I could not wait to see British Electronic artist Jon Hopkins at the 9:30 Club. Starting with his 2001 debut exuding with synths, phased pianos and chilled beats, I have followed Hopkins. His songs drift from calm to eerie like a restless sea, then build and break like a crashing wave. Hopkins love of electronica is not about the songs, but the sound and the emotion generated by human ingenuity. However, in his 9:30 Club performance, a driving techno beat overpowered the melodies, much like a rave.
To my delight, one of the supporting acts was Detroit-native Matthew Dear. The artist arrived on stage to a cheering wearing a bomber jacket and baseball hat. He is a shapeshifter, oscillating seamlessly between DJ, dance-music producer and experimental pop auteur. At the 9:30 performance, he was in full DJ mode, warming up the crowd with a set of continuous energy pulsing music. It was virtually impossible to tell where each song began or ended. The mix was invigorating, DJing in a thoughtful style where he let his ears guide ours. At this point, I was wondered how Hopkins would fare, hoping his ambient influences would shine through.
Between sets, music invigorated the crowd. Then the sound volume dropped to a quiet piano with a women’s spoken voice. Simple spotlights and visuals appeared on the overhead screen sparked confusion. Was it a prelude to the main event or just house music? The cadence continued for a while, signaling it was part of the intermission and a change from the earlier acts.
Mounting the stage to the cheers of an enthusiastic crowd, Hopkins began with the title track from his 2018 album, Singularity. This song starts quiet with a distorted synth on top of a pulsing beat. It layers and builds into a syncopated rhythm. Then, it calms to a quiet suspended note. This was the perfect segway into the next two songs on the album, ‘Emerald Rush’ and ‘Neon Pattern Drum.’ Starting cerebral and soft, the former soared as if marching up a hill by incorporating chord changes that each took listeners a step further until fading and dissipating.
The show really took off halfway through, as Hopkins worked his magic, constructing compositions underneath explosive pulsing beats. Two female performers, dressed alike, wielding a pair of lighted tubes programmed perfectly to the rhythm of the music, joined him on stage. Appearing sporadically throughout Hopkins’ show, they twirled the glowing batons in a perfect cadence.
Hopkins performed two songs from his 2013 Mercury nominated album Immunity. ‘Open Eye Signal’ was more intense than the studio recording with big building beats that finally ended in chaotic mayhem. Continuing with ‘Collider’ from the same record, the light princesses reappeared, moving in unison and alternating back and forth as the light leapt off one stick to the other. This continued to the last song of the set, ‘Luminous Beings,’ a fitting title for the spectacle of sounds, visuals, lights and performance.
Hopkins reappeared for a three-song encore. He ended evening with ‘Light Through the Veins’ from his 2008 Insides album. This quiet song is a beautiful, inventive melody that shows Hopkins’s strengths as both composer and studio technician. However, the addition of a driving beat was distracting. It morphed the tune into something almost unrecognizable. The trancey rework sounded so different with occasional rippling sounds, reminiscent of Tangerine Dream.
What drew me to Hopkins was his unique musical style. I heard some new element each time I listened. Coming off ‘Coachella’ and touring as a performing DJ, his electronica had become dance music. Hopkins is an artist who makes powerful, emotional, instrumental music that consistently crosses genres. I hope he felt the appreciation emanating from the crowd and especially me.
Jan Aucker lives in DC. She is a freelance writer for East City Art. She is a music enthusiast who frequents live shows keeping abreast of the current music scene.