If anyone might chart a course for the future of ambient dance music – contradiction in terms as that might seem – it’s the UK’s Jon Hopkins. Spacious sounds and free-flowing gestures seem to flow effortlessly in his music, but that same texture can be honed into hard-hitting grooves or set against forward-propelled rhythms. It is, simply, beautiful music you can dance to.
In the new full-length “Immunity,” Hopkins is once again in top form. To me, he’s reached a new level of clarity and coherence. There’s an almost narrative thread through “Immunity,” as though it’s a score for a kind of film we don’t know how to make yet. A good substitute, while we work that out, is the short film made by artist/biochemist Linden Gledhill and art director Craig Ward. Images of microscopic realms, butterfly wings and crystals in motion, seem perfect, organic and dynamic as the music.
From The Creators Project
The sonic world of “Immunity,” with its thick, sharply-defined bass, adds a greater degree of consistency than past Hopkins outings. Here, he has pared down materials to a mature record, confident in all the best stuff.
Jon spoke to CDM three years ago about his techniques in the studio and live onstage. He talked about keeping keys constantly at the ready – a piano a chair swivel away, and a trusted Korg Trinity his one and only keyboard. He also spoke a bit about economy in composition, which I think is relevant to what you can hear on “Immunity.” He told us at the time:
I think initially, you go by instinct. … I’d have three or four variations of a loop … at some point, you feel the drum track is ready, and it doesn’t need any more tweaks — it would be overworked. And I don’t like over-programmed electronic music; I think it had its time, really. Now I really think a solid groove is the way.
I’m especially satisfied that this same level of discipline applies to stage shows. It’d be easy enough to turn a lush, cinematic, grooving record like this into a press-play set. In fact, it’s hard not to do that. Instead, Hopkins is always actively pulling and stretching his tracks over the course of an evening.
I caught up with the latest iteration of this in May at Mapping Festival in Geneve, Switzerland. It was the first time I’d heard the new material, and nice to experience that in the club. I detailed the live rig in the interview in 2010. He has reduced the number of KAOSS Pads, at least – he had three with him in Switzerland rather than the four or five he was playing before.
But people do dance to this stuff. (I certainly was.) The fact these are smart grooves means that they’re even more irresistible grooves, felt deeply. I hope that more musicians playing out feel liberated to express themselves in that way, rather than get this impression they have to somehow “dumb down” their music to dance. Real musical intelligence, to flip it round the other way, can also get past that overly-active frontal lobe into the mushy bits that make us move.
And good musical times may lie ahead, with musicians whose craft easily crosses the jump from groove machine to onscreen waveform to ebony and ivory keys.
Enjoy “Open Eye Signal,” the stand-out single from the record, in its entirety. It sums up what I mean, in that musically you have this sense of soaring vocal pads, a bit of a nod to that fantastic English vocal tradition, atop deep-low, toe-wriggling bassline – head-to-feet production:
And for a sense of how his live shows work, here’s a full set from 2010 in St. Petersburg – love this one:
Immunity is out this week.