Much like 2018’s widely acclaimed Singularity, a Jon Hopkins live show is defined by the tense relationship between order and chaos. Not chaos in the random sense, but a tightly controlled and wildly frenetic disruption to fundamental sonic throughlines, steered by the gifted musician to transcend the typical IDM experience.
If anyone had their doubts about Hopkins’ simple approach to these artistic techno compositions, the classically trained pianist broke it down during an overture before turning the Sydney Opera House’s deeply resonant concert hall into a Sunday evening rave.
A polite wave to the seated crowd preceded a stunning piece, with Hopkins seated – perfect posture – behind a shiny black piano. Soft, gentle, ethereal, UK musician created a skeletal number to set a baseline for what was to come. He paused briefly before bringing the motif back, but this time using his other hand to introduce an intense, relentless flurry of keys that would rumble and reverberate when set against its soft counterpart. Chaos brings personality, and meaning.
Although the shift wasn’t as seamless or elegant, Jon rushed to trade his piano for a pair of laptops, standing centre-stage as the screen behind him slowly came to life. Hypnotic colourful visuals took over, bouncing strobes followed beats – this was now a blissful, cinematic rave, and it wasn’t even 8:30pm.
“Neon Pattern Drum” started it all, sucking the crowd up and pulling all to their feet like a rumbling, grumbling, hypnotic magnet. Hopkins knows the relentless lure of repetition, but also the importance of producing highly ornate shapes to clash with the baseline. This gives his productions an incredibly dramatic quality, especially when they share DNA to make these seamless transitions that much smoother.
Of course that means the exhilarating “Emerald Rush” came second, tightening the tension for an even greater release. It would continue like that for most of that, Jon creating these deep and comfortable pockets through repetition, resting on that vibe for what seemed like an infinite amount of time before snapping us into another reality.
Visually, Hopkins’ could have produced a more immersive live show but instead stuck with simple, fluid shapes. A bit of showmanship came in the form of two performers who would stand to either of the stage with flashing wands of light in hand, performing these incredibly symmetrical sci-fi routines with faultless precision.
Much like Singularity itself, the strongest parts of Jon’s set came towards the beginning to middle. Towards the end the more ambient layers of his techno was stripped away to something more standard – still exciting, but comparatively generic.
Perhaps it would have been better approached as a narrative performance, bookmarked with another session at the piano. But once Hopkins doubled-down on the techno, it was clear that breaking away from the rush would have been too difficult. After all, the audience was having too much fun to warrant anything but, swaying hard as the set closed with faster, more intense forms, which included an interpolation of Jon’s rework of Coldplay’s “Life in Technicolour”.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The writer attended this show at Sydney Opera House on 5th January 2020.
Photo supplied and credited to Prudence Upton.