With unusual prescience, I bought tickets to see Jon Hopkins at the Royal Festival Hall in June, having only a vague awareness of him (“ooh, that sounds interesting”) from the radio. When I mentioned this, friends were rather envious and extolled his most recent album, Immunity, which I did actually listen to before the show.
The support act was Blanck Mass, just a black t-shirted diffident man with his gear hidden behind Jon Hopkins’ table. He was unfazed by the shameful lack of attendance in the hall, and the extreme rudeness of people who left halfway through to go to the bar (Super Tsk). At points his head was swaying intensely, and he took nervous swigs from his beer bottle. This experience of not knowing anything about the music I was hearing was more familiar to me, and I rather liked his stuff, my taste for droney-ambient not being sufficiently indulged at the moment. It would have benefitted from being louder. Always I’ve thought that full volume was denied to the support act and perhaps that was the case here. I’ll be investigating.
The preparations for Jon Hopkins on stage were fairly minimal, during which someone behind us explained the nature of his relations:
“We’re not together together, are we?”
Hopkins was white and quietly exuberant when he came on stage, in contrast to Blanck Mass’ introversion. He had a guitarist picking out heavily-effected hums, who left and re-joined for different songs, along with a violinist and viola player. His own gear was laid out on a wide table, including what must have been trigger pads (Kaoss pads, I read later), effects units and a mixer, plus the inevitable Steve, albeit with the white logo obscured by a black sticker.
The visuals on a large screen behind him were triggered by what he was playing, simple shapes of colour at first, then more complex geometric shapes. He’s clearly rehearsed a lot because he was controlling live breakdowns and fills beautifully, and he was bodily expressing himself, which is pretty unusual for an electronic musician, jacking and jerking, though always with a steady eye on what he was doing.
He would move from a heavy, beat-driven song abruptly to a contemplative piano piece (there was a grand at the left of the stage), the latter usually accompanied by the string players on the other side. This stylistic disharmony shouldn’t have worked, but it did. What gradually happened, as the inducements took their toll, was that people in the audience started standing up, then some of them took to the aisles and to the space by the front of the stage, dancing, for the upbeat songs. They would then, maybe a little self-conscious, drift back to their seats for the quieter ones, waiting for the chance to thrash around again. At points the bouncers tried to intervene, probably for “fire safety” reasons, and to stop the dullards plonked at stage front taking video on their phones. The visuals were very good actually, the most memorable ones embodying a skateboard-based journey, a woman (Imogen Heap?) in a spacesuit-helmet on a 2001/Gravity-style journey, and a woman who was both ecstatic and estranged. I suspect the hollering, whooping and pointing audience missed the person burning in the tyres of the former, for which insight I’m indebted to my co-attendee. One of the encore songs more compelling videos, including what looked like drone-eye views of a bleak landscape, later transforming into a red palette, which reminded me of Richard Mosse’s The Enclave.
The string players and guitarist came on for the last time, then as they departed the violinist walked over and triggered something via one of the machines on the table, so that things were running when Hopkins arrived back there from the piano.
It was a stunning performance, and the crowd’s reaction bordered on the disturbing. My little joke was that they were all happy about the Scottish referendum result. I think this was what people had craved when I went to see Derrick May during Meltdown, and they weren’t really satisfied then. They certainly were last night.
Mind you, the exclamation of
“the Royal Festival Hall will never be the same again”
was a little ludicrous. Again, I must credit my co-attendee for the observation. In the Clore Ballroom afterwards there was the incongruous site of people making packed lunches, which I realised was part of Maggie’s Culture Crawl. They were being serenaded by the Letherette DJs, in the Central Bar. Outside, I was handed a flyer for another Jon Hopkins performance in April next year, which I think I may go to. There, that’s commitment.
I think the songs included at least Vessel and Wire from Insides, plus We Disappear, Open Eye Signal, Collider and Abandon Window from Immunity. Waiting to take the Drain to Bank on my way home, there was a couple discussing their impressions:
“I liked it the first time he built it up, then it became a bit generic. I prefer it more melodic.”
[Ed.: quite wrong there]
A guy in front of us told us to shut up, and then they were the first to stand up.
One of their friends suffered a tragic memory loss:
Lance forgot about it, so he missed out.
On the train itself, the discussion moved to more mundane matters, involving workplace promotions and rivalries. One “colleague” was to be:
“cut down to size like a m*th*rf*ck*r.”
Apologies for the cuss-word euphemism.