Until now, Jon Hopkins has been an elusive character, known to most as an expert producer, Ivor Novello-nominated composer of film scores and remixer. 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.
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.
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.