Speaking from Los Angeles, a former home, where his goals are simply to catch up with friends and eat the best fish tacos, Hopkins is alert to ideas that interest him. Some of those topics revolve around the 40-year-old’s own body, which has been the subject of various self-generated experiments. For example, Hopkins tried natural psychedelics – such as mushrooms – in the lead-up to making his most recent album, 2018’s Singularity.
“I think there’s some truth behind the fact that whatever you do in your day-to-day life will appear in your music,” Hopkins says. “As you reach this age our bodies start speaking to us a bit louder. Learning to be in tune with your mind/body connection is one of the keys to good mental and physical health. That’s a challenge that’s really important to master.”
You know you’re scaling a mountain, but you don’t know if it has a summit, let alone can see it.
The way Hopkins talks about his body, with various inputs, filters, and outcomes, is analogous to how electronic musicians of his generation learnt how to make music as teenagers with synthesisers and drum machines that were full of creative potential but often uncharted. The best sounds were often the result of hacking the machines or intuitive testing.
Hopkins is both beholden to technology and still waiting for it to catch up. Singularity, a record that effortlessly takes crafted house beats and celestial melodies to cosmic heights, was the first album in a career that’s over two decades long where Hopkins felt the tools available to him allowed him to actually recreate the sounds he was hearing in his head. Even then, it was a lengthy and taxing studio process.
“There was a lot of joy in making Singularity, but the early stages in particular were very difficult,” Hopkins says. “You know you’re scaling a mountain, but you don’t know if it has a summit, let alone can see it.”
Singularity entered the top 10 of the British charts upon release and solidified Hopkins’ status as one of techno’s auteurs – an artist still pushing at the genre’s boundaries. In June of this year he performed a headline evening set in front of a main stage audience of over 100,000 people at the Glastonbury music festival, an audio-visual experience revolving around the singles from Singularity and 2013’s Immunity.
The success of those two albums, after a decade of solo obscurity where Hopkins supported himself as a valued studio collaborator with the likes of Brian Eno and Coldplay, has given him a measure of freedom. Hopkins can now make decisions about his career without undue worry or impediments, which is not a point he ever expected to reach.
“I’ve had 10 years of poverty and uncertainty and no choice whatsoever,” he says. “Now I’m extremely lucky, so I want to respond by making music with true integrity. I think the next idea for me is to break out of the traditional two-channel format and start making things that are more installation-like. It’s very arbitrary that our culture likes three and a half minute songs played on two channels. I’ll still do those, but it’s just one way of doing things.”
Having toured Singularity intensively, which has taken away his ability to sleep properly, Hopkins is returning to Australia for a brief tour.
He was last here in February, when he was part of the national Laneway music festival, but wanted to return to play two venues he admired but had never appeared at: the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne’s Forum Theatre. It’s another box ticked before he moves into his next creative age.
“I definitely have a limited amount of techno tracks left in me – I can feel myself naturally turning away from that,” Hopkins says. “I love music that can elicit a trance response and if you look back through history, at tribal drumming circles and forms of indigenous music, they’re always much longer. We gravitate to that as a species.”
Jon Hopkins plays the Forum Theatre, Melbourne, on Saturday, January 4, and the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall on Sunday, January 5.
Craig Mathieson is a TV, film and music writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.