has only increased Clark's creative drive to deliver bigger and better live experiences. “We had the idea to fly quadcopters low over the crowd” he said, “but that might take a while to sort out...”Of course, a creative mind as capable as Clark's wouldn't be satisfied only existing in sweaty nightclubs. He's responsible for the stark and atonal score of Melanie Lane's dance piece ‘Tilted Fawn’ culminating with a week of sell out performances at the Sydney Opera House in 2012. The collaboration with Lane continued with ‘Shrine’ a dance performance installation that recently debuted in Berlin. “I've come to recognize the pivot between various subconscious impulses that pull you in different directions and yet all feed each other,” says Clark. “What I did for Melanie Lane was extremely dense and cold, but when combined with her visual language, became inviting, enveloping.” It's this kind of addictive hypnotism that Clark pursues with all of his music, whether scoring avant-garde dance pieces or moving dance floors worldwide. Clark has grown from precociously talented artist to esteemed musical polyglot without ever sacrificing the unique versatility that has sustained his vibrant career. “The more you explore one part, the more you breed an appetite to explore the other parts,” says Clark. “It's like a controlled experiment in polarised extremes. There is an under current that links it all though.”

His ongoing creative process and future plans reflect an innate sense of the restlessness of the human condition that shines through in his work with propulsive and emotional singularity. “Music is always an imperfect facsimile of your original idea,” says Clark. Yet despite this, Clark's music remains continually entrancing, incendiary, and utterly human.

Nathan Fake

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Jon Hopkins, Clark with Nathan Fake

Friday, November 29 · Doors 8:30 PM / Show 9:00 PM at The Independent

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