If you’ve read about ‘Singularity’, you probably think that it’s some kind of a sonic representation of Jon Hopkins’ brain on ‘shrooms.
If you’ve listened to ‘Singularity’, you might relate to your own past trips, or you might be just be thinking: fuck, I’ll have whatever he’s having.
But before you book yourself into a psilocybin retreat in Holland, we’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with the sound maker supreme to rack his brains on everything from the creative process to ancient skulls, shamanism and, of course, psychedelic exploration.
You in? Strap in and read on…
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Jon, let’s start easy - can you give us some insight into the recording process into ‘Singularity’?
From the first sound I made up to mastering the whole process has taken about two years. I made the sound you hear on the beginning of Neon Pattern Drum in November 2015, and thought ‘OK, that’s interesting, that’s different from what I’ve done before.’ I think that’s the point at which I had officially ‘begun’ the album.
During that two year period I had about six months off in total. Taking time off is an important tool in the writing process - it allows you to keep focus on the bigger picture, making an album sound like an album rather than a collection of tracks. I tend to work tracks into the ground then need to take two or three months away from them. I might go four months without even listening to a certain track. You need some bigger picture perspective to see what’s right and wrong with a track, and to see what needs to change.
With ‘Singularity’ writing was really hard to begin with, but as the process went on everything became easier and easier and by the end the tracks were writing themselves really. Anyway, I mastered in October of last year, so it’s been a pretty long process, but almost exactly the same as ‘Immunity’ and ‘Insides’.
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I really believe in the therapeutic power of some of these psychedelics...
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There’s been a lot said about your experimentation with psilocybin surrounding this record - was it your intention to write the album based on your psychedelic experiences?
I think when you’re talking about going to specifically seek out psychedelic experiences, I don’t think it’s a good idea to do it for work, even if that work is making art. The only reason I think it’s wise to explore the psyche in that way is if you want to get to the bottom of your mind to resolve past trauma or get some bigger picture perspective.
Of course what happens from a musical point of view is that those experiences do find their way into your work. I really believe in the therapeutic power of some of these psychedelics and in a way the album became a translation of some of those experiences but it wasn’t what I was thinking of when I went into it, it was more a real curiosity and a desire to feel more at ease with life and psychedelics certainly provide that.
Obviously there’s a hell of a lot of inspiration in there too.
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When you’re back in the studio how hard is it to recall those most profound moments from your psychedelic experiences?
Well you can’t sit in the studio and think ‘Ok I’m going to translate that particular thought or vision or feeling’, you just have to trust that it’s going to come out naturally, so I just follow this simple process whereby I’m only ever thinking about the next step. What you can’t do is try and think about it all at once and what you’re trying to achieve. Eventually these magic moments will present themselves.
During ‘Luminous Beings’ there’s this section when these synth bubbles start popping up all over the place and start circling each other, that’s very clearly a reflection of a psilocybin type experience. I didn’t sit there and consciously try and write those notes, it had to form out of the bedding of the track which I’d already made in terms of beats and bass. It gradually comes together, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to seek them out as such.
From a practical point of view, how do you contrast that flexibility against studio deadlines?
I’m lucky in that working with a label like Domino they never tell you when you have to finish something. They only say that, for example, if you want it out by May, you need to have it to us by October. I originally wanted it finished by December 2016 but that was impossible as it wasn’t sounding nearly good enough at that point.
I set my own deadlines really, and they often get moved. It was the same with ‘Immunity’. I don’t think it matters so much whether you meet your deadlines, what’s more important is that you’re completely happy in so far as having made the best record you can possibly make. I don’t like the idea of rushing something and maybe taking a month less in order to make a deadline then having to live the rest of your life knowing the record is a month less good.
With this one I didn’t have anything left to add to it, it was exactly what I hoped it would be which means that when people like it, it’s great, but if people don’t like it, it’s also great.
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I don’t like the idea of rushing something...
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What’s a bigger obstruction to our ability to explore our inner psyche using psychoactive drugs - the law or technology?
What’s interesting is what I find psychedelics do is scramble the brain temporarily and then reset it into a healthier pattern, which allows me to break habits more easily. Technology addiction can be helped by a psychedelic experience, insofar as coming to the realisation that we spent hours and hours each day pointlessly on our phones.
But there’s no doubt they are insidious devices which manage to creep their way into our lives no matter what. When it comes to the law, it’s human nature to seek out and explore psychedelic states and it’s interesting to look at how little difference prohibition actually makes. All it does is make for a more dangerous experience based on the fact there is less education and no regulation of what’s being sold.
It’s well known that in places where marijuana use is legal there’s actually less use of it, or at least less abuse of it. And you know the supply is clean and exactly what you’re getting regarding the percentages of THC and CBD etc. Governments know this, but it’s voters that aren’t ready yet to accept it. You know there are still places in the world where drugs still carry the death penalty, yet people are still willing to take that risk, because (psychedelic exploration) is such a deep-seated desire.
I think the law is lagging behind a bit, but there’ll definitely be changes in our lifetime for sure.
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Every continent has some history of shamanism...
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So you think a desire to seek out and explore psychedelic states is something intrinsically hard-wired into us?
It’s not just my opinion, it’s a well known fact. Throughout history it’s a recurring theme, all indigenous tribes have some kind of hallucinogenic ritual, occurring at some important part of life - be it coming of age, marriage, whatever…
Some tribes use psychedelics to tune in with nature, to be more efficient hunters etc. There’s a recent story of an 18,000 year old skull discovered with psilocybin mushrooms found in the teeth. There’s endless examples of cave art with the mushroom as a kind of revered object. It goes on and on across the world, and DMT occurring in Acacia trees has been extracted and exploited, used for a variety of purposes.
Every continent has some history of shamanism, but these things have been hidden from mainstream history. It’s something you can’t keep down - it’s too deeply engrained in us.
The reason for that is that we, as a species, benefit from the tremendous insights that can be got from these things. We are hard-wired to look for things that benefit us.
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With this kind of music it’s a very deep honest expression of whatever’s going on internally...
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When did you really first start taking an interest in all this?
About three years ago. I’d had a few recreational experiences with psilocybin in beautiful, natural settings but I really didn’t feel confident enough to go with anything strong like DMT or full strength mushroom trips. However I had been doing a lot of meditation up until three years ago, and I felt sufficiently settled in myself to actually try it.
Personally I recommend that level of preparation because if you were to have an experience on DMT without any experience of meditation or any knowledge of yourself beyond your own ego, you could potentially have a bad time and that’s no help to anyone.
Going forward, do you envisage future records being so intertwined with our psychological states?
It’s quite hard to avoid really, with this kind of music it’s a very deep honest expression of whatever’s going on internally and that’s the music I’m interested in making. But it’s funny I’m already having ideas about the next record, enjoying a surge of creativity.
Can you give us any clues as to what’s coming up or is that under wraps?
I haven’t actually started anything but…well a lot of the ideas are on the slightly heavier side. There’s so many shiny, trippy positive moments on this record I almost feel I have to contrast that somehow. Immunity was quite dark, claustrophobic as well as being emotionally heavy, while singularity was a lot more positive, so perhaps the next record will be a return to heavier stuff, we’ll have to wait and see…
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'Singularity' is out now. Catch Jon Hopkins at the following shows:
2 London Brixton Academy – SOLD OUT
3 London Brixton Academy
17 Newcastle Boiler Shop
22 Manchester Albert Hall
Words: Milo Wasserman
Photo Credit: Steve Gullick
For tickets to the latest Jon Hopkins shows click HERE.
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