Jon Hopkins – 17th November 2018 – Newcastle Boiler Shop
Review Neil Ainger. Photography Gav Wyatt
Enclosed in complete darkness, curtains drawn, alone and eyes closed I have pushed play on an album time and time again since its release and immediately felt at ease. From the very first beats of Singularity, time has seemingly slowed to the crawl of a much more manageable pace. I have been able to feel tension leaving my body and fears dissipate. It is a powerful sensation and something I experience less frequently as I age. That unique, emotional connection that I can make only to music. Music can make us happy, it can make us sad, it can inspire and motivate. It can heal and repair. It is the latter that has tied me to this record this year, as if I were desperately clinging to it like a life raft until the storm can be weathered. It is not just a record I have become a fan of but one I have depended on during the most stressful and traumatic year of my life.
The impressive Boiler Shop venue in Newcastle has rapidly expanded in its popularity and its value to the city over the last two or three years and on this night it was filled with an infectious and exciting buzz of anticipation which could be felt throughout Nathan Fake’s bold hour-long support set. With 15 years of experience, Nathan Fake is no ‘standard’ support offering, if there ever really is such a thing, but rather an integral part of the evening. After 60 minutes of his intense, techno-infused grind the venue is at capacity and I’d swear that the energy in the air is potent enough that I could hear it audibly crackling. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to him afterwards for long enough to shake his hand and thank him for his set. Although the subsequent exchange was very brief he also seems to be very pleasant and this certainly adds to his charm.
From his humble beginnings playing keys for Imogen Heap in 1998, collaborating with Brian Eno and touring the world with Coldplay, Jon Hopkins journey to this, the promotional tour for his fifth solo record, has been one of twists and turns. When it seemed as though his career as a solo artist may never truly get off the ground, Hopkins could have easily found himself earning a solid living as a producer. This could have even proven to be a fruitful path to take. I feel, however, blessed on this night that this never happened and over the last ten years his career has simply gone from strength to strength. 2013s Immunity was a crowning glory. A reward for a steady ascent to the summit of his craft. It was met with widespread acclaim and following it up a whole five years later was always going to be challenging.
Those first beats of Singularity therefore are an immediate relief as well as the knife that cleanly cuts the electric tension of a capacity crowd, as the opening 20 minutes or so of the set are dedicated to his latest triumph. The title track serves as a slow and peaceful build into the albums lead single, Emerald Rush, which is met with a raucous cheer. Neon Pattern Drum is similarly received and is truly blissful in its delivery. Hopkins drives tirelessly through a consuming, trademark set of vigorous yet joyous bangers that are guaranteed to have a sweaty capacity venue both dancing and occasionally to be afforded a moment to breathe and bathe in the euphoria of the moment.
Hopkins makes very grounding and human music, taking sharp turns from energetic techno and percussive IDM to joyful, gentle piano music. It is the fragility and the vulnerability of his minimal piano music I would argue his set is lacking but there remains moments of a very real and intimate beauty in the remainder of his set, which featured some of his more prominent tracks in the back catalogue, such as Open Eye Signal, Collider and Luminous Beings.
During Emerald Rush, I find myself closing my eyes. Enclosed in complete darkness once more I could swear I am taken back to that all too familiar state. A feeling of standing alone, despite the heat of bodies as people dance around me. Completely at ease, despite the excitable atmosphere in the air. A feeling of time slowing down, solidifying a moment in time that frankly I wish would never end. It is a state in which life’s colossal and critical tests and trials are made to feel so small and insignificant that one is filled with a motivating reassurance that they can easily be overcome should you simply be able to survive just one more day.
Jon Hopkins live is a triumphant and jubilant experience. It is a warm and comforting exploration and celebration of the complex range of human emotion. It is the party we’ve been waiting all week for. It is the escape from all that is weighing on our minds. It is, frankly, whatever you need it to be. Whatever that may be, it is evidence that Hopkins is still very much on top of his game and, for me personally, I left thankful for what I had been given, for that which I encounter less and less, for that indescribable and overpowering emotional connection to music that little else can quite live up to.
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