Spinner JUNE 3, 2010 - by David Dacks


Classically trained musician Jon Hopkins is proof a modern composer can be esoteric and widely appealing at the same time.

A former child prodigy on piano, his first two releases were introspective, subtle and dreamlike, but over the last few years those qualities have been augmented by a deeper rhythmic expression. Hopkins attention to detailed, cinematic sonics caught the attention of Brian Eno, who introduced him to Coldplay when Eno produced Viva La Vida two years ago. That led to a tour with the British band, and now Hopkins returns to North America on his own at Montreal's MUTEK festival on June 3.

Working with Coldplay came as a surprise, says Hopkins, though perhaps not a complete surprise, given Eno's golden Rolodex of experimental artists.

"I met Brian Eno about seven years ago and he took me out of the sphere I was in," Hopkins tells Spinner. "I had a day of jamming with Herbie Hancock and Squarepusher, which I'd never dreamed of. One day he told me he was going to produce the next Coldplay album and he just invited me in one day. I came along with my keyboard and started jamming with them. He'd got the band back to basics a little bit, all playing in the same room together for the first time in a long time and enjoying the feeling of playing as a band. Eno liked the idea of including someone who wasn't part of the original four to break it up for them.

"I found that their tastes were a lot more experimental than people imagined," he continues. "They're actually very forward thinking and progressive in their songwriting - it was a million miles from anything I'd ever done before. I wasn't expecting such a long relationship with them; it's been amazing. It was very surreal to be in a band that everyone knows about and to discover that they were really great musicians."

Hopkins composition Light Through The Veins was reworked for Viva La Vida, and bookended the album. It's a fine example of Hopkins' songwriting, synthetic yet warm sounds stating a simple melody which adds layers of variations and polyrhythms to morph into an gentle but uplifting piece of music. There are no verses or choruses, but the song's development is clear, never sounding like Hopkins dialed up a few presets on a keyboard and put them on autopilot.

His most recent album, Insides, ups the groove factor of his work. Using more conventionally rhythmic sounds, the album retains the lush, detailed textures of his more ambient work of his previous two albums while graduating to head-nodding status. But intellectually, it's cut from the same cloth; Hopkins maintains an expansive vision of the possibilities of electronic composition.

"There's no boundaries anymore, once something enters your computer you can manipulate it however you want," says Hopkins. "You can begin with something completely acoustic and end up with something entirely electronic. You can focus on a sound rather than a melody."

This approach goes down well with a surprising range of people, and his turn to the more intense (including comparisons to dubstep, which amuses him) has also been welcomed. He plans to unveil new music at Montreal's MUTEK festival that furthers the danceable aspects of his repertoire.

"I get lovely feedback from all over the world. Completely random age groups and nationalities seem to have found something about the music that they really connect to," he says. "If I do a set where there's a piano there, they tend to all go quiet when I play it. That's your dream as a performer, to have people really listen properly. [But] at shows there are people who dance; they're surprised. It's more of an upbeat thing than they're expecting based on the album. I don't know how it got that way, but it's great."