JON HOPKINS interview – Evening Standard, 25 Oct 2013

The dark horse could be a species facing extinction as far as the Mercury Prize is concerned. Next week’s prize-giving will pick a best from a particularly safe dozen that includes five No 1 albums. Be thankful, then, for Jon Hopkins and his fourth solo effort, Immunity — the only truly daring selection and the year’s most extraordinary electronic release.

Not that the 34-year-old producer, film-score composer and Coldplay collaborator is spending any time on a victory speech. “The worst thing you can do with something like that is start assuming you have a chance. If anything happens it should be a pleasant surprise,” he tells me. “And it’s a cliché but just getting to this stage really helps with exposure. Music like mine, its best chance is 6 Music, word of mouth and the Mercury. It’s never going to be on Radio 2 — those doors are not open to the world of techno at this point.”

Even so, I’d still slip a copy of Immunity to those whose idea of sonic adventure is putting an Adele album on shuffle. It’s a remarkable journey from tough industrial beats to blissful ambient beauty which, when it arrives in the album’s second half, is the musical equivalent of a perfect sunrise. It’s very much a work that makes most sense as a whole. “I have an obsession with making an album rather than a collection of tracks,” he says. “For me it’s like making a film — it’s the perfect length of time to tell a story.”

At face value, Immunity (on the Domino label) is the story of a night out, beginning with the clunking shut of Hopkins’s studio door in Bow and roaming wide over the city. You’ll hear the fireworks of the Olympic opening ceremony exploding in the distance, as well as 3am London road noise at the close of the 12-minute Sun Harmonics — recorded when Wimbledon-born Hopkins stepped out into the street just before hitting “save” and “close” on the whole album.

But it’s not quite a simple sequence of rave and comedown. “A night out isn’t just chaos and hedonism. It can be beautiful as well and there’s a sadness to the end of it. The tracks are states of mind I’ve been in, feelings I’ve had.” He says that the unsettling thud of Collider is most closely linked to his thoughts about the dire environmental situation. “That song seems to sum up the sadness of that. Not anger — it’s just so sad that nature as this perfect system is being disrupted.”

Immunity ends on a note of hope, though, with Fife folk singer King Creosote drifting in to make the album’s only vocal contribution on the hushed, wonderful title track. The pair have been in Mercury contention before, for the melancholy ambient folk of their collaborative 2011 album, Diamond Mine. It was the dark horse that year, losing out to PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake.

Hopkins is glad that his first experience of a major awards ceremony was as a duo with Creosote, also known as Kenny Anderson. “Our relationship is entirely based on trying to make each other laugh. Doing the red-carpet stuff with him was just hilarious. I feel prepared for it now, having done it the first time with someone else.”

Another album with Anderson is likely to be his next project. It’s an ongoing creative partnership that forms one of four strings to his bow — alongside solo music, film scores (his newly released soundtrack to Kevin Macdonald’s How I Live Now is dark and stately and highly recommended) and work with Coldplay — enabling him to say no to anyone else who asks him to collaborate, which they often do.

He did co-production and keyboard work on the Coldplay albums Viva La Vida and Mylo Xyloto, credited in the sleeve notes for “light and magic” on the latter. “It entailed adding things that are undefinable really,” he explains. “Quite often I’d take a sound, process it in some way, then mix it back in. It’s quite abstract, just taking it on from being a simple band sound.” They’re all friends and expect to work together again.

It was Brian Eno who brought him into the Coldplay camp. The ambient pioneer and professor of pop also used Hopkins on his 2010 album, Small Craft on a Milk Sea. Their collaborations, plus Hopkins’s similarly abstract electronica, mean that the younger man is often described as Eno’s protégé. Hopkins plays down the idea of such a prestigious position. “He’ll get in touch once a year or so with some project or other. We don’t work in the same areas really. He’s a thinker who can impose these amazing ideas on music production. All I do is make the stuff.”

The last time they spoke, earlier this year, Eno had been working in a Hove hospital installing a piece of moving art designed to relax patients. He told Hopkins that a doctor treating psychotic patients found that they were responding well to the sounds of Immunity. “He’s great fun to talk to. You don’t guess that he’s going to be hilariously funny but he is.”

Hopkins is also a believer in music’s ability to have physical effects. At 21, he found himself programming to order for a pop songwriter trying to break into the world of S Club 7 and the like. He is convinced that it was his unhappiness making this music that gave him a severe five-month bout of ME. Now he uses the lucid sleep techniques of Yoga-nidra to keep himself balanced.

“I’ve had phases of partying ridiculously and taking all these things I’m not supposed to take. As happens to everyone, it gets to you. I missed the ability to disappear into another world. Now I can completely disappear from my body and it feels like I can address any ailment I have.”

His biggest problem next week might just be a £20,000 Mercury cheque burning a hole in his pocket. For the record, his money’s on Disclosure but I reckon he could sneak it. Even if he doesn’t, he can enjoy the certainty that after years in the shadow of others, one of the finest albums of the year is his alone.

Jon Hopkins plays the Forum, NW5 (0844 847 2405, on  February 22, 2014.